Gunmen in Jenin
Photo: AFP

Palestinian infighting breaks out, despite unity talks

Hamas and Fatah both initiate shooting of rival targets; meanwhile, Abbas expected to focus on appeal to Olmert to stop Israeli military incursions

Infighting between Hamas and Fatah continued Saturday afternoon when gunmen stormed the campus of the pro-Fatah Al Quds University, and shot and wounded a student council member from Fatah, a Palestinian security source said.


There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Gaza shooting.


A few hours earlier, in the West Bank, Fatah gunmen had shot at the convoy of a Hamas minister, the first factional violence since Palestinian unity talks began a month ago.


Officials from both sides said Wasfi Kibha, minister of prisoner affairs, was unharmed in the shooting near Tubas, a town near Nablus. The incident sparked a gun battle in the area between Hamas and Fatah members in which one person was lightly wounded, Hamas sources said.


Fatah, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, and officials from the ruling Hamas faction offered different accounts of the incident, which occurred despite predictions of Hamas members that a joint government deal with Fatah was near.


Kibha said that Fatah gunmen had stopped his car at a makeshift checkpoint outside Tubas. "Without warning they shot at my car," he said. His convoy turned around and headed in the opposite direction, towards Jenin.


A Fatah official said their gunmen had opened fire only after armed members of a Hamas-led police force accompanying the minister's car had shot towards them. A Palestinian photographer was injured by a bullet fragment in the head, the official said.


Clashes in Jenin

Earlier Saturday, gunmen from Fatah's al-Aqsa's martyr's brigades opened fire at a Palestinian security headquarters in Jenin, and forced government offices to close, demanding that they receive long-overdue salaries promised by the government, witnesses said.


About 20 al-Aqsa members gathered outside the security building, periodically firing rounds. There were no reports of injuries, and security officers inside the building did not fire back, the witnesses said.


Before marching on the building, the gunmen distributed notices declaring government offices closed, witnesses said. Government workers obeyed the order and left their offices, they said.


The recent violence undermines Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Thursday statement that a unity deal was "99 percent" agreed upon, although he had not yet agreed with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas who would be interior minister, a post that controls the powerful security services.


The strength of rival security factions is a key issue in the negotiations. Disagreement over the Hamas police force in Gaza is a currently major obstacle to the sides wrapping up talks over a unity government. Fatah has recently accused Hamas of seeking to a similar force in the West Bank, a claim Hamas refuted.


Abbas focused on Israel 

Meanwhile, Abbas seems to be focusing his attention outwards.  Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday that the president intended to demand Israel halt its military operations in the West Bank during Sunday talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.


Israel has been following a policy of restraint against Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip, but has resisted calls to reverse a clamp down on Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank, citing the need to thwart terror attacks.


Erekat said Abbas intends to stress that such move would boost his chances of swaying radical Palestinian factions to agree to a durable ceasefire with the Jewish state.


Currently, the Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine groups formally object to a ceasefire with Israel, according to Palestinian officials.



Erekat added that the Palestinian leader would try to press Olmert to commit to launching "serious negotiations" to solve some of the key issues that stand in the way of a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.


Israel has said it would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that did not recognize its right to exist.


AP and Ali Waked contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 03.10.07, 13:26
 new comment
This will delete your current comment