Tensions rise as Hamas judge is shot outside Gaza court

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The Independent Online

Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, cut short a lengthy foreign trip yesterday to return to Gaza after Palestinian gunmen shot dead a senior Islamic court official prominent in Hamas's military wing.

The internal tension in Gaza continued as Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian for the first time since a fragile ceasefire was agreed 17 days ago. The Israeli military said the man was armed and carrying grenades near the border fence north of Karni.

The killing of the Hamas man in the Gaza town of Khan Younis came two days after the murder of three young sons of an intelligence colonel in the Fatah-dominated security forces. In a faxed statement, Hamas accused a Fatah "death squad" of killing Bassam Al Farah, 32, described as the director of family counselling at the southern Gaza sharia courts. A Fatah official accused Hamas of pre-empting an investigation. Witnesses told Associated Press that four gunmen had waited for Mr Farah outside the courthouse, forced him to his knees and shot him.

Mr Haniyeh criticised President Mahmoud Abbas's deployment of security forces in Gaza, saying his Fatah faction should accept Hamas's election victory last January.

Despite veiled warnings of revenge from one Hamas spokesman, Mr Haniyeh, a Hamas political leader as well as Prime Minister, told reporters in Khartoum: "We want to assure you that words such as 'civil war' don't exist in our dictionary."

The fatal shooting by the Israeli troops was followed by what Palestinian sources described as an incident in which two Palestinians aboard a Gaza fishing boat were wounded by Israeli gunfire.

Earlier, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said that the ceasefire was becoming "harder and harder" to maintain in the face of 20 rockets which had fallen ­ without injury ­ since it began.