Hamas forces captured the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza near Jabalya Tuesday night, Hamas and Fatah officials said. The compound was the last step in Hamas' takeover of the northern Gaza Strip.
Hamas attacked the compound with mortars and automatic gunfire, and after several hours of battle, seized control, said Hamas commander Wael al-Shakra. A Fatah security official confirmed the building had been lost.
Palestinian sources in northern Gaza reported a large number of casualties as a result of the clashes, with eyewitnesses claiming at least 20 Hamas fatalities, and dozens of people wounded.
Early Wednesday, two more people died of wounds, hospital officials said. They were not immediately identified.
Battles over security positions spread to central Gaza in
the predawn hours of Wednesday, and gunmen fought for control of high-rise buildings in Gaza City.
No official Palestinian medical facility has confirmed receiving the casualties. Prior to this particular battle, 25 Palestinians had already been killed since Monday.
The conflict escalated further when the Fatah central committee decided to suspend the activities of its ministers in the government it shares with Hamas. In an emergency meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Fatah decided on a full withdrawal if the fighting doesn't stop, said government spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
Fatah, Hamas preparing for huge conflict
Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for an even larger confrontation in the coming hours, in a fight for control of various power centers in Gaza, sources from both factions told Ynet Tuesday night. Many of these are located near the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas sources said they are determined to take over important Fatah security headquarters all over Gaza and believe that their faction and its allies have the power to do so.
One operative said that Hamas gunmen have been training in recent months to learn how to infiltrate compounds and secured outposts. He said that, because of their training and weaponry, he believed his faction would be able to defeat Fatah.
Hamas field operatives said their forces intend to split into several squads, of six armed men on average, with 120 bullets per operative and a missile-launcher, eight mortars and 4 grenades in every cell.
According to a senior Hamas source, "Yassin" mortars – the organization's version of a D2 mortar – will be the key in beating the rival faction. He said Hamas possessed and intended to use hundreds of these mortars Tuesday night.
'A fight for Islam vs. a fight for salaries'
Fatah sources, on the other hand, feel well-equipped to put up a fight and drive back any Hamas attack.
They said tens of thousands of operatives would deploy near the Muntada area - where Abbas' office and several security headquarters are located.
Fatah operatives, who are preparing for a defensive operation, have already deployed in most of the tall buildings overlooking the area. They said they had several armored vehicles and extensive weapons stores at hand.
A Hamas operative responded that during a Tuesday afternoon takeover of a Hamas TV station, their operatives were able to hijack several armored Fatah jeeps. "They tried to take over the station and within 15 minutes, were leaving the area. Two jeeps were burned and four were taken," he said.
He added that, during an attack on Fatah security headquarters, Hamas operatives were able to steal some 250 Kalashnikov rifles and additional weapons.
"We're fighting for Islam and they are fighting for their salaries. As soon as we start shelling, the love of life will win out over the love of salary and we will win," he declared.
Fatah operatives said that, despite statements about ideology, Hamas would be surprised by the secular faction's strength and determination. They added that Fatah also had hundreds of mortars at its disposal.
AP contributed to this report