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13 Jun, 2007 12:00

Palestinian fighting escalates despite ceasefire

At least 12 have been killed and 50 wounded in the latest fighting between rival Hamas and Fatah members in Gaza. Fatah ministers in the Palestinian unity government have suspended their activities until interfactional violence ends.

Hopes for a stabilising situation in the Middle East have been dealt a major blow after Fatah said it was withdrawing from the three-month-old Palestinian unity government.

It comes after fierce fighting flared between it and its Hamas rival, which has claimed more than 50 lives in the past few days alone.

Teetering on the edge of an all out civil war- that's the fear after another heavy night of fighting between Hamas and Fatah factions in Gaza city.

Fatah says its suspending its involvement in the fledgling unity government, which was only formed three months ago amid hopes of a new start for the region, but that new start, like so many in the Middle East, has once again led to bloodshed. 

“We haven't decided not to participate, but what we have indicated is that one of the steps we might take if the violence doesn't stop is not to take part in the government,” Azam Al-Ahmed, Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister, says.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the violence was part of a Hamas-led coup attempt. Just hours before, Hamas fighters overran several Fatah strongholds including the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza.

The Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas member, Ismail Haniya, said a state of emergency should be declared so that talks between the two factions could resume.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt meeting in Cairo called for an immediate ceasefire and urged both sides to return to the negotiating tables.

“There is a Palestinian responsibility. The Palestinians have to measure and understand that they are wasting all that they have achieved from struggle and effort in the last 20 years of their cause,” Ahmed Aboul, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, stressed.

Abdul Ilah Al Khatib, the Jordanian Foreign Minister added that, “The main priority at this stage is to stop the Palestinian fighting so the Palestinians can face up to their challenges.”

In Brussels, Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti urged the European Union to recognise the Palestinian unity government and resume direct financial aid payments, blaming the international embargo for the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Our aim is to encourage the European Union to deal directly with the national unity government to understand that this is our last resort if we don't want to see that the whole Palestinian authority would collapse. So our goal and aim is to try to convince them to stop this embargo,” Mr Barghouti said.

The rival factions have been at odds since Hamas defeated Fatah in elections in January, ending four decades of Fatah rule.

While the sides agreed to share power three months ago, it was an uneasy coalition, and its apparent failure has come as little surprise to many.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over the escalation of violence in the region and called for an immediate ceasefire.

According to the Ministry’s spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, “Moscow is extremely concerned with the escalating violence in Gaza Strip and on the Palestinian territories as a whole. We believe the escalation of confrontation between Palestinians may lead to chaos and rising tensions in the Middle East. We call on all Palestinian authorities to cease fire and restore stability”.