A Fatah-linked militia circulated leaflets yesterday threatening to kill top leaders of the rival Hamas Party as violence between the sides escalated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the Fatah militant group, confirmed the authenticity of the statement, which threatened to execute Interior Minister Said Siyam of Hamas, the group's Syria-based political leader, Khaled Mashaal, and Youssef Zahar, head of the Hamas militia.
Gunmen allied with Fatah forced the closure of several schools throughout central Gaza yesterday, telling children and teachers to leave and saying the education process must be stopped.
They did not explain why they closed the schools.
Fatah gunmen also blocked a major intersection in central Gaza yesterday, shouting "Down, down with Hamas," burning tires and dumpsters and shooting in the air.
Violence erupted between the sides on Sunday, when the 3,500-strong Hamas militia confronted members of the Fatah-dominated security forces, who were protesting the government's inability to pay their wages.
Fatah militants responded by torching the Cabinet building in Ramallah and trashing Hamas offices throughout the West Bank. A string of running street battles killed eight people and wounded 100 others on Sunday.
To reduce friction, Hamas pulled its militias out of Gaza's main streets on Monday and redeployed them in their normal positions.
Hamas, which ousted Fatah in January parliamentary elections, formed the militia in April after losing a power struggle for control of the security forces with President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader elected separately last year.
But late on Monday, gun battles erupted again in the Gaza town of Rafah between Fatah gunmen and Hamas militiamen. Two people were killed and 14 others were wounded in the latest explosion of internal violence.
Fatah, in a show of strength against Hamas, has been enforcing a general strike in West Bank towns, while the Hamas-led government has ordered all ministries closed to protest attacks on government buildings.
Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said yesterday the only solution to the current round of violence is the establishment of a unity government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party. He condemned the strikes as violent and said they only fanned the tensions between the sides.
"I know there is suffering and there is a big problem," Hamad told Israel Radio in Hebrew.
"When there is a strike you don't go to work but you don't cause problems and riots all the time. This is not acceptable to us."
But the pleas for calm appear to be unheard for the time being and the violence has further dampened hopes of a unity government.
Fatah gunmen and Palestinians loyal to the Abbas' more moderate party are furious that Hamas has refused to moderate its positions in accordance with international demands, a move that would lead the international community to lift debilitating economic sanctions.
The so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators, led by the US, has demanded Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past peace agreements as a condition for sanctions to be lifted.
The Islamic group has so far refused to meet the demands even though the sanctions have made it impossible for the government to pay salaries to employees, plunging thousands of people into poverty and increasing unemployment in the cash-strapped West Bank and Gaza Strip.