A battle between gunmen from Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip left one Fatah man dead before daybreak Thursday, Palestinian officials said, the first fatality in Palestinian infighting since a truce between the rival factions took hold more than two weeks ago. Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the shootout near the southern town of Rafah, outside a house belonging to Fatah supporters. Clashes were still going on 12 hours later, with a rocket-propelled grenade hitting that house, and gunmen from both sides lobbing explosives at the homes of rival group officials. Meanwhile, roadblocks divided two main Rafah neighborhoods into factional enclaves, and armed men from Hamas and Fatah took up positions on rooftops in the areas under their control.
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Medics said at least 17 people were wounded in gun battles since the morning, two in serious condition.
The Islamic group Hamas and the more moderate Fatah have been battling for power in the chaotic coastal territory for over a year in fierce bursts of violence that end in brittle truces, only to erupt again. More than 50 Palestinians died in the last round of fighting, which began in mid-May.
Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the Rafah battle, which broke out around a house belonging to Fatah supporters. The fighting continued after that incident, with masked Hamas men surrounding four other homes belonging to Fatah officials, a security official in Rafah said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Tit-for-tat kidnappings and attacks on the homes of officials have been common tactics in the internal fighting in Gaza. Before the Rafah fight, Hamas charged Fatah with kidnapping three of its men earlier in the week and torturing one of them, a bodyguard for PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
The battle in Rafah followed another gunfight in northern Gaza several hours earlier, which erupted after security officers uncovered a tunnel under Gaza City that they said was dug by Hamas men for an attack against Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. The brief exchange of fire caused no casualties.
Hamas said the tunnel was dug to stop Israeli incursions.