Palestinian rivals renew clashes in Gaza Strip

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Violence erupted in the Gaza Strip on Monday, with warring Palestinian factions firing at each other and kidnapping rivals, and gunmen abducting a foreign news photographer. The clashes in the Jebaliya refugee camp near Gaza City broke a weeklong pause in the violent confrontation between the Islamic Hamas, which controls the government, and moderate President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah. In the past few weeks, 17 people have been killed in the internal fighting. At least two people were wounded in the gunfire on Monday, security officials said, and reports of the numbers of Fatah and Hamas activists kidnapped ranged from three to 11.

In the past, the kidnapped militants have usually been released unharmed.

Fatah-Hamas talks on a national unity government broke down several weeks ago. Frustrated by lack of progress, Abbas threatened to call an early election, but Hamas rejected that as an attempted coup and said it would boycott.

The renewed violence came despite a four-day Muslim holiday, "Feast of the Sacrifice," when Palestinians usually concentrate on family visits instead of internal politics.

Before sundown Monday, gunmen abducted a photographer from the French news agency, AFP, from Gaza City. AFP identified the photographer as Jaime Razuri, 50, from Peru. An AFP reporter said the photographer was returning from an assignment in Gaza and was abducted at gunpoint as he got out of his car with his driver.

Palestinian security officials said the kidnapping happened in Gaza City's central area, where many foreign news agencies have offices. They said the victim was standing at an intersection when about five masked men approached him, pushed him in a car and sped away.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details. There was no public claim of responsibility for the kidnapping.

Abbas condemned the kidnapping, according to a statement on the Palestinian WAFA news agency.

The AFP reporter said the photographer spent most of his career covering Latin America.

The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, representing foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian areas, condemned the kidnapping. "We utterly condemn the continued harassment of journalists in this way. We must be allowed to work freely and without fear of kidnapping in Gaza," the FPA said in a statement.

This was just the latest in a string of kidnappings of foreigners in Gaza in recent months. Most have been carried out by disgruntled workers seeking promises of payment of long overdue salaries or splinter militant groups. In most cases, the victims have been released unharmed within hours. An exception was the abduction of two Fox News employees over the summer -- they were held for two weeks.

Most of the kidnapped foreigners have been journalists, but aid workers have also been targets.

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