Hamas gunmen killed two Palestinian policemen loyal to the rival Fatah movement early Wednesday, just hours after the sides agreed to a new cease-fire meant to end more than a week of factional fighting. Fatah officials condemned the killing but said they remained committed to the truce. Gaza City remained calm at midmorning, in contrast to the pitched battles that raged in city streets a day earlier. However, hundreds of people called for revenge at the policemen's funeral, raising the prospect of renewed fighting.
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Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the policemen, cousins in their early 20s, were killed as they were patrolling Gaza City when their vehicle was attacked. Six other people in the car were wounded, he said.
"They came under fire from an ambush of masked gunmen affiliated with Hamas," Abu Khoussa said.
He said Fatah considered the shooting a violation of the cease-fire, but would still honor the truce, announced just before midnight by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
"Fatah is still committed to the agreement and to the announcement by President Abbas last night," he said.
About 300 people attended a funeral for the dead officers Wednesday. Many of the men were armed, shooting in the air and calling for revenge.
At one point, the funeral procession passed by the house of Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, and mourners shouted epithets. Zahar apparently was not in the area at the time.
Hamas's Web site described the fatal shooting as "an intense gun battle ... between Fatah and the (Hamas) executive unit." It said "the identity and the affiliation of the people killed is still unknown."
Security officials had initially thought the shooting was related to a long-running dispute between two local families and unrelated to the past week of political violence.
Earlier Tuesday, Fatah and Hamas gunmen began withdrawing from the streets of Gaza following the announcement of another cease-fire agreement late Tuesday night, this time under the auspices of Egyptian mediators.
According to the new deal, Hamas and Fatah agreed to withdraw all their gunmen from the streets and to release all those who were kidnapped from both sides.
Six Palestinians were killed and dozens injured as the cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday, less than 48 hours after a previous cease-fire went into effect.
Abbas called off a planned visit to the Gaza Strip because of the renewed clashes, his aides told The Jerusalem Post. Both Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called on the warring parties to halt the fighting immediately.
Tuesday's clashes began when members of the PA General Intelligence Force fired at gunmen belonging to Hamas's "Executive Force" at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Eyewitnesses said members of the "Executive Force" stationed at the hospital tried to prevent an ambulance from entering the compound under the pretext that gunmen were hiding inside the vehicle.
Sources close to the General Intelligence Force claimed that the ambulance was carrying an officer who broke his leg when he fell off a ladder. "The Hamas guards at the hospital kidnapped the officer and his companions and held them hostages inside the hospital," they said. "Then the Hamas militiamen phoned the General Intelligence headquarters and asked us to send a force to take the kidnapped men."
According to the sources, when General Intelligence officers arrived at the hospital, the Hamas guards opened fire, injuring three of them. They also claimed that a fourth officer, Muhammed al-Harazin, was kidnapped by the Hamas gunmen. Harazin's body was later discovered near the hospital together with the bullet-riddled body of another General Intelligence officer, Muhammed Kassab.
A spokesman for the Hamas "Executive Force" dismissed the charges as completely untrue, saying the incident was initiated by the General Intelligence Force, whose members launched an attack on the hospital around 4.00 am. He said one of the members of the "Executive Force," 23-year-old Ismail Abu al-Khair, was killed when in the attack.
Later in the day, another two General Intelligence officers were killed in a fierce gun battle that erupted between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza City. The two were identified as Fadi Daher and Omar Wahidi. Eyewitnesses said the clashes began when a General Intelligence patrol passed near the home of Khaled Abu Hilal, spokesman for the Hamas- run Interior Ministry on Jalaa Street in Gaza City.
PA security sources said hundreds of Hamas gunmen attacked a General Intelligence base in Jebalya refugee camp, parking off a major gun battle between the two sides.
In a televised speech, Haniyeh accused Abbas and his Fatah party of trying to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government.
"This nation, this people will be united in front of the occupation and aggression and will not be engaged, despite the wounds of the past few days, in internal fighting," Haniyeh said.
Addressing Fatah, he added: "We are not enemies. We have political differences, but we should not sink in the Israeli- American quagmire. We continue to support the establishment of a national unity government."
Haniyeh complained that his government was facing "collective punishment" since it came to power. Referring to allegations that he tried to smuggle millions of dollars into the Gaza Strip last week, Haniyeh said: "I was carrying less than $32 million to pay the salaries of civil servants on the eve of [the Muslim feast] of Eid al-Adha. However, the money did not come into the Gaza Strip. We brought money to feed the people. This is not called smuggling."
Haniyeh also repeated his opposition to Abbas's plan to call early elections. "I want to clarify that we consider the issue of the early elections for the presidency and parliament unconstitutional," he said. "If you consider the people the source of power, why are you working against the will of the people?"
Haniyeh also reiterated a call for a long-term hudna [truce] with Israel and the establishment of a temporary Palestinian state alongside Israel. He said the truce could last as long as 20 years.