Rival gunmen exchanged fire at two Gaza hospitals, and Cabinet ministers fled their weekly meeting after the government headquarters was hit in crossfire Monday, in the latest round in an increasingly brutal power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
In all, 16 Palestinians were killed Monday, including three shot dead in Beit Hanoun Hospital in northern Gaza. At Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa in Gaza City, combatants fired mortars, grenades and assault rifles.
After sundown, gunmen, apparently from Hamas, laid siege to the house of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, the senior Fatah official in northern Gaza, then dragged him outside and killed him, security officials said. Medics said he was hit by 45 bullets.
Al-Jediyan was a top aide to Gaza Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan. Al-Jediyan's brother was also killed. Fatah spokesman Maher Mikdad harshly denounced the killing. "What is this, if not a war," he said, pledging revenge.
In a message, Fatah called on its members to target all Hamas political and military leaders.
Two others were killed in battles late Monday in northern Gaza, security and hospital officials said. Later, Hamas said one of its men, who was kidnapped earlier, was found dead in a Gaza street.
Palestinian youth seeks shelter during gun battles (photo: Reuters)
The battles came a day after two men were thrown to their deaths from high-rise rooftops, signaling a rapid descent into all-out confrontation.
Appeals for calm by the leaders of the two rival camps, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas - whose home came under fire - went unheeded. Repeated attempts to secure a cease-fire also failed.
The bloodiest clash of the day took place in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Fatah and Hamas gunmen exchanged fire near the hospital, killing a Hamas supporter. The battle the moved to the hospital, where three men - a father and two sons from the Fatah-allied al-Masri clan - were shot dead.
Mohammed Odeh, a volunteer for the Red Crescent rescue service, said one of the al-Masris was shot from close range. Ten people were wounded.
In another confrontation, the Hamas-controlled Shifa Hospital came under fire from the Fatah-allied Bakr clan, after two of its members were killed in clashes with Hamas. Bakr gunmen fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, security officials said, drawing Hamas fire from within the hospital.
Also, a Hamas gunman was shot and killed at a Fatah checkpoint in northern Gaza, security officials said.
During the early hours of Tuesday morning Hamas gunmen attacked a senior Fatah official Hassan Abu Rabiya’s home with grenades and mortars.
Medical sources said Rabiyah’s 14-year-old son and three other women were killed in the assault.
It was later reported that a Palestinian woman died of her wounds after being hit by a shell fired by Hamas gunmen at her home in Gaza City.
In addition, three Hamas members were wounded in exchanges of fire that took place near the home of a Fatah spokesman in the city.
Abbas calls for 'normal life'
Monday's fighting marred the first day of matriculation exams for thousands of high school students in Gaza. Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout Gaza City during the day, intensifying several times.
Abbas, a moderate who has repeatedly condemned the violence, appealed for calm as students began taking their graduation exams in Gaza and the West Bank.
"This is shameful for our people," Abbas said during a visit to a West Bank school. "I call on everyone to stop this immediately, not only because of the examinations, but also for our people to live a normal life."