Hamas militiamen and Palestinian police traded heavy fire near Gaza City's parliament building yesterday, killing the driver of the Jordanian ambassador in Gaza and wounding 11 people in the worst internal fighting in recent weeks.
At one point, Hamas gunmen holed up in two buildings under construction, hurling grenades and firing a rocket-propelled grenade at police. Other militants took up positions behind trees, cars and buildings, turning downtown Gaza into a battle zone.
Yesterday's battle was the most intense in an increasingly bloody confrontation between gunmen loyal to the Hamas government and the Palestinian security forces allied with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas government deployed a 3,000-strong force of militants last week, sending tensions soaring.
The man killed yesterday was identified as 45-year-old Khaled Radaida, the driver of the Jordanian ambassador in Gaza. Three bullets hit the windshield of Radaida's vehicle, marked with Jordanian diplomatic license plates.
TV footage showed two gunmen pressed against a wall, firing across an intersection. A few moments later, the Jordanian vehicle is shown slowly approaching from the opposite side of the intersection. The vehicle stops, then tries to reverse. However, there is no footage of gunmen aiming at the vehicle, as was initially claimed.
The ambassador, Yehiya Qarallah, was not in the vehicle at the time.
Under police escort, the ambassador was taken to the morgue of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital and identified the driver. The diplomat sobbed as he emerged from the morgue.
Radaida's death brought to eight the number of people killed in internal fighting in Gaza this month.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar called the Jordanian ambassador in Gaza and expressed his condolences. Zahar said the death would be investigated.
Hamas and Palestinian security forces gave conflicting accounts of how yesterday's fighting started.
The Preventive Security Service, a branch loyal to Abbas, said Hamas militiamen stopped one of its vehicles in the street and fired at the car. Hamas said some of its members came under fire during a patrol and sought cover in the abandoned building, then fired back.
During the fighting, Hamas gunmen closed main junctions and with raised weapons ordered drivers to turn back. The militiamen closed a large area between the parliament building and Palestinian police headquarters.
Abbas' Fatah movement, defeated by Hamas in January parliament elections, held Hamas responsible for the death of the Jordanian driver. Maher Maqdad, a Fatah spokesman in Gaza, said the Hamas militia is illegal and had no business patrolling near the police headquarters yesterday.
"When are they [Hamas leaders] going to realize that this unit is illegal and when are they going to dismantle it?" Maqdad said in a text message sent to reporters.
A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, alleged that the fighting was triggered by what he called "suspicious figures," who he said opened fire on Hamas and police to stir trouble.