GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip &
Israeli warplanes pummeled Hamas targets Friday in a stepped-up campaign against militants firing rockets into southern Israel, while Palestinian factions battled with automatic weapons and grenades at a Gaza university.
Street battles between Fatah and Hamas remained less intense than the heavy fighting that terrorized Gaza City two days earlier, but a truce agreement late Thursday enjoyed no more success than previous cease-fires declared this week.
With the political leaders of the factions seemingly not in control of their gunmen, Hamas militiamen raised the internal strife to an ominous new level by widening their targets beyond armed rivals and seizing aides to two Fatah officials.
The infighting that began Sunday has killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded dozens, while the death toll from Israeli attacks rose to 20 as airstrikes killed eight people Friday.
Israeli missiles came screeching down at least five times in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks that have panicked people in southern Israel. At least 13 more militant rockets fell, wounding four Israelis in the battered town of Sderot.
Despite the escalating air campaign, a senior Israeli army officer said there were no immediate plans for a major ground offensive against rocket teams, saying Israel was reluctant to do something that might unite the Palestinian factions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because no final decision had been made.
One airstrike incinerated a minivan carrying Hamas militants and what the Israeli army described as "a large amount of weapons." Three fighters were killed and 12 people were wounded, Palestinian hospital officials said.
"We were sitting outside my grocery store when a huge explosion shook the area and a small minivan turned into a ball of fire," Jawad Dallou said. People in a nearby mourning tent also were wounded, he said.
An earlier airstrike east of Gaza City killed five Palestinians, including at least three Hamas militants, and wounded six. Israel's military said the target was a Hamas headquarters building.
Other air attacks caused no fatalities.
Hamas said the Israeli military had called the home of Ahmed Jaabari, head of Hamas' military wing, and warned his family the house would be hit. People gathered around the building to discourage an attack, he said. The Israeli military had no comment.
The fighting between Hamas and Fatah all but destroyed a power-sharing government formed two months ago in hopes of ending nearly a year of periodic clashes between the rival groups.
The latest bloodshed was touched off by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah to deploy thousands of security officers in Gaza City last week to try to restore law and order. Hamas called that a provocation because it wasn't consulted and fighting broke out Sunday.
Hamas' two abductions in Gaza on Friday broadened the mayhem; it was the first time senior civilians with ties to Fatah were targeted.
The gunmen freed Abdel Salam Abu Askar, a veteran journalist who advises Fatah's Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, after several hours. But Abdullah Franji, office director of a senior Fatah leader in Gaza, remained in captivity late Friday.
Gunbattles between the two factions killed at least three people Friday.
Bullets and rocket-propelled grenades flew outside Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold, as Hamas fighters battled Fatah gunmen in the nearby Foreign Ministry building. Grenades hit the office of the school president, who appealed for an immediate halt to the violence.
One person was wounded at the school.
Palestinian officials conferred among themselves and with other Arab leaders in an attempt to solicit their help in cooling the raging violence. Abbas spoke by phone with Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, who urged senior Hamas and Fatah officials to meet, and with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti met with King Abdullah of Jordan on the sidelines of an international conference at the Dead Sea.
Although Israel said it wasn't taking sides, its airstrikes made it harder for Hamas gunmen to move around, and Hamas used that fact to argue that Fatah and Israel were in collusion.
Hamas TV named three Fatah security chiefs who it said were in secret contact with "foreign" security personnel. "They are deep into treason, and we will deal with them accordingly," the broadcast said.
The TV did not specify which foreigners, but Fatah forces affiliated with Abbas have received advice and training from the U.S., which lists Hamas as a terror group for killing more than 250 Israelis in attacks over the years.
Earlier in the week, some 500 Fatah security men trained in Egypt under a U.S.-brokered deal returned to Gaza, passing through the border with Israel's permission.
Israeli planes pound Hamas
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip &