17 Dead In Palestinian Factional Fighting

A boy looks at mourners carrying the body of Mohammed Sweirk, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' elite presidential guard, who was kidnapped on Sunday by Hamas militants who took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him to his death, during his funeral in Gaza City, Monday, June 11, 2007. AP

Rival gunmen exchanged fire at two Gaza hospitals on Monday and Cabinet ministers fled their weekly meeting after the government headquarters was caught in the crossfire of a brutal day of infighting that killed 17 Palestinians.

The battles came a day after two militants from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions were dragged onto high-rise rooftops and thrown to their death in a power struggle that appears to be rapidly descending into all-out confrontation.

After sundown Monday, gunmen, apparently from Hamas, laid siege to the house of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, the senior Fatah official in northern Gaza. They then dragged him outside and killed him, security officials said. Medics said he was hit by 45 bullets.

Al-Jediyan was a top aide to Gaza Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan and al-Jediyan's brother was also killed, apparently in the same shootout.

Fatah spokesman Maher Mikdad harshly denounced the killing and threatened revenge.

"What is this, if not a war," he said.

Fatah called on its members to target all Hamas political and military leaders.

The bloodiest clashes of the day took place in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Fatah and Hamas gunmen exchanged fire near Beit Hanoun Hospital, killing a Hamas supporter. The battle then moved to the hospital, where three men from a Fatah-allied clan were shot dead.

At Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, combatants fired mortars, grenades and assault rifles.

Two other Palestinians were killed in battles late Monday night in northern Gaza, security and hospital officials said. Later, Hamas said one of its men, who was kidnapped earlier, was found dead in a Gaza street.

Early Tuesday, three women and a child were killed when Hamas militants attacked the home of a senior Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, security officials said. The gunmen seized Hassan Abu Rabie and killed his 14-year-old son and three other women in the house, hospital officials said.

In other developments:

  • International mediators have not yet invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to a planned June 25 meeting, both sides said Monday. Efforts to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert together for talks stumbled again last week when Abbas called off a meeting on Thursday. Palestinian officials said Israel had rejected all of their demands in preparatory talks, rendering the meeting pointless.

  • Israel has launched a new spy satellite, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. Officials say the Ofek 7 will boost surveillance over Iran. With the Iranian president threatening to wipe Israel off the map, there is growing speculation here that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The defense minister said the satellite improves Israel's strategic capabilities and is a testament to its technological strength.

  • An academic boycott of Israel by British lecturers would only strengthen the position of hardliners, a government minister said Monday as he began a visit to Israel. Bill Rammell, Britain's higher education minister, said he opposed a possible boycott by the University and College Union, which represents around 120,000 higher education staff in the U.K. The union's general secretary has said she believes a majority of members oppose any such action.

    • Lloyd Vries

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