Two Hamas gunmen, three Palestinian policemen and a passerby were killed in exchanges of gunfire in the West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian security officials said.
The clashes erupted when security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, which administers the West Bank, raided a neighborhood in the city of Qalqilya to arrest gunmen of the rival Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The officials named one of the killed Hamas gunmen as Mohammad Yasin and said policemen were combing the area in a search for more gunmen.
Witnesses said several Hamas gunmen holed up in buildings had ignored calls to surrender.
The incident is likely to widen a rift between Fatah and Hamas. Tensions have been high between the rival groups since Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after routing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.
Hamas says Abbas' Fatah-dominated security forces are pursuing a crackdown on its activists. The Islamist group said on Saturday 22 of its activists were arrested in the West Bank.
Fatah denies such arrests are politically motivated. A security official in the West Bank said the individuals arrested on Saturday were involved in hiding weapons, money laundering and incitement to violence.
'PA will pay heavy price for Qalqilya crime'A spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip said Saturday's arrests were an attempt by Fatah to sabotage Egyptian efforts to reconcile the two rival groups.
Hamas has also accused Fatah of helping Israel hunt down one of its fugitive militants who was killed on Thursday by soldiers who encircled his house near the West Bank city of Hebron.
Hamas accused the PA of causing the escalation, claiming that the operation in Qalqilya was "part of the Zionist-American scheme the PA is taking part in." The movement members also said that IDF forces were taking part in the activity, a claim which has not been approved by Israeli sources and was firmly denied by the PA. Hamas' patience in the West Bank will soon "snap", the sources said.
The Hamas members added that the PA exploited the family members of the hiding activists in order to convince them to turn themselves in. One of them warned that "the collaborators and traitors of the Palestinian Authority will pay a heavy price for the Qalqilya crime."
During unity talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo earlier this month, Egypt set a July 7 deadline for a deal to bridge their divisions.