Six killed in Hamas ambush on Gaza convoy

By Nidal al-Mughrabi Thu Feb 1, 4:49 PM ET

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas gunmen ambushed what the Islamist group said was a convoy carrying military equipment to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's guard unit in Gaza on Thursday and six people were killed, local residents said.


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

Hospital officials said 50 people, including two children, were wounded in the clash, the fiercest since Tuesday's truce 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.

President Bush has committed $86 million to provide training and non-lethal equipment to forces loyal to the moderate Abbas. Weapons are being supplied by key U.S. 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 U.S.-backed sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals with the Jewish state.

Diplomats say Abbas's 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.


The convoy attack touched off further clashes in Gaza.

Fatah and Hamas supporters exchanged fire near the Islamic University, a pro-Hamas stronghold, and part of the campus was set aflame. Fatah men abducted five Hamas members in a separate incident, and 10 people were hurt when Hamas raided a military intelligence post. Hamas said its forces came under fire first.

Hamas at first alleged that the convoy it targeted carried arms. But an Izz el-Deen al-Qassam spokesman, Abu Ubaida, at a later news conference described the cargo more generally as "all kinds of military equipment," including boots and tents.

Abu Ubaida said that, since Wednesday, seven other delivery trucks had reached the 4,000-strong presidential guard, which is loyal to Fatah, from a crossing on the Gaza-Israel border and that Hamas believed the overall shipment included weaponry.

"While money and assistance are withheld from the Palestinian people, these (deliveries) reach the presidential guard, in order to instigate sedition," he said.

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.

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.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem)


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