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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Gazans bury dead after clashes
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza City

Palestinian security officers during the funerals of two Palestinians killed in factional fighting
Tensions were running high as several funerals got under way
Once more, Gaza has been burying its dead.

Not - this time - the victims of Israeli attacks, but the casualties of factional street fighting.

And the tensions surged again briefly on Monday as several funerals took place across Gaza City.

Mourners bearing the body of a security officer, one of eight people killed in Sunday's violence, took him to his grave in a blaze of anger.

As they marched by they opened fire at the parliament building - a gesture of contempt for the Hamas faction that controls the legislature.

But at the mourning rituals on Masjid al-Salam Street, there were no guns.

Maher al-Otul was quietly trying to come terms with the loss of his 15-year-old son, Hassan.

The boy had been caught in the gunfight that raged around the Bank of Palestine. He was shot in the head.

Hamas militiamen had been clashing in the area with police and other elements of the security forces that are usually regarded as being loyal to the Fatah faction.

Mr Otul reflected on what had happened as he received mourners beneath a canopy set up in the traditional way in the street outside the family's home.

He said of his son: "He was an innocent - coming home from school with his books in his hands.

"We are living in a state of lawlessness. We are living in a jungle - this is what makes me sad," said Mr Otul, who works as school inspector.

"If my son had died for the national cause, or for our religion, I could accept it. But we are living in a time the likes of which we have never seen."

'Boiling for revenge'

A short distance across the city were three young men who might get caught up in Gaza's lawlessness at any moment.

Rami, Mahmood and Mohammad would only give their first names. They are members of the presidential guard.

They were on duty, sitting with their rifles in the shade of a tree outside Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's Gaza City residence.

They talked of being on a day off when the fighting broke out, and of rushing in to support their comrades as the tension mounted.

My brother is Hamas, and my cousin is Hamas - if I shot at a masked person he might turn out to be my brother. Why should I hate them?
Mahmoud, presidential guard
They spoke too of boiling for revenge when word came of casualties in the security forces.

But the message from their officers seems to have been one of calm and restraint, and the three soldiers had stayed in their barracks and were not involved in the clashes.

They blamed the Hamas Interior Minister Said Siyam for the violence.

In their view, he had over-reacted to demonstrations by members of the security forces who were pressing their demand to be paid.

Over the past six months, policemen, soldiers and civil servants have received only a fraction of the wages that they are due from the Hamas-controlled government.

It has been bankrupted by an economic embargo. Israel, the United States and the European Union have stopped almost all funds reaching the administration on account of its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel's right to exist.

With frustration mounting, some strikers in the police and the military had begun staging demonstrations that blocked major roads.

Hamas said that it was unacceptable, and it flooded the streets with its militiamen in the hours before the clashes broke out.

Reining in violence

But the three guards outside the presidential residence said they did not feel hatred towards the Hamas fighters.

Palestinian security guards help a colleague injured in 1 October clashes
At least 60 people were injured in Sunday's violence
Many of Gaza's huge, extended families have some members in Hamas, and others in the security forces linked to Fatah.

One of the guards, Mahmoud, said his brother was a Hamas man.

"My brother is Hamas, and my cousin is Hamas," he said. "If I shot at a masked person he might turn out to be my brother. Why should I hate them?"

And it is those kind of ties in this tiny, crowded place that often make it possible for factional violence to be reined in before it spins completely out of control.

The leaders of the two sides may be bitter political rivals, but they are used to finding compromises in an emergency that can take the edge off the tension in the streets.

And for now, they seem to have managed to do that again.

Gaza was much calmer on Monday. But the underlying problems remain completely unresolved.

The chronic economic crisis is driving Gaza deeper and deeper into poverty - and all the time that is stoking the political tension.

As long as that remains the case, there will always be the danger of more violence on the streets.


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