Four Days of Hamas-Fatah Fighting Leaves 26 Dead in Gaza

A Hamas supporter was killed in a drive-by shooting in southern Gaza on Sunday, bringing the death toll in four days of Hamas-Fatah fighting to 26.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia offered to mediate between the rivals, locked in a power struggle since Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections a year ago, ending four decades of Fatah rule.

The tensions have frequently erupted into violence, particularly since coalition talks broke down in December and Fatah's leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, threatened to call early elections.

In all, more than 60 Palestinians have been killed in internal fighting since December, including 26 in the latest round which began Thursday.

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Sunday's violence began with a blast at the home of a bodyguard to Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan. The guard was not in the building, and no casualties were reported.

Other clashes took place near security installations in Gaza City, and several Hamas loyalists were abducted in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas officials said. The violence also spread to the West Bank, where about 15 Fatah gunmen stormed into a West Bank bank and snatched a local Hamas leader, witnesses said.

There has been a rash of kidnappings throughout the fighting. In all previous cases, the hostages have been released unharmed relatively quickly.

By midafternoon, a lull appeared to be taking hold in Gaza City. The city's main marketplace reopened, and people were out and about running errands.

"No doubt it is a very scary situation. But I have to get out," said Rami Samir, a 30-year-old university instructor who was buying lunch at a Gaza City food stand.

However, gunmen opened fire on a police station in northern Gaza after sundown, wounding a police officer, security officials said. Also, they said, an intelligence officer and his bodyguard from Fatah were kidnapped.

In the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, a Hamas gunman was shot dead in a drive-by shooting after nightfall, Hamas officials said. At least seven other fighters were wounded, hospital officials said. Also, there were reports of kidnappings on both sides.

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said the Islamic group was in talks with Egyptian mediators in hopes of forging a truce. Saudi Arabia also offered to mediate, said Taher Nunu, a spokesman for Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas.

Abbas welcomed the Saudi offer to host truce talks, Palestinian TV reported. Fatah official Ahmed Qureia, a former prime minister, praised the Saudi invitation. "We consider this initiative as a generous invitation that must receive all the support and approval of all the parties," he told The Associated Press.

At an emergency session of Cabinet, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called on gunmen to put their weapons away, and appealed to Abbas to pull his armed men from the streets.

Abbas said last week he would move forward with his election plan if the coalition talks did not produce results three weeks. Hamas opposes a new vote, calling it a "coup attempt."

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