Hamas gunmen seized control of the Gaza Strip's border crossing with Egypt on Thursday in
a ferocious gunbattle with Fatah-allied border guards after Israel blocked the Hamas prime minister from crossing with tens of millions of dollars in aid.
More than two dozen people, including the premier's son, Abed, 27, were wounded in the fighting, deepening factional violence that has pushed the rivals closer to civil war.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh cut short a trip abroad and was trying to return to Gaza in a bid to quell the
infighting between Hamas and Fatah. He finally was allowed to cross into Gaza late Thursday, but he was unable to bring money for the cash-strapped Palestinian government.
Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for European monitors at the crossing, said Haniyeh left the funds, estimated at USD 35 million, in Egypt.
Haniyeh's convoy came under fire as it crossed, and it was forced to speed away. Officials said Haniyeh was unharmed.
Government official Taher Nunu, an adviser to the Palestinian foreign minister, said Haniyeh's son Abed was wounded in the exchange. Another official said none of the wounded, including the son, were badly hurt.
Rioting at Rafah crossing (Photo: AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed regret for the shooting, according to the Palestinian news agency, WAFA.
Arriving home around midnight after a long day at the crossing, Haniyeh appeared furious over the gunfire at his convoy. He blamed Israel for the delay but added, "We know the party that shot directly at our cars, injuring some of the people with me ... And we also know how to deal with this."
About 50 gunmen greeted Haniyeh at his home in a refugee camp next to Gaza City, firing in the air and throwing candies.
Earlier Thursday, pro-Fatah Palestinian officers arrested a Hamas-linked militant in the killing of the three young sons of a Fatah security chief. The group's allies retaliated by kidnapping a security officer.
Thursday's gunbattle at the border erupted after Hamas gunmen, angry that Israel was preventing Haniyeh from returning, stormed the Rafah terminal.
The pro-Fatah Presidential Guard, responsible for securing the area, opened fire, setting off a gunfight. Terrified travelers ran for cover, some carrying their luggage.
Crying women and children hid behind walls and taxis, while the European monitors who police the crossing fled. Two Hamas gunmen were among those wounded.
The Hamas gunmen, chanting "God is Great, let's liberate this place" took over the arrival hall, and
border guards escorted the European monitors to safety. Two loud explosions rocked the area, and security officials said gunmen had blown a hole in the border fence about a half mile from the terminal.
The rampage destroyed furniture and computer equipment inside the terminal and plunged the area into darkness. Hospital officials said at least 27 people were wounded, two seriously.
With the terminal closed, Haniyeh was stranded on the Egyptian side of the border for several hours. Late
Thursday, the Presidential Guard regained control of the terminal and the European monitors moved back in.
Thursday's unrest was likely to strain the US-brokered deal that turned over control of the crossing to the
Palestinians last year after four decades of Israeli control. The border can only operate in the presence of
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, working with the EU monitors, had ordered the border closed to prevent Haniyeh from bringing in tens of millions of dollars he raised during a tour of Muslim countries, security officials said.
A senior Israeli security official said they were not trying to block Haniyeh's entry, only to keep out the
money. The official said Israel had information the money would be used to strengthen Hamas or fund terror attacks, but he declined to provide further details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press.
Haniyeh left Gaza on Nov. 28 for what was supposed to be a monthlong trip to the Muslim world, with the goal of raising money for his government.
The Palestinian Authority has been crippled by international economic sanctions that have left it unable
to pay full salaries to its 165,000 workers. Israel and Western donor nations cut off hundreds of millions of
dollars for the government after Hamas won legislative elections early this year, demanding the armed group renounce violence and recognize Israel.
Hamas officials have brought in more than USD 50 million to Gaza this year - far short of the government's
needs. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, has been trying to persuade Hamas to join his more moderate party in a coalition government in hopes of lifting the sanctions.
But talks between the sides broke down late last month. Tensions heightened after Abbas threatened to call new elections, drawing charges from Hamas that he is plotting a coup. Abbas is scheduled to deliver a speech outlining his plan on Saturday.
The latest violence broke out Monday when gunmen riddled the car of a Fatah security officer, killing his three sons. Fatah accused Hamas of carrying out the shooting - a charge Hamas denied.