Sun, Feb 04, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Gaza hit by violence as truce ends

NO END IN SIGHT As a result of kidnappings and attacks on buildings from ministries to universities, most Gazans stayed home and the UN chose not to open its schools


Fatah and Hamas clashed at Cabinet ministries, universities and security headquarters yesterday in defiance of a truce that was to have calmed the seething Gaza Strip.

Twelve people were wounded by late morning, hospital officials said and Fatah said Hamas kidnapped 40 of its security officials at roadblocks.

Gazans who had ventured from their homes, hoping for a lull in violence, scurried to seek refuge.

The ceasefire agreement was announced late on Friday on the deadliest single day of battles between the two sides, who have been locked in a violent power struggle since the Islamic militant Hamas ousted Fatah from power last year. Palestinian officials said the deal was approved by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal.

But the ceasefire -- the second announced last week -- showed no signs of taking hold.

Gunbattles raged across Gaza after the truce was announced, continuing through the night and early yesterday. With no casualties reported overnight, some Gazans, who had spent the previous two days huddled at home for safety, were emboldened to leave their houses to go to work.

But confrontations soon heated up in Gaza City, the coastal strip's largest town. Fatah gunmen stormed the Agriculture Ministry, ransacking offices and stealing computers, servers and official documents, said Agriculture Minister Mohammed al-Agha of Hamas.

Fatah-affiliated security officials said nothing was stolen or destroyed and denied al-Agha's assertion that gunmen had opened fire from the building's rooftops.

Officials at the Hamas-run Communications and Postal Ministry said Fatah gunmen fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the building. Gunbattles also erupted around the Interior Ministry, which Hamas controls and the Fatah-dominated National Security headquarters.

Universities also continued to be the site of clashes. Armed men at Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold, traded fire with Fatah fighters who took up position on the rooftop of nearby al-Azhar University and surrounding buildings. University workers ran for cover as gunshots pierced the air.

Drivers in Gaza City who had decided to test the truce declaration and leave their homes sought alternative routes around the fighting, afraid to be caught in the crossfire.

Gunmen waved along a group of children who walked single file along a wall, hoping that would offer them shelter.

Gunmen set up roadblocks at various points in the city, stopping cars and searching them for rivals.

Fatah-affiliated security officials said that Hamas fighters had set up roadblocks on the road leading south from the city, and seized 40 unarmed Fatah security personnel.

Even before the gunfire intensified, the streets of Gaza City had been almost empty, with only one person outside an ordinarily busy bakery yesterday morning.

The UN said it would not reopen its schools in Gaza on yesterday after a mid-year recess, as scheduled, because of the fighting -- a decision that kept nearly 200,000 students at home.

In southern Gaza, gunmen stormed the Fatah-affiliated al-Quds University campus in the town of Rafah, torching the student council building, university officials said.

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