Gunmen of the rival Hamas and Fatah movements traded fire Monday, killing two Fatah fighters and wounding at least 10 people despite an Egyptian-brokered agreement to end the violence that is jeopardizing a power-sharing deal between the two sides.
The latest clashes erupted in several locations in the coastal strip and brought the toll to six dead and three dozen wounded in less than 24 hours.
Among the dead were two employees of a Hamas-affiliated newspaper who were shot after being pulled out of a taxi at a Fatah roadblock Sunday, according to the Hamas account. If confirmed, this tactic would mark a further escalation and likely provoke more execution-style killings.
Israel's security cabinet, meanwhile, decided to hold off for now on a major military operation in Gaza. In a meeting Sunday, the ministers were weighing a response to intensifying rocket fire from Gaza and the army's warnings that Hamas is stockpiling weapons smuggled into the strip.
Instead, the army was given permission to step up targeted attacks against those firing the rockets, said Defence Minister Amir Peretz.
Agreementto withdraw forceson Sunday
"The decision to go into Gaza, to occupy Gaza is one that can be taken at any time but we have to understand its significance," Peretz told Israel Radio. "We, the government, need to examine what are the consequences of each and every action and … [whether] we want to play into the hands of those extremists who are interested in bringing about escalation."
In Gaza, an Egyptian security delegation brought Hamas and Fatah together Sunday night and got them to agree to withdraw their forces and exchange captives.
But hours later, Fatah said Hamas attacked one of its offices in Gaza City, firing automatic weapons and hurling hand grenades. Hamas said Fatah men attacked a roadblock manned by its militiamen.
Hospital officials said two Fatah men were killed and 10 people wounded, from both sides.
Hamas and Fatah set up a coalition government in March, with the goal of ending months of bloody clashes between forces loyal to the two sides. But a new round of violence followed last week's deployment of 3,000 police in Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas, over Hamas objections.
Ambush sparked latest wave of clashes
The latest escalation began Sunday, when a shooting ambush blamed on Hamas killed a Fatah militant commander and his bodyguard.
In a firefight that followed, Suleiman Ashi, 26, a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Daily, was pulled from a taxi by Fatah gunmen and shot, according to the newspaper. He and another employee of the paper wounded in the incident died later of their wounds.
The Palestinian Journalists Union condemned the attack.
In another incident Sunday, masked gunmen abducted a well-known religious scholar from Hamas as he returned from evening prayers at a local mosque in Gaza City. He was released after three hours, Hamas said.
His abduction set off a wave of kidnappings by both sides, security officials said. At least 14 people were snatched, a Hamas official said.
Also Sunday, Jordan's King Abdullah called off what was to have been a rare visit to the West Bank. The king hoped to push an Arab peace plan and show support for Abbas, a moderate and leader of Fatah. He cited cited low clouds and poor visibility for the cancellation.