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October 09, 2002

Civil war: Hamas, Palestinian Authority in firefights

GAZA CITY — Fighting has broken out between Palestinian Authority forces and Hamas insurgents in the Gaza Strip after an assassination attempt on a senior Palestinian official.

PA forces stormed Hamas strongholds and in the ensuing gunfight at least five Hamas members were killed and 30 injured. The operation came in wake of an assassination of a senior PA officer by Hamas gunmen. Hamas denied being involved in the assassination.

A PA statement said a Hamas force of 20 agents, dressed in police uniforms, abducted and killed Col. Rajah Abu Yehya, 55. Abu Yehya was identified as head of the PA riot police who led operations against Hamas and its supporters.

It was the first clash between the two organizations in more than a year, Middle East Newsline reported.

The statement said Palestinians threw stones at PA police who sought to arrest Hamas agents after the assassination on Monday. Thousands of Hamas supporters later surrounded and torched a police station in Gaza City.

Two of the Hamas members were killed in a shootout in Gaza City. The others were killed in the Nusseirat camp during a PA police operation to capture suspects. The police force withdrew under Hamas fire.

A PA security source said the assassination of Abu Yehya was headed by Imad Aql, the brother of a Hamas agent killed by police during demonstrations in support of Osama Bin Laden in September 2001. Three Hamas members were killed during the pro-Bin Laden protests in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Jabalya more than a year ago.

PA National Security Adviser Mohammed Dahlan warned Hamas to hand over the suspects in the assassination of Abu Yehya. Dahlan's call was echoed by the ruling Fatah movement loyal to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"Fatah will not permit anybody to weaken the internal front and will hit with an iron first those who look to launch an internal fight in the Palestinian street," Fatah said in a statement.

On Monday, 14 Palestinians were killed and 70 were injured during an Israeli military raid of the Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. Hamas, which was the target of the Israeli operation, has called for attacks on Israelis and their supporters.

On Tuesday, Hamas gunners fired Kassam-class short-range missiles at Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip. Nobody was injured. Outside the West Bank city of Hebron, an Israeli national was shot and killed in a Palestinian ambush

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