At least eight people have died as a result of violent clashes between rival Palestinian forces in Gaza and the West Bank. Dozens more were injured in the biggest outbreak of fighting in months. Gunmen set fire to government offices and stormed hospitals, schools and other buildings belonging to the opposing faction. A protester died when violence erupted during an anti-Hamas rally, while three civilians including a young boy were killed in earlier clashes. A Hamas militant, two Palestinian security officers and a member of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential guard also died.
Abbas appeared on television in a bid to defuse the situation. He said he would not allow it to escalate into a civil war and vowed to punish those responsible. His Fatah Party has been locked in an increasingly bitter power-struggle with the Hamas-led government. Hamas trounced Fatah in parliamentary elections in January. Subsequent attempts to form a unity coalition have foundered.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh also called for an end to the violence. The country’s Interior Ministry has ordered its Hamas-led security force to pull back from some positions in Gaza. They had been deployed there to stop protests by police officers over unpaid wages.