Five Palestinians Killed in Gaza Clashes; Islamic Jihad to Continue Suicide Attacks
Five Palestinians were killed Friday and more than 60 hurt as violence raged for the second day running in the Gaza Strip between Islamists and Palestinian police, shortly after the Hamas movement vowed to stop suicide and mortar attacks against Israel.
It was the bloodiest intra-Palestinian violence since the 1995 Gaza Strip clashes between Hamas militants and Palestinian police.
Abdelaziz al-Sawarka, 18, from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, was shot dead during clashes in the Jabaliya refugee camp between Islamist activists and Palestinian police, medical sources said.
According to his friends and family, he was a member of the Islamic Jihad group, the smaller rival of Hamas.
Four other Palestinians were also shot dead in the clashes, hospital sources said.
At least one of the four unidentified victims was also believed to be close to Islamic groups, witnesses said, adding that at least another 60 people had been wounded in the unrest.
The violence erupted during the funeral of Islamic Jihad member 17-year-old Mahmud Alemkayad, who was killed overnight during a gunbattle between Palestinian security forces and Hamas members.
A group of several hundred demonstrators broke away from the procession and surrounded a Palestinian police station and some gunmen opened fire, the witnesses said.
Witnesses said homemade hand grenades were also thrown at the station and that the security services retaliated by opening fire on the protestors.
Earlier in the day, a similar incident pitted Jihad supporters against the police, injuring one person on each side.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas have traditionally been fiercely opposed to negotiations with the Jewish state and have carried out the bulk of anti-Israeli attacks over the past several years.
But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Israel has frequently held responsible for the attacks, has been under huge pressure to crack down on Islamic activists since a wave of deadly suicide attacks in Israel in early December.
In an unprecedented address, the Palestinian leader called for a halt to all armed operations against Israel and vowed to hunt down those challenging his authority.
On Wednesday night, Hamas called for a halt to suicide attacks against Israel, an appeal which was confirmed Friday when the movement's political wing urged all members of the group's armed wing to implement a decision to stop suicide and mortar attacks.
"This decision is to protect our Palestinian national union and to guard our way of struggle until we get our independence, although we know the Israeli occupation and its aggression policy will continue," the group said in a statement.
The appeal was aimed at the group's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which have perpetrated the organisation's suicide attacks in Israel, as well as the mortar attacks, often directed at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.
But Islamic Jihad, later announced through its representative in Lebanon that it would continue suicide attacks against Israel.
The group's leader, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, also vowed the movement would continue its resistance during a speech in a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.
The fighting was continuing Friday afternoon despite calls for calm blared through loudspeakers on mosques, an AFP correspondent said.
Hamas called on its members to evacuate the area for the sake of Palestinian "unity."
Some people in the crowd used loudspeakers to urge Palestinians to "save their bullets for our common enemies instead of using them against ourselves."
In addition, a delegation from the National and Islamic Forces -- an umbrella group which has been coordinating the intifada and includes Arafat's Fatah movement, as well as Jihad and Hamas -- arrived on the scene in a bid to stop the violence.
In his speech in Syria, Shalah assured that his movement would not retaliate to the crackdown on Islamist members by Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
On Thursday night, clashes broke out in the Gaza Strip when Palestinian security services averted a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement by Hamas members and arrested five of them. A Palestinian civilian was killed in the ensuing exchange of fire.
The previous night, another shoot out between the Hamas group and Palestinian police injured 23 people, including 18 policemen, when Palestinian security attempted to arrest a Hamas leader, Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi. (AFP, Gaza)
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