At least 3 killed in Gaza

JERUSALEM -- At least three more Palestinians were killed yesterday in Gaza in continuing battles between fighters loyal to Fatah and Hamas, which has been celebrating its victory a year ago over Fatah in legislative elections.

At least 14 Palestinians, including a 2-year-old boy, died Friday in daylong clashes and retaliatory attacks. The death toll has reached 20 since Thursday, with more than 65 people wounded, news agencies reported.


Those killed yesterday were identified as Mahmoud Khalil Khatib, 17, who appears to have been a bystander, and two members of the security forces, Ibrahim al-Khalout, 25, and Mohammad Khattab, 33.

The fighting broke out near Hamas' Islamic University, the headquarters of the Fatah-dominated preventive security force in Gaza City and the Shifa Hospital just a few blocks away.


Hamas, which leads the Palestinian Authority, said Friday that it was suspending new talks with the Fatah movement of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on the formation of a national unity government because of the violence. Abbas, who was at a conference in Switzerland and then in Spain, said he expected negotiations on a government to last at least three more weeks.

If the talks fail, Abbas said he would move to make good on his Dec. 16 call for early presidential and parliamentary elections, despite Hamas' victory a year ago. Hamas has labeled the call an attempted coup and said it would resist or obstruct any new legislative elections. Abbas went to Damascus, Syria, this month to meet with the Hamas political director, Khaled Meshal, who lives there in exile, and the two said they had made progress. But Hamas is insisting that the current prime minister, Ismail Haniya, remain in the job and that it retain effective control of major ministries, including the Interior Ministry.

The latest talks between Hamas and Fatah started Tuesday. Yesterday, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman in Gaza, blamed Hamas for starting the latest mayhem. "We in Fatah did not stop the dialogue. Those who stopped the dialogue are required to return," he said.

Hamas blamed Fatah, saying in a statement that the unity talks were close to an agreement "when putschists inside Fatah rushed to blow up the situation to serve their own interests and a foreign agenda."

The point of a new government would be to try to meet international requirements that the Palestinian Authority accept the right of Israel to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements. Hamas has refused to do that but has negotiated with Abbas for months over a political program for a government that could meet the standards and thus let Western budgetary aid resume.

The fight for power in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas has been intermittently bloody, with more than 30 people killed between mid-December and early January in urban fighting. Palestinians warned then of a possible civil war, though the factions tend to calm down after a spike in violence, in part because of growing popular disgust with the gunmen.