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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rival Factions Battle it Out in Gaza

GAZA CITY -- Gunmen from the rival Hamas and Fatah movements battled each other in Gaza on Sunday, continuing an increasingly bloody power struggle over the Palestinian government that left the coastal strip littered with bodies over the weekend, while civilians cowered in their homes.

An explosion early in the morning rocked the home of a bodyguard to Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, but the man was not in the building and no casualties were reported. At least eight people were wounded in exchanges of fire between the sides overnight, Palestinian security officials said.

The latest round of fighting began late Thursday after a Hamas activist was killed in a bombing and by Saturday night 25 Palestinians had been killed, with at least 76 wounded and efforts to forge a coalition government had ground to a standstill.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, and a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, both appealed for calm Saturday.

In a clear jab at the moderate Abbas, Haniya criticized "troublemakers who are trying to veer away from the path of our people" by receiving "dirty American funding and arms." The White House is seeking some $85 million to help bolster Abbas' forces.

The violence has been fueled by Abbas' pledge to call early elections if the talks between Hamas and Fatah fail. Abbas, who is traveling in Europe, said this week that he would move forward with his election plan if the coalition talks failed to produce results within three weeks.

Hamas, which defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections last year, opposes a new vote.

Gaza's Al Azhar University called off exams scheduled for Saturday, and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, which oversees several security forces, told its employees to go home. Streets in the hardest-hit neighborhoods were deserted, and only bakeries and grocery stores opened for business. Gaza City's main outdoor market was closed.

Late Saturday night, a 12-year-old boy was killed and two people were wounded in the northern Gaza Strip during a shootout between Hamas and Fatah gunmen, witnesses and hospital officials said. One of the Hamas men was killed in the gun battle, hospital officials said.

The boy's father, Baher Abu El-Karaya, a local Fatah leader, was injured in the battle. From his hospital bed, he said Hamas gunmen attacked his home.

Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha accused Fatah loyalists of storming a mosque near the security headquarters Friday and executing a senior Hamas activist inside while he was reading the Quran. On Saturday, bloodstains were still visible on the mosque's carpet and the bathroom tiles.

Fatah denied it had stormed the mosque, but said Hamas gunmen had used the building as a base for attacking the security service compound.

At another Gaza City mosque, Hamas activists hung posters with photos of Hamas supporters killed or wounded in the fighting. "These are the criminal activities of the pro-Zionist, American criminals," the caption read, in reference to Fatah.

Both Fatah and Hamas officials said late Friday that unity talks would be suspended until the fighting ends. Both sides blamed each other for the breakdown.