Palestinian leaders appeal for calm after three killed in shootout

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The Independent Online

Hamas and Fatah leaders yesterday publicly appealed for calm after a shootout between armed members of the two factions left three Palestinians dead and 11 wounded.

The Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas ordered "all necessary measures" to prevent further bloodshed after the violence erupted on the edge of the southern town of Khan Yunis.

The mounting tensions between the factions came as a leading British based charity launched a direct appeal to the international "Quartet" meeting in New York today to reverse its decision to cut funding to the Hamas-led Palestinian authority.

In a letter to the Quartet, made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia, Oxfam International warned that this was "the worst possible time" to cut funding to the PA and insisted that Hamas's January election victory provided an opportunity to move the peace process forward, one that the international community should seize."

The charity called on the newly sworn in Israeli government to restart paying the $60m per month in duties it is withholding from the PA and declared: "To cut funding risks squandering the positive potential that may exist in the new governments and risks making an already fragile situation more dangerous. Whatever the politics of such a decision, it would be ordinary people who would suffer the consequences."

The letter said that Palestinians were already on the "edge of survival" and warned that a continued cut off of aid "would weaken the Palestinian Authority and deprive Palestinians of critically needed health and education services at a time when the Palestinian economy is suffering a serious reversal of development because of Israel's occupation and the ongoing conflict."

Oxfam's letter was the latest in a series of appeals by NGOs and aid organisations calling on the international community to accept that the consequences of continued non-payment of salaries to over 150,000 PA employees could have a devastating impact on the already stricken Palestinian economy and threaten the collapse of health, education-and security.

After the gun battle early yesterday between members of military wings in the two main Palestinian factions-the worst of its kind since Hamas took office-Mr Haniyeh declared: "I have issued direct and firm instructions to the Interior Ministry to take all necessary measures to end the bloodshed and tension, using all Palestinian security forces to ensure these events do not continue or spread to other areas," A Fatah spokesman called for an end to the fighting as well as "a responsible dialogue to stop the bloodshed in Khan Yunis and to prevent the clashes from spreading to other areas."

Meanwhile the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, representing Arab citizens in Israel, sent a convoy of trucks with food aid to the Jalama roadblock, where Palestinian trucks were waiting to take the cargo for distribution in the Jenin and Nablus area of the West Bank.