Hamas Gaining Upper Hand in Gaza Fighting

Palestinian men take cover as security forces clash with Hamas militants in Gaza City, June 13, 2007

Palestinian men take cover as security forces clash with Hamas militants in Gaza City, June 13, 2007. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah militants has reached the pitch of all-out civil war, with gun battles over key security positions spreading into the heart of the coastal strip.

Hamas fighters on Wednesday wrested control of Gaza's north-south road – and put themselves in position to cut off reinforcements to beleaguered Fatah forces. Six militants died in clashes near the besieged house of a senior Fatah commander in Gaza City, besides four killed there on Tuesday, Hamas said. Two other people died of wounds sustained in earlier fighting.

Gunmen also fought for control of high-rise buildings in Gaza City that serve as sniper positions.

Violence in Gaza this week between the two factions has killed 50 people since Monday.

Confrontations have turned increasingly brutal in recent days, with some killed execution-style in the streets, others in hospital shootouts or thrown off rooftops. Both sides have been arming themselves in recent weeks, smuggling weapons through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Hamas has been systematically taking control of major positions in the north and south, apparently leaving Gaza City, the strip's security and political nerve center, for last.

Shops and schools in Gaza City were closed Wednesday, and streets were empty as terrified residents huddled in their homes. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency announced it couldn't distribute food to the 30 percent of the Gaza Strip that relies on international food aid.

A mortar shell hit the home of a deputy Cabinet minister from Hamas in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City, setting it aflame, security officials said.

On Tuesday, Hamas gunmen scored a key victory when they overran the headquarters of a Fatah-allied security force in northern Gaza.

Hamas reported another strategic win on Wednesday, saying it seized a Fatah post on the main north-south road, where security forces often stopped cars carrying Hamas loyalists. Hamas said it brought a bulldozer to flatten the post, which consisted of a mobile home and several shacks.

Hamas also seized control Wednesday of a Fatah post on Gaza's coastal road - another main artery for reinforcing Fatah troops.

Hamas and Fatah have waged a power struggle in fits and spurts for the past year since Hamas won parliament elections, ending four decades of Fatah rule. On Tuesday, Hamas signaled it was moving into a decisive phase. It ignored pleas by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian mediators to honor a cease-fire and appeared to be moving ahead according to a plan.

From The Associated Press

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