Another two Palestinians died yesterday in clashes between rival factions in Gaza, bringing the death toll to 17 in three days of bitter fighting that has torpedoed talks on forming a unity government.
Rival supporters of the ruling Hamas movement and the Fatah faction loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have fought running gun battles and fired off volleys of mortars and grenades in the densely populated streets of Gaza City since Thursday night, medics and witnesses said.
The fiercest fighting since the Hamas won parliamentary elections one year ago has also left around 50 people injured, according to medical officials.
Amid the mounting casualties, Hamas suspended talks on Friday night over forming a national unity government with Abbas' Fatah party, which it accuses of provoking the latest fighting.
"The unity government talks were on the verge of full agreement and the announcement of a unity government when putschists inside Fatah ... rushed to blow up the situation to serve their own interests and a foreign agenda," Hamas said in a statement.
The allegations flew both ways.
"It's clear that Hamas doesn't want the dialogue to succeed," said Tawfiq Abu Khussa, a Fatah spokesman.
Yesterday's flare-up saw Mahmoud Khalil Khatib, 17, an innocent bystander, and Mohammad Khattab, 33, an officer in the national security force, killed in early morning firefights in downtown Gaza City, medical sources said.