Celebrations marking the founding of the veteran Palestinian movement, Fatah, turned deadly in the Gaza Strip, where eight Palestinians were killed in clashes between Fatah backers and supporters of the territory's Islamic Hamas rulers.
The internal violence came just hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered an unusually conciliatory speech toward Hamas. If the conflict spirals, it could undermine US President George W. Bush's peace mission to the region next week by distracting Abbas from diplomacy.
Five Palestinians died in fighting across Gaza on Monday, and a sixth died of his wounds Tuesday morning. Two others were killed in Gaza City early Tuesday in a gunbattle between Hamas security men and a family affiliated with Fatah, leaving one Hamas policeman and a Fatah supporter dead, according to medical officials and Hamas.
The deaths were the first in Palestinian infighting since Nov. 11, when Hamas forces opened fire on a huge Fatah rally, killing eight and wounding 85. That gathering was the first sign of Fatah resurgence since Hamas overran Gaza in June by routing Fatah security forces.
Fireworks lit the skies of Gaza after nightfall Monday in celebration of Fatah's 43rd anniversary, and Fatah backers fired rifles in the air all over Gaza, defying a ban on celebrations by Hamas rulers.
Arrest raids against Fatah
In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, clashes erupted between Fatah backers and Hamas security forces. Medics said two Hamas police officers and a 14-year-old were killed. The medics identified him as a Fatah supporter, but the boy's uncle said Tuesday he was a Hamas supporter who was returning from mosque when he was shot.
Two Fatah men died in Gaza City in a clash near a Fatah leader's house, and an elderly man was wounded in a gunbattle in northern Gaza and died in hospital Tuesday, according to Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza health ministry.
Fatah said dozens of its activists were arrested overnight, and that one of its leaders in Gaza City was briefly detained by Hamas forces who shaved off half his hair and mustache as humiliation. Hamas denied the charge. Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for Hamas security forces, confirmed only that his men made a number of arrests. Hamas banned fireworks and the traditional Fatah parades on Jan. 1, calling the gathering in Khan Younis "illegal."
Hamas said the two officers were shot by Fatah gunmen on rooftops there. Fatah said Hamas forces raided houses and arrested dozens of Fatah members.