Palestinians renew deal to end violence after deaths

GAZA Mon May 14, 2007 7:42pm EDT

Palestinian interior minister Hani al-Qawasmi speaks during a news conference after he declared his resignation in Gaza May 14, 2007. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinian interior minister Hani al-Qawasmi speaks during a news conference after he declared his resignation in Gaza May 14, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

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GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian factions renewed on Monday a pledge to work to keep gunmen off Gaza streets, following the resignation of the interior minister and the biggest surge in factional fighting in months

Hours later, Palestinian witnesses reported unidentified gunmen had abducted a lecturer from the Islamic University, which is largely known to support the Islamic group Hamas. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian factions.

Similar abductions and violence, namely between members of Hamas and rival Fatah, have raged in the Gaza Strip in recent days despite a truce declared months ago. Two Palestinian militants and two civilians were killed in clashes on Monday.

Nine people have been shot dead since a new round of violence erupted on Friday, which revived fears of civil war.

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi, who was to have overseen security services, resigned over frustration by competition from powerful Fatah rivals for control of the armed contingents, officials said.

Officials said following talks with Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who has since taken over Qawasmi's duties, leaders from both sides agreed all gunmen aside from the Palestinian police would be removed from Gaza streets.

"Fatah and Hamas leaders have promised that both sides will end all forms of tensions, end armed displays, remove gunmen and checkpoints from the streets and swap hostages," Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.

Violence has often marred past agreements aimed at ending lawlessness. Past police deployments have not fully secured the territory, which has sunk further into poverty and political disarray since Israel withdrew troops and settlers in 2005.

TENSE STREETS

Qawasmi's resignation had cast new doubt on whether power-sharing between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah could continue. Filling the interior ministry post had been one of the main obstacles to forming a unity government in February.

"We are afraid that some people want to shoot the bullet of mercy against the Mecca agreement," Fatah official Abdel-Hakim Awad said, referring to the Saudi-brokered unity coalition agreement, which also included pledges to end chaos.

"We will work to prevent that because if it happened, it would bring a catastrophe to the internal situation and the area will sink in a blood bath."

Earlier, sources in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah said tensions stoked by the renewed violence with Hamas, after a new ceasefire was announced late on Sunday, could lead to the collapse of the unity government within days.

"Talk during the night is like butter -- it melts at sunrise," a man on a bicycle, referring to the truce negotiations, shouted as he passed near masked gunmen closing a main street in Gaza City.

Both sides had planned to pull gunmen off the streets a day before Palestinians mark the "Naqba", or what they describe as the tragedy that befell them when Israel was created in 1948.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, testifying to a parliamentary committee, reaffirmed Israel's position that with what she called a "terrorist group", Hamas, in power, the time was not ripe for full negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

In a scene reminiscent of fierce factional warfare before the Saudi-brokered unity government was formed, masked gunmen patrolled Gaza's streets as ordinary Palestinians opted to stay indoors and keep children home from school.

Shops were shuttered and taxi drivers took detours to bypass checkpoints set up by rival armed groups.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

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