Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ceasefire survives gunfire in Gaza Strip

'ABSOLUTE COMMITMENT' Spokesmen for the Hamas and Fatah parties insisted that they still backed the truce and refused to assign blame for yesterday's violence

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Hamas officials early yesterday in separate attacks, marring efforts to shore up a truce that brought relative quiet to Gaza after days of deadly factional violence.

However, the three-day old ceasefire appeared to hold in the face of the shootings.

Early yesterday, unknown gunmen opened fire at Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum as he drove with three bodyguards in his white sedan toward an impromptu checkpoint near Gaza City, Hamas said. There were no casualties.

A Hamas announcement blamed "coup-seekers," meaning militants from the rival Fatah party.

"This is a violation of the [truce] agreement," Barhoum said.

He reported the incident to Egyptian mediators and the gunmen removed their checkpoint, he said.

Later yesterday, gunmen in a car shot at Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for a Hamas militia, Shahwan said, blaming the shooting on Fatah-affiliated security officers.

One Hamas member had been wounded, he said.

The incidents -- and another shooting on Wednesday that critically wounded a Fatah man -- didn't unravel the ceasefire, declared early on Tuesday by leaders of Fatah and Hamas.

The truce is meant to bring an end to internal fighting that has left more than 60 Palestinians dead since early December.

On Wednesday, armed militias returned to their bases and police took their places, though some streets were still off limits to civilians.

After Wednesday's attack, Fatah and Hamas officials emphasized their support for the truce and refused to assign blame, despite deep animosity that spawned months of bloody clashes.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, declared his group's "absolute commitment" to the truce, and stressed Hamas' "innocence from any act that is in violation of this agreement."

"Whoever violates this agreement ... doesn't want any good for our people, and doesn't want the agreement to succeed," Fatah spokesman Abdel Hakim Awad said.

Gazans strolled the streets and went about their errands in leisurely fashion on Wednesday, enjoying the lull.

Mahmoud Dahdouh, 17, hoped business at his vegetable stand would return to normal after the end of the street fighting.

"People came here, and then shooting would start and they fled before they bought anything," he said, unloading a shipment of vegetables.

Previous truces between Hamas and Fatah have quickly collapsed into new waves of fighting.

Hamas-Fatah coalition talks have broken down and appear unlikely to resume soon, though both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have offered to mediate.

The truce did nothing to resolve the underlying power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.

The two sides have been at odds since Hamas took power a year ago, dividing the government.

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