|More than 70 people, mostly fighters, have been |
killed in three days of factional fighting [Reuters]
The United Nations may send an international force to restore calm to the Gaza Strip wracked by deadly factional fighting.
"This is an idea we need to explore," Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Wednesday, adding that he had held preliminary discussions about the idea with members of the UN Security Council.
Ban said Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had raised the idea with him in a phone conversation on Tuesday and noted that Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, had also brought it up.
"I need to consider more in detail with the countries concerned," he said, including where to locate the force and what its mandate would be.
"Israel had in the past resisted Palestinian calls for peacekeepers in Gaza and the occupied West Bank"
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The European Union would consider participation in the international force in Gaza
, although any decisions on deployment were still a long way off, the EU's foreign policy chief said on Wednesday.
"If we are asked, of course we will consider that possibility," Javier Solana told reporters in Brussels.
Israel had in the past resisted Palestinian calls for peacekeepers in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, saying their deployment would interfere with Israeli security measures.
But on Tuesday, Olmert said "serious consideration" should be given to deploying an international force in the Philadelphi Corridor along Gaza's border with Egypt.
A senior Israeli official added that government experts were exploring what such an international force might look like and what its mandate would entail but the government would only be prepared to accept a force with a strong mandate and sufficient firepower.
He added that Olmert's comments could lay the groundwork for Israel to retake the corridor itself, should Western powers balk at committing troops.
Relief work suspended
Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended all operations except emergency medical and food programmes in the Gaza Strip after two Palestinian employees were shot dead.
|Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades fighters forced |
their way into a pro-Hamas TV station [AFP]
Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesman, said they appeared to have been caught in the crossfire in two separate incidents.
"In view of increased threats to our staff, UNRWA has no choice but to scale back its operations in Gaza with immediate effect," he said.
More than 70 people, mostly fighters, have been killed in three days of vicious gun battles between Hamas and Fatah amid fears of an all out civil war
On Wednesday, Hamas fighters launched a series of fierce assaults on Palestinian security force compounds across the Gaza Strip.
In Khan Yunis, the headquarters of the Preventive Security Force loyal to Abbas, leader of Fatah, was "totally destroyed" by an explosion.
Hamas fighters appeared to be gaining the upper hand as the fighting spread to the central and southern parts of the territory on Wednesday.
But the Fatah-dominated National Security Forces were ordered to remain in their positions and "defend the security headquarters with all your might".
Hamas fighters have also reportedly taken control of the coastal strip's main north-south road, putting them in position to cut off reinforcements to the security forces.
Hamas gaining ground
After tightening its control on the northern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday, the armed wing of Hamas demanded that the security forces in the area hand over their weapons by 16:00 GMT on Friday.
Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades:
- Armed wing of Hamas
- Estimated 15,000 members
- Security force set up by Hamas in 2006
- Estimated 6,000 personnel
- Mainly drawn from armed wing of Hamas
- Majority loyal to Fatah
- Up to 5,000 personnel
- Best equipped and trained security force
- US gave $43m to help restructure force
National Security Forces:
- Under direct command of president
- Includes military intelligence, naval police and Elite Force 17
- Up to 30,000 personnel
Police and Preventive Security:
- Under Hamas-led interior ministry
- Dominated by Fatah loyalists
- Estimated 30,000 personnel
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades:
- Offshoot of Fatah faction
- Several thousand members
- Many work for the security services
Dozens of security personnel have reportedly fled across the border into Egypt to escape the fighting.
About 40 pro-Fatah officers broke though the border fence at the Rafah crossing, handing over their weapons to Egyptian border officials, a security source said.
In what appeared to be another success for Hamas, hundreds of members of a clan linked with Fatah surrendered in Gaza City, witnesses said.
About 1,000 Palestinians marched through Gaza City on Wednesday urging the rival factions to "stop the killing".
The demonstration drew gunfire from armed men on nearby buildings killing at least one protester and injuring 14 others. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the shooting.
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said some of the protesters fought with members of the rival factions on the street.
The fighting also spilled over into the previously calm West Bank as fighters from the Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades stormed a building in Nablus used by a pro-Hamas television company.
Walid Batrawi, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the West Bank, said at least 15 people working in the office were abducted and taken to a nearby refugee camp.
"This is an escalation that is alarming in the West Bank if it spreads to other areas," he said.
Al Jazeera and agencies