GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas gunmen attacked bases of Fatah-allied troops with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades early Sunday, part of a four-day campaign by the Islamic militants to weaken the security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
As night fell, efforts were underway to restore a truce. Gunmen pulled back from their positions, to be replaced by police officers. Both sides began to exchange hostages and joint Hamas-Fatah forces patrolled streets to monitor the cease-fire. Previous truces have quickly broken down.
In the West Bank, a strategy session by Fatah leaders ended in a shouting match, with some participants demanding Abbas’ party take a tougher stand against Hamas in the struggle for control of the Palestinian government, and others pushing to give a mediation effort by Saudi Arabia a chance. In one particularly angry exchange, participants threw an empty cup and a shoe at each other, witnesses said.
“We all agreed that Hamas has been trying for a long time to impose its control on the Gaza Strip, and Fatah needs to stand up to this policy of Hamas,” said Amin Makboul, one of the group’s members. Under fierce debate, though, is how to do so.
The infighting among Palestinians has overshadowed new efforts to restart the peace process with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and its hard-line approach has drawn international sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian economy. Abbas has sought negotiations in the past, but has lately been distracted by the power struggle within his own government.
Israeli Deputy Premier Shimon Peres on Sunday said Israel must not intervene in the internal Palestinian fighting.
“We need to leave Gaza to the Gazans,” Peres told Israeli Army Radio. “Our intervention will not help, on the contrary, it will draw all the fire toward Israel. We need to leave the Gazans to deal with it and hope that it settles itself.”
Abbas, Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas are to meet in Islam’s holy city of Mecca on Tuesday for reconciliation talks hosted by Saudi King Abdullah, the highest-profile mediation effort in several weeks of fighting.
The Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jamal Shobaki, said the meeting will be open-ended and will focus on hammering out a platform for a national unity government and distributing Cabinet positions.
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in the factional fighting since May. The bloodiest round erupted Thursday, with 28 people killed and more than 230 wounded in four days.
Since Thursday, Hamas gunmen have attacked more than a dozen security installations in what appeared to be a systematic campaign to weaken Abbas’ control of Gaza. Late Saturday and early Sunday, Hamas fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades at a training camp of the Presidential Guard and Abbas’ nearby office compound in Gaza City. Abbas was not in Gaza during the current round of fighting.
On Saturday, Hamas gunmen ransacked a training camp of the Preventive Security Service in northern Gaza.
Abbas-allied troops were holding their ground in most areas. Fatah forces also attacked two Hamas-controlled ministries Saturday, and have repeatedly targeted a Hamas stronghold, Gaza City’s Islamic University.
Control over the security forces is central to the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas has set up its own militia, the 5,600-strong Executive Force as a counter to the Palestinian Authority security forces loyal to Abbas. Abbas, the separately elected president, said the militia was illegal.
Thunderous shooting shook one beachside neighborhood for more than half an hour after nightfall Saturday, as Hamas gunmen fought a local clan allied with Abbas’ security forces. The fighting continued early Sunday, with battles in nearly a dozen locations, including the headquarters of Preventive Security in Gaza City.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the stalled Mideast peace process depended on resolving the conflict between rival Palestinian factions as well as the release of the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants in June.
Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mubarak said Egypt was working to “seal the crack” between Hamas and Fatah.