Worst internal Palestinian fighting in years, two dead
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – In the worst internal Palestinian fighting in years, protesters opposed to U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan waged a running gunbattle Monday with police at the Islamic University in Gaza City, leaving two bystanders dead and 50 people injured.
After nightfall, demonstrators attacked two Palestinian police stations with stones and firebombs, and police responded with tear gas and live fire in the air, witnesses said.
The bloodshed focused attention on the increasing friction between Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas, the movement supported by the protesters.
Arafat’s government has sought to distance itself from suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and has demanded that militants observe a cease-fire reached with Israel on Sept. 26. Arafat’s security forces have also detained several suspected militants in recent days.
Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack on a Jewish settlement last week and is opposed to the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Some Hamas supporters carried pictures of bin Laden at Monday’s protest.
With tensions rising, bin Laden issued a call for Muslims to support the Palestinian cause in a video released Sunday as U.S. airstrikes began in Afghanistan. Bin Laden said ”neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine.”
At Monday’s protest, more than 1,000 students from Islamic University marched toward the center of Gaza City, but were blocked by Palestinian police, who fired tear gas, beat students with batons and fired live rounds into the air.
”Long live Palestine, long live Afghanistan, long live Islam,” the students chanted. A few chanted, ”Bin Laden, bin Laden.”
Palestinian leaders have said demonstrations expressing support for bin Laden represent a minority view, and have chased away journalists in an ongoing effort to prevent reporting about such rallies. Palestinian authorities also told journalists not to report on the bin Laden posters that appeared at a funeral procession Monday for a Palestinian killed a day earlier in the West Bank town of Hebron.
”Our dear bin Laden, hit Tel Aviv,” some of the mourners chanted.
At the university, dozens of protesters threw stones and firebombs and occasionally fired guns, witnesses said.
Police fired continuously into the air and occasionally at gunmen, witnesses said. Clashes broke out in several locations on the fringes of the school, a hotbed of support for Hamas.
Palestinian police commander Ghazi Jabali said Monday’s demonstration was illegal because it was not coordinated with authorities.
The two dead – a 13-year-old boy and a 21-year-old student – were bystanders killed by fire coming from masked men inside the university, according to Jabali. He said the gunmen at the university were not believed to be students.
However, the Palestinian Committee for Human Rights said its monitors did not witness shots being fired from the campus. The group said Palestinian police used ”excessive force.”
A third Palestinian was shot in the head and was on life support, medical sources said. At least 50 people were injured, including 15 policemen.
The human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement that the Palestinian police reaction to the demonstrations constituted ”reckless and unlawful use of lethal force” against protesters.
Police closed the Islamic University and neighboring Al Azhar University for a week in an attempt to head off additional confrontations.
After nightfall, about 100 demonstrators, most of them teen-agers, threw stones and fire bombs at a police station in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City, witnesses said. Police responded with tear gas and live rounds and protesters eventually dispersed.
A similar clash took place in the Khan Yunis refugee in the southern Gaza Strip. Many of the protesters there were relatives of the Palestinian man placed on life support after being critically wounded in the Gaza City clash.
The Palestinian leadership on Monday again denounced the terror attacks in the United States, though it did not comment directly on the U.S. bombing campaign, which was in its second day Monday.
Referring to bin Laden’s expression of support for the Palestinians, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinians were victims of ”continuous crimes and killings.”
”This does not justify or give cover for anyone to kill or terrorize innocent civilians. We don’t want any crimes committed in the name of Palestine,” Abed Rabbo added.
The official Palestinian response stood in marked contrast to the position adopted in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said he was waging war with the United States on behalf of the Palestinians.
At that time, Arafat sided with Saddam against the United States, a decision Palestinian officials have privately acknowledged was a mistake.
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