(photo credit: AP)
Palestinians fired two mortars at IDF positions near the Karni crossing on Tuesday afternoon.
No soldiers were wounded in the attack, and there was no damage reported.
The attack came moments after Hamas gunmen attacked rival Fatah forces at the Karni crossing, killing nine people and drawing fire from nearby IDF troops, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Hamas and pro-Fatah Presidential Guard members claimed that the nine were killed by IDF artillery shells, Israel Radio reported.
The battle at the Karni border crossing was the deadliest so far in three days of fighting between Fatah and Hamas. At least 17 people have died so far, bringing life in Gaza to a standstill and pushing the fragile Palestinian unity government closer to collapse.
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The fighting erupted when Hamas gunmen approached a training base used by Fatah forces that guard the crossing.
The Hamas force attacked the base with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, said Ahmed al-Kaisi, spokesman for the pro-Fatah Presidential Guard, which guards the crossing under an agreement with Israel.
Security officials said seven men were killed in a Hamas ambush as they headed toward Karni to help their comrades. After the ambush, several bodies were seen strewn in the grass near an overturned security vehicle, as gunmen in pickup trucks nearby held machine guns in the air.
The base had been set up in part by an American security team to train Palestinians on how to check cargo and baggage at crossings and the recruits there are largely unarmed, al-Kaisi said. "We consider this a serious provocation and a crime committed in cold blood," al-Kaisi said.
At one point, IDF troops opened fire at two gunmen who approached the border about a kilometer from the battle, killing one.
Witnesses also said three IDF tanks approached Karni, and the Hamas force quickly withdrew.
Israel also closed the crossing, known as Gaza's lifeline because it is the passage for cargo going in and out of the area.
As infighting heated up, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on Tuesday for the immediate implementation of the government's security plan to halt internal fighting raging in Gaza.
Abbas said the Palestinians' first priority is to end lawlessness and chaos.
"We must do that by implementing the security plan, without any reluctance or delay, to put an end to civil strife and the ghost of internal fighting," he said in a speech marking "Naqba Day," or the anniversary of the uprooting of many Palestinians during the 1948 Independence War. Naqba means catastrophe in Arabic.
He also said the Palestinians have been adhering to a recent US benchmark document which calls on the Palestinians to step up efforts to halt rocket fire on Israel. Abbas said Israel has rejected the document.
Israel has remained silent throughout the latest Palestinian infighting. But the border incident illustrated how fragile the situation is. Israel has been debating whether to take large-scale military action in Gaza in response to repeated Kassam rocket fire aimed at southern Israel, but this week officials postponed a decision on whether to act.
Despite a new cease-fire deal late Monday, Palestinians awoke to the sound of gunfire throughout Gaza. Gunmen exchanged heavy gunfire at a security compound in Gaza City and a nearby junction was empty even at rush hour except for a few cars hurriedly abandoned by passengers.
One Hamas man was killed in a shootout early Tuesday in Gaza City, security officials said. In many places the violence centered around roadblocks set up by the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian security and began when cars containing Hamas gunmen were stopped.
The fighting came as the Palestinians marked the anniversary of the "Nakba," the word they use to describe Israel's establishment 59 years ago.
In a speech, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made little mention of the infighting, urging the Palestinians "to work together in order to protect our national unity government and make it succeed." Instead, he focused on the conflict with Israel.
"Our determination cannot be broken," Haniyeh said. "We have said that we are going to give the politics a chance, but we are not going to drop our weapons until the occupation evacuates our land and justice and security and peace prevail."
The political rivals began fighting again over the weekend after Abbas of Fatah deployed thousands of pro-Fatah forces to try to restore law and order in Gaza. Hamas, which has its own militia, was angry that it was not consulted.
Monday's resignation of a frustrated top security official added to the tensions. The appointment of Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh, an independent, had been a keystone of the unity agreement. Kawasmeh accused Hamas and Fatah of undermining his efforts to halt the violence.
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