World

Gunbattles rage in hours following Gaza truce

The leaders of the two Palestinian factions battling in Gaza agreed Friday to meet to again try and settle their differences as the day's death toll from gunbattles rose to 17.

The leaders of the two Palestinian factions battling in Gaza agreed Friday to meet next week to again try and settle their differences as the day's death toll from factional violencerose to 17 — including four children.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will meet in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, citing a Fatah official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two leaders ended their last round of talks on Jan. 21, unable to come to an agreement to form a unity government but saying that they had "achieved major progress."

News of the meeting came on the same day as Fatah and Hamas gunmen attacked two universities and a radio station Friday in the deadliest single day of the violent power struggle.

Fierce gunbattles raged across Gaza Friday in the hours after the announcement that the two sides declared another truce.

Frightened bystanders huddled in their homes as gunmen battled in the streets. Civilians who did venture outside took cover from the crossfire at the entrances to shuttered stores or cowered behind walls.

Casualties were so high that hospitals ran out of ambulances and people were forced to evacuate the wounded in private cars, carrying bloodied victims in their arms to the emergency room. One man carried in a boy who was shot in the head and later died of his wounds.

A ceasefire declared earlier in the week collapsed Thursday, and gunmen armed with mortar shells, rockets and heavy guns traded fire across the Gaza Strip. In all, two dozen Palestinians were killed and some 250 were wounded in the fighting.

Deadly power struggle

In Washington, the so-called Quartet of Mideast negotiators met Friday to explore ways to jump-start peacemaking despite the violence among Palestinian factions.

"There's simply no reason to avoid the subject of how we get to a Palestinian state," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after meeting with foreign ministers from the European Union, United Nations and Russia.

Hamas andAbbas have been at odds ever since Hamas won control of the Palestinian parliament in early 2006. Abbas remained president because the presidential elections don't coincide with parliamentary votes.

Abbas kept control of the Palestinian security forces, but Hamas set up its own force, giving both factions armed groups ready to fight.

The two groups disagree on the approach to Israel. Abbas has said he's willing to negotiate for peace, but Hamas does not accept Israel's right to exist.

With files from the Associated Press

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