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5 killed as groups clash in Gaza Strip

Palestinians evacuated a man yesterday who was shot in Gaza. Fighting began when gunmen fatally shot a senior commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and a bystander. Palestinians evacuated a man yesterday who was shot in Gaza. Fighting began when gunmen fatally shot a senior commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and a bystander. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Egyptian mediators hammered out an agreement to end a day of clashes yesterday in Gaza that killed four and jeopardized a power-sharing agreement between rivals Hamas and Fatah. Fighting, however, began again this morning, resulting in another death.

The Egyptian security delegation stationed in Gaza brought the two sides together and got them to agree to withdraw their forces and exchange captives, spokesmen from Hamas and Fatah said early today. Such agreements have not always been carried out in the past.

This morning, the fighting continued as gunmen of Hamas and Fatah traded fire, killing one man and wounding at least 10 despite the overnight agreement.

The first episode yesterday was a shooting ambush blamed on Hamas that killed a Fatah militant commander and his bodyguard.

In a firefight that followed, Suleiman Ashi, 26, a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Daily, was pulled from a taxi by Fatah gunmen and shot, according to the newspaper. He died later of his wounds. The Palestinian Journalists Union condemned the killing.

Ten people were wounded in clashes near the seaside compound of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in downtown Gaza. Gunmen in pickup trucks drove through the streets.

Later, a gunbattle also erupted during the funeral of the Fatah commander, Baha Abu Jarad, and three people were hurt. Fatah gunmen fired in the air during the procession, clamoring for revenge.

Before the Egyptians stepped in, Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti pleaded with the two sides to bring their forces under control.

"Not only the future of the government but the future of all the Palestinian people will be endangered if these bloody acts continue," he warned.

In another episode, masked gunmen abducted a well-known religious scholar from Hamas as he returned from evening prayers at a local mosque in Gaza City, his family and colleagues said. He was released after three hours, Hamas said.

His abduction set off a wave of kidnappings by both sides, security officials said. At least 14 people were snatched, a Hamas official said.

The new unity government, with Hamas sharing power with Fatah, took office in March. A main goal was to end months of bloody clashes between forces loyal to the two sides. But the new round of violence followed deployment of 3,000 police in Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas, over Hamas objections.

The fighting erupted as Israel's Security Cabinet debated how to respond to intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, including five missiles launched yesterday. A government official said no decisions were made. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

There has been pressure on the Israeli leadership to order airstrikes against militants and an invasion of Gaza to stop the salvos.

Also yesterday, Jordan's King Abdullah II called off what was to have been a rare visit to the West Bank. The king hoped to push an Arab peace plan and show support for Abbas, a moderate and leader of Fatah. The monarch, who was to have arrived by helicopter, cited low clouds and poor visibility for the cancellation.