Hamas pledges weapons-free streets

Announcement follows Gaza clashes in which four Palestinians killed.

Gaza blast 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza blast 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The new Hamas government held an emergency meeting Friday night after four people were killed in factional violence, pledging to end public displays of weapons in the chaotic Gaza Strip. The meeting followed a day of unrest sparked by the death of Abu Yousef Abu Quka, a Palestinian militant with ties to Hamas, in a car bombing. His followers blamed security forces linked to the rival Fatah movement. Information Minister Yousef Rizka said the government decided to form a committee to look into the killing. He also said the government pledged "to remove all armed men from the street." A top commander of a Palestinian terrorist group was killed on Friday in Gaza City when his car burst into flames. The white Subaru in which he was driving was reduced to a hunk of twisted, charred metal. Witnesses said he was the target of IAF strike, but Israel denied involvement. Hospital officials identified the dead man as Abu Yousef Abu Quka, a senior commander of the Salah-a-Din faction of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip. Abu Quka and his faction were responsible for numerous rocket attacks on Israel. Members of his group said that Israel tried to assassinate him in the past. Meanwhile, the group's supporters exchanged fire with Palestinian security forces in Gaza, leaving four people dead and 25 others wounded. "We have a big mess here," said hospital worker Bakr Abu-Safir. Although they blamed Israel for their commander's death, they also claimed that Palestinian security forces were involved in the assassination. PRC spokesman Abu Abir said the Preventive Security Service had been trying to kill Abu Quka for some time. "This is not the first time they tried to kill him," he said. "There is a long history of conflict between us. The Preventive Security always tries to demean our members." When Abu Abir called a news conference to discuss the killing, rival gunmen burst on the scene, sparking a shootout. Witnesses said the gunmen were from Preventive Security, an official security agency dominated by the rival Fatah movement. Hospital officials said two teenage boys, 13 and 15, were wounded, one seriously, during the shootout, and the resistance committees said one of its members was abducted. Preventive Security officials were not immediately available for comment. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday ordered forces to step up their targeted killings of Islamic Jihad operatives, after the terrorist group fired a Katyusha rocket that according to security officials was capable of hitting a large Israeli city and sensitive installations. The intensified violence has overlapped with the victory of Olmert's Kadima Party in elections, on a platform of dismantling small, isolated settlements across the West Bank while holding on to blocs where most Jewish settlers live. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted on Thursday that the US might support unilateral Israeli action, even though it is the main backer of the so-called "road map" peace plan. "If you're going to have a negotiation, you have to have partners," she said. "The Palestinian government that has just been sworn in does not accept the concept of a negotiated solution," added the US Secretary of State.