Two dozen die as Hamas and Fatah battle in Gaza

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The Independent Online

Hamas and Fatah gunmen battled each other in the streets of the Gaza Strip yesterday, in an increasingly bloody power struggle that left more than two dozen Palestinians dead over the weekend.

An explosion early yesterday rocked the Gaza City home of a bodyguard to Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, but no casualties were reported. Separately, gunmen took at least 11 hostages, including one in view of news crews.

The latest round of fighting began late on Thursday after a Hamas activist was killed in a bombing. By Saturday night, 25 Palestinians - including two boys aged two and 12 - had been killed and at least 76 wounded. A threat by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, of Fatah, to call early elections preceded the violence.

Hamas has said that it opposes a new vote, calling it a "coup attempt".

Residents of areas where the fighting was fiercest took refuge with relatives, and bullet holes marked many of the buildings. Others hid in their homes, afraid to be caught in crossfire.

The 12-year-old was killed on Saturday in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. Firefights there continued yesterday and youths burned tyres to protest against the boy's death. "This is not our battle," said Sami Hodeib, 43, a shopkeeper in Beit Lahiya. "This is a power struggle. How was that boy to blame?"

At a cabinet session yesterday, Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister, of Hamas, called on the militants to put their guns away, and appealed to Mr Abbas to pull his men from the streets.

Three Hamas loyalists were abducted in Beit Lahiya. Hamas officials blamed Fatah. And in the West Bank town of Nablus, 15 Fatah-affiliated gunmen stormed into a bank and snatched a local Hamas leader. Fatah-linked gunmen also abducted five Education Ministry employees before setting light to the building. Two other Hamas members in Nablus were kidnapped.AP

* Saudi Arabia invited Palestinian leaders for talks in the holy city of Mecca. The Hamas-led Palestinian government said yesterday it had accepted the offer to meet the rival faction Fatah.