Saudi Arabia's king urged Palestinian rival factions Sunday to hold talks in the holy city of Mecca as fighting between the Hamas and Fatah movements persisted in Gaza with no clear winner emerging.
Early Monday, Hamas fighters mobilized around the main Fatah stronghold, the Preventive Security headquarters, and threatened to attack. Information Minister Youssef Rizka of Hamas warned the two sides were close to civil war and called President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah to order his forces back to their bases.
The bitter rivals have been buying, smuggling and building weapons for months trying to gain an edge, but they have held back from all-out battle and find themselves in a stalemate.
That leaves many Palestinians with grim hopes that a power-sharing deal still can be worked out between the Islamic militants of Hamas and the more moderate Abbas of Fatah.
Saudi King Abdullah called the factional fighting a “shame” that has undermined the Palestinian cause and urged both sides to join talks mediated by his country, the AP reports.
Both sides welcomed the Saudi king's offer but did not say when talks might be held. Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said the Islamic group was in talks with Egyptian mediators.
Bursts of violence have alternated with periods of tense calm since the factional fighting erupted in December following the collapse of Hamas-Fatah coalition talks and Abbas' threat to call early elections.
Clashes involving mortars, grenades, bombs and assault rifles have erupted spontaneously, without clear objectives or central command, raged for a few hours, then suddenly fizzled, the AP reports.
In Gaza on Sunday, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, made a renewed plea to halt the fighting, but to no avail.
“We call on all the Palestinian people to protect national unity, to make the language of dialogue and reason prevail, to withdraw weapons from the streets,” Mr. Haniya told an emergency session of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza City.
Gunmen from the two sides exchanged fire throughout the day in several Gaza City neighborhoods, prompting residents in some of the hardest-hit areas to flee to the homes of relatives in less volatile areas.
A bomb exploded outside the front door of a home belonging to a bodyguard for Muhammad Dahlan, a senior Fatah figure and an ally of Mr. Abbas. No one was hurt in the blast.
Also, Fatah blamed Hamas for mortar and antitank rounds that were fired at the police headquarters in Gaza City, which is controlled by Fatah, the New York Times reports.
At least 56 Palestinians have been killed in the bloodshed that erupted after Abbas, a moderate, called last month for early presidential and parliamentary elections after inconclusive talks with Hamas on a unity government.
Three people including a 16-year-old youth died in clashes in Khan Younis on Sunday, hospital officials said.
Hamas parliamentarians said on Sunday that Abbas's election call "amounts to a coup against the results of democracy."
Hamas has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of U.S.-backed sanctions imposed over its refusal to recognize Israel , renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals with the Jewish state.
In the latest skirmishes, Hamas gunmen and members of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Service clashed outside its main headquarters in Gaza , witnesses said. A bomb blast damaged the home of a bodyguard of senior Fatah figure Mohammed Dahlan.
In the West Bank city of Nablus at least five Hamas supporters, including a city councilor who was later released, were abducted by the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Nine Fatah and nine Hamas supporters were still being held in Gaza , Reuters reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik