12 wounded in gun battles throughout Gaza

Clashes come less than 24 hours after Hamas presents cabinet to Abbas.

fatah gunmen 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
fatah gunmen 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
At least 12 Palestinians were wounded in fierce gun battles that erupted in various parts of the Gaza Strip on Monday between Palestinian policemen and disgruntled Fatah militiamen. The clashes, the worst in months, came less than 24 hours after Hamas presented its new cabinet to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is under heavy pressure from his Fatah party not to approve the Hamas cabinet, sources close to the PA chairman told The Jerusalem Post. They said several Fatah leaders had warned Abbas against endorsing the line-up that was presented to him by Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday night. Abbas is planning to bring the issue for discussion before the PLO executive committee, a key decision-making body, later this week, the sources added, noting that Abbas was anyway not "enthusiastic" about the Hamas cabinet. Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah legislator, said his party would vote against the new cabinet when it is presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for approval. He pointed out that the cabinet's political program does not recognize the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Mahmoud Zahar, who has been named Foreign Minister in the Hamas cabinet, announced that his movement would reconsider all agreements that were signed with Israel. Eyewitnesses said most of those wounded in Monday's fighting in the Gaza Strip were policemen who tried to prevent Fatah gunmen from taking over government buildings and security installations. The two sides exchanged gunfire for several hours in scenes that many Palestinians said were reminiscent of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s. The gunmen, according to PA security sources, belonged to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. However, the group issued a statement on Monday night denying any connection to the fighting, saying some militiamen had used its name as a cover. The attackers said they were protesting against the PA's failure to provide them with jobs and money. The armed clashes started at around nine-thirty a.m., when members of a large group of masked gunmen opened fire at police officers on Salah Eddin Street in the center of Gaza City. Two officers and three passersby were injured in the attack. The gunmen blocked the road and planted a number of explosive devices, preventing the convoy of Police Chief Ala Hosni from heading toward the Erez crossing. The fighting lasted for over an hour. Later, several police officers stormed Balsam Hospital in Beit Lahia and opened fire indiscriminately and took one of their wounded friends to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The clashes then spread to other parts of Gaza City as scores of Fatah gunmen attacked public institutions. One of the gangs stormed the electricity generation facility north of Nusairat refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip. The gunmen stormed the facility under heavy gunfire in an effort to pressure the PA to hire them as police officers. Policemen who rushed to the scene exchanged fire with the gunmen for nearly two hours. The clash resulted in the injury of a National Security Force officer, Na'el Abu Khadra, 25, from Nusairat refugee camp, who was hit with a bullet to the abdomen. He was evacuated to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where his condition was described as serious. The electricity plant has come under several attacks by armed Fatah militiamen over the past few months. The last attack was last week, when a number of gunmen raided the facility, requesting jobs. Fatah gunmen also blocked the road leading to the government compound, which includes the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City. They surrounded the compound for several hours, claiming that they had not received their salaries for several months. The attackers took position on the roof of buildings and opened fire at police forces, injuring two officers. Two employees of the Foreign Ministry were also wounded. They were identified as Salem al-Farra, 35, and Suleiman al-Aklouk, 27. At the same time, a number of gunmen from the Abu Draz family closed the gate of al-Karma Military Hospital in Abasan village, east of Khan Younis and ordered the medical crew to suspend their work. The attackers announced that the hospital would remain closed until the PA agrees to hire five of their relatives. Gunmen also attacked the Khan Younis District Court during the trial of a man accused of killing a member of their family. The police tried to close the area as members of the Shahwan family set fire to tires. The police later managed to escort the defendant safely out of the court. Members of the Shahwan family three stones and Molotov cocktails at the policemen, but no one was injured.