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Palestinian hostilities flare in Gaza

Explosions and a Hamas-led crackdown on the rival Fatah Party has raised tensions to their highest levels since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory in 2007.

By Correspondents, Rafael D. FrankelCorrespondents / July 28, 2008

Hamas: In Gaza City, Palestinian gunmen stand guard at a funeral for five Islamist militants killed in a car bombing last Friday, part of a recent spate of violence in the Hamas-controlled territory.

Hatem Moussa/AP

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Tel Aviv and Gaza City

In the worst outbreak of inter-Palestinian strife since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip last year, Hamas gunmen rounded up hundreds of Fatah activists in Gaza and threw up dozens of checkpoints over the weekend.

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The militant Islamist group accused militants from the rival Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party of a bombing that killed five Islamic activists and a young child last Friday.

The attack and retaliation reopened recent wounds in the bitter rivalry just as the sides were mulling a new round of reconciliation talks.

"There is no room now to speak about national reconciliation," says Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, who accused Abbas of preferring to discuss US peace talks with Israel rather than the internal Palestinian talks. "[Abbas] is still meeting [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and kissing him.... His preference is the Israel-US side not the Palestinian side."

Abbas, who was in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, condemned the Friday bombing and denied Fatah involvement.

After returning from the recent Arab summit in Damascus, Abbas declared that he's prepared to discuss restoring relations with Hamas without any preconditions – apparently dropping a demand that the Islamic militants apologize for the takeover and withdraw from the installations they seized when Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007.

With Palestinians divided under Hamas rule in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, analysts say that some resolution to the standoff is necessary for there to be any hope implementing any future peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The internal Palestinian talks are expected to be held in Cairo and focus on an compromise reached between Hamas and Fatah emissaries early this year in Yemen. A date for the talks had never been set.

Hana Sinora, the copresident of the Israel Palestinian Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem, says the longer the sides take to resume talks, the greater the opening for a third-party spoiler who have an interest in perpetuating the standoff.

"Now everything is up in the air," says Mr. Sinora. "What happened in Gaza on Friday is delaying the process of reconciliation, if not undermining it permanently."

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