Hamas gunmen ambush Gaza convoy, six killed

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA - Hamas gunmen ambushed what the Islamist group said was a convoy carrying weapons to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' guard unit in the Gaza Strip today and six people were killed, local residents said.

Abbas' Fatah faction said the four-truck convoy, which had crossed from Israel, was carrying medical equipment and tents, and accused Hamas of seriously endangering a 3-day-old ceasefire.

Hospital officials said 50 people, including two children, were wounded in the clash, the fiercest since a ceasefire deal on Wednesday largely halted five days of gun battles between Hamas and Fatah in which 33 Palestinians were killed.

Two presidential guard officers, a member of a military intelligence unit loyal to Abbas, a Hamas member, and two civilians were killed in a battle between Hamas gunmen and presidential guards accompanying the convoy, the residents said.

"A real war is taking place. Gunmen are using the heaviest arms they have," said one witness, declining to be identified.

US President George W Bush has committed US$86 million ($127.21 million) to provide training and non-lethal equipment to forces loyal to Abbas, a moderate.

Weapons are being supplied by key US allies Jordan and Egypt, with Israeli approval, Israeli officials say.

Hamas defeated the once-dominant Fatah in elections a year ago. But it has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of US-backed sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals with the Jewish state.

Diplomats say Abbas' military build-up was meant to counter strides by Hamas in smuggling more powerful weapons into Gaza for its fast-growing "Executive Force" and armed wing, known as the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.

After the attack, Fatah ordered its fighters to be on "full alert" and respond to Hamas attacks.

Fatah men abducted five Hamas members in northern Gaza while Hamas fighters stormed a military intelligence position. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the two incidents.

Sources in Hamas said the trucks, which set off from the Kerem Shalom crossing point with Israel, were carrying weapons for the 4000-strong presidential guard, a force loyal to Abbas and Fatah.

Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the convoy was ferrying generators, tents and medical equipment.

"There are no weapons at all," said Abu Khoussa, describing the ambush as representing "a grave danger to the continuation of the (ceasefire) agreement".

Asked about the convoy's cargo, a Palestinian security official declined to comment. A senior Israeli official said she knew trucks had entered Gaza but did not know their contents.

Another 10 people were wounded in northern Gaza when Hamas raided a military intelligence post. Hamas said its forces came under fire first.

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed three members of Fatah's armed wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in the towns of Nablus and Tulkarm, residents and the military said.

Israeli military sources said troops in Nablus killed two al-Aqsa gunmen in a clash. The militant killed in Tulkarm was shot while trying to evade capture, the sources said.

Israeli troops shot dead a fourth Palestinian near Israel's West Bank barrier, hospital sources said. They said the 17-year-old bled to death after being wounded in the leg.

- REUTERS

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