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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 00:06 GMT
Death toll mounts in Gaza battles
Protesters in the Gaza Strip
The violence follows a period of relative calm
Deadly battles between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have continued in the Gaza Strip, leaving at least five more dead.

Saturday's deaths raise the toll since Thursday night to at least 22.

However, despite tension, the funerals for those killed on the previous day passed off peacefully on Saturday.

Clashes erupted in Gaza after weeks of relative calm and renewed efforts to form a national unity government. Both sides say they have suspended talks.

Those killed on Saturday included a boy of 11 or 12 who was hit during a shootout late at night between the two factions in the northern Gaza Strip.

Earlier at least one person died in a gun battle near Gaza's Islamic University, while another died in a car explosion - rumoured to be caused when explosives being carried in the vehicle exploded.

Kidnappings

Shops were shut up and the streets of Gaza City were almost empty on Saturday as people hid inside from the gangs of gunmen stalking the streets.

Members of Hamas and Fatah have fired mortars and grenades at each other and mounted tit-for-tat kidnappings.

They speak responsible words and yet the fighting continues.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Friday was one of the worst days of violence between Hamas and Fatah supporters since Hamas took control of the Palestinian administration a year ago, with at least 13 people reported killed.

Signs of spreading

Both sides blamed the other for the outbreak of violence, which followed a period of relative calm, in which both sides were thought to have been near joining a unity government.

"The unity government talks were on the verge of full agreement and the announcement of a unity government when putschists inside Fatah... rushed to blow up the situation to serve their own interests and a foreign agenda," said Hamas.

Mourners carry body of Hamas supporter at Gaza funeral, 27 January
Funerals for those killed in the fighting were peaceful

Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khussa said: "It's clear that Hamas doesn't want the dialogue to succeed. The escalation began with Hamas."

Both sides said they were suspending talks.

The discord has been condemned by the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which said: "They speak responsible words and yet the fighting continues."

There has been intensive mediation by Egyptian diplomats to try to stop the bloodshed.

The UN's Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto called on all the factions "to cease clashes and comply with international humanitarian law by refraining from acts which endanger civilians".

The violence also showed signs of spreading to the West Bank, where Palestinian police clashed with about 200 Hamas supporters.




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