Palestinian students take exams amid fighting
Tenative cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah marked by sporadic gunfire and Israeli bombing.
Despite a cease-fire Monday between Fatah and Hamas intended to allow Palestinian students to take their nationally administered final exams, sporadic violence has continued.
The Palestinian online news agency Ma'an reports that Hamas and Fatah militants tried to create at least the outward appearance of compliance with the agreement.
In the morning hours, clashes stopped and the streets of Gaza City witnessed a tentative tranquillity. Despite this, gunmen continued to be deployed in the streets, although fewer than before, and roadblocks were partially removed, in order to enable the students to arrive at their schools for the first Tawjihi exam.
Still, like most cease-fires between the factions, this one has proved precarious. Shortly after it started, sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout Gaza, Reuters reports. In one incident, militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a police station and a fierce gun battle erupted. An official identified as being involved with the truce negotiations told Reuters that "the cease-fire is limping on crutches and is in danger of collapsing if violations on both sides do not stop."
The tests began on schedule in Gaza, but most pupils took circuitous routes to their schools in a bid to avoid the gunmen as the sounds of shooting punctuated the air, witnesses said.
Musbah Abu al-Kheir passed several armed checkpoints on his way to school from a refugee camp outside Gaza City.
"Fatah and Hamas have no appreciation for the fact we are having final exams today," he said.
"How are we supposed to take exams to the sounds of gunfire and ambulance sirens?"
According to the Associated Press, some 24,000 12th-grade students in Gaza must take the exam, called the Tawjihi, to graduate. For many students, the exam can provide a means of escaping the violence, as many who score well hope to leverage the results to enter foreign universities. The AP writes that students struggle to prepare for the exam as the security situation deteriorates.
Daliya Naji, a 16-year-old high school senior, said the fighting in Gaza had kept her awake all night.
"I am a good student, but I feel my brain is empty," she said. "I can't think any more and I don't know what to do."
She said she hoped she would pass her exams in order to be accepted to a university in Egypt. "At least it will be my ticket out of Gaza," she said.
Hours before the cease-fire began, militants attacked Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya's house at a refugee camp outside Gaza City, reports the BBC. No one was injured, but the incident marks the first time the Prime Minister, a Hamas member, has been directly targeted.
Al Jazeera reports that violence erupted Sunday when - according to officials - Hamas members threw a Fatah member, who was also a presidential bodyguard, off the roof of an high building. Fatah retaliated by killing a prominent Hamas cleric. The conflict over the weekend throughout Gaza left five dead and 53 wounded reports Al Jazeera, which classified the violence as the worst since mid-May.
Witnesses said masked fighters from both Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah streamed onto the streets, setting up roadblocks and barriers to stop cars and check identification papers and pulling rival supporters from vehicles and houses.
Main roads were paralysed by the fighting, and shops and businesses closed early.
The internal violence also coincides with ongoing fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces. The New York Times reports that militants from the Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades — a militia loosely associated with Fatah — attacked Israeli soldiers at the Kissufim border crossing. The ensuing battle lasted several hours, leaving at least one Palestinian militant dead.
The Israelis responded by conducting air strikes against at least three buildings allegedly connected to the Islamic Jihad. However, reports vary greatly as to what purpose the buildings served.
An Israeli Army spokeswoman said the air force attacked one building used by the militant group Islamic Jihad and another building, which she described as a weapons-producing plant belonging to Fatah. Both groups had ties to the raid on Saturday, in which fighters for Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of the mainstream Fatah organization, crossed the border into Israel and fought with soldiers for hours, apparently in an attempt to capture one.
Palestinian medics said the Israeli strike on Sunday hit three locations and described them as a study center and a charitable association, both run by Islamic Jihad, and a privately owned metal workshop. Seven civilians were wounded, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director of emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry.
In the meantime, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an end to internal violence in Gaza, saying it was "was as damaging, if not more so, than the 40-year Israeli occupation," reports Agence France-Presse.