A fierce gunbattle erupted early Tuesday within the compound of Shifa hospital in Gaza City between the security personal of Hamas and Fatah, witnesses and hospital officials said. One member of the Hamas executive force was killed in the exchange and 11 were wounded, one seriously.
The gunbattle erupted as the warring factions were trying to hold on to a shaky truce that followed days of unrest in Gaza, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for early elections.
The gunbattle, which raged for nearly an hour, sent schoolchildren scurrying for cover as they made their way to school. Rival gunmen took up positions of rooftops, some firing rocket-propelled grenades at each other.
Hamas said their men came under fire when a group of armed men from Fatah stormed the hospital. They said they arrested two of the attackers. Hamas identified the dead man as Ismail Abu al-Hir, 25, a member of its police unit.
Fatah blamed Hamas gunmen for the exchange of fire, saying that members of its intelligence forces came under fire from the Hamas executive unit.
The gunbattle came after a number of shooting incidents overnight between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in the area of Abbas' presidential home in Gaza and also in the area around the Palestinian national security compound. There were no reports of injuries, but Palestinian ambulances said they came under fire in the exchanges, the AP says.
Another brief gunbattle broke out in the morning as masked gunmen opened fire presidential guards who are manning a roadblock at the entrance to Abbas' home. Abbas was in Ramallah at the time.
Late Monday, a Fatah supporter was killed in a gunfight and a senior Fatah official was briefly seized by Hamas militants, after a relatively quiet day in Gaza, where violence appeared to be cooling after Sunday night's truce announcement, the AP says.
"What is going on is a violation and sabotage and I have called on both parties to shoulder their responsibility and to end what is going on in the streets," said Ibrahim Abu al-Najah, a mediator who sponsored Sunday's truce. "No one is taking advantage of what is going on except for the enemy of the nation."
Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in legislative elections in January. Abbas' Fatah party controls the presidency, while Hamas controls parliament and the Palestinian Cabinet, putting it in charge of most government functions.
The latest fighting erupted after the three young sons of a Fatah security officer were gunned down last week, and worsened following Abbas' announcement Saturday that he would call new elections to end the impasse. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas is set to deliver a major speech on Tuesday to discuss the situation.