Israel Drawn Into Palestinian Infighting

Palestinians carry the body of a man killed during clashes between the rivals Fatah and Hamas at hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 16, 2007.
AP Photo/Khalil Hamra
An Israeli helicopter launched missiles at a Hamas command center in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing at least four people, after Hamas fired rocket barrages into Israel in an apparent attempt to draw Israel into increasingly violent Palestinian infighting.

Hamas gunmen fatally shot six bodyguards from the rival Fatah movement and mistakenly ambushed a jeep carrying their own fighters, killing five.

The streets of central Gaza City echoed with the rattle of gunfire, and were empty except for gunmen in black ski masks. Terrified Palestinian residents are hunkering down in their homes as the third ceasefire in as many days collapsed, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger.

Many civilians were forced to huddle together in dark homes after electricity to some downtown neighborhoods was cut off by a downed power line.

The violence threatened to bring down the Palestinians' fragile, two-month-old Hamas-Fatah unity government — and brought the Palestinians dangerously close to all-out civil war.

"What is happening in Gaza, endangers not only the unity government, but the Palestinian social fabric, the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian strategy as a whole," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Despite Israel's vow to stay out of the fray, its missile strike added another layer of complexity to Gaza's mayhem, and raised the specter of a large-scale Israeli invasion.

At mid-day Wednesday, policemen from the Fatah-allied Preventive Security organization arrested five Hamas men and were driving them through Gaza City when the vehicle was ambushed by Hamas fighters, Preventive Security officials told The Associated Press. Five of the Hamas men were killed, along with two Fatah men, they said.

Hamas radio reported that a Hamas man was killed in another clash, and a nurse traveling in an ambulance was shot in the head after being caught in the crossfire, hospital officials said. Her family said she was brain dead and being kept alive by a respirator.

In four days of fighting, 41 people have been killed in the infighting, and dozens more have been injured. The majority of the fatalities have been from Fatah.

In other developments:

  • A group of about 200 Palestinians marched through central Gaza City Wednesday afternoon, waving Palestinian flags and demanding an end to the fighting. Dozens of masked gunmen used the cover of the demonstration to improve their positions on the street, and then opened fire on the demonstrators, wounding eight people. The rest ran away, leaving the streets to the armed men.
  • Thousands of Israelis marched through the streets as Israel celebrated the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967, reports Berger. At ceremonies, Israeli leaders vowed that Jerusalem will remain the united capital of the State of Israel forever. The U.S. is boycotting the celebrations because it doesn't recognize Israeli sovereignty over disputed East Jerusalem.
  • Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian environmentalists said Tuesday they would push for more cooperation to overcome their countries' differences in trying to resolve the region's controversial water problem. The comments came on the sidelines of a two-day Nobel laureates gathering that Jordan's King Abdullah II sponsored in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra.
    • Tucker Reals

      Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.