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Palestinian battle kills 2 in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas police and a powerful clan allied with the rival Fatah movement traded automatic fire Saturday, killing a young man and a boy on the fourth day of some of the heaviest internal fighting since the Islamic militants seized Gaza.

Saturday's deaths brought to six the number of people killed since the standoff started over a police demand that the Hilles clan hand over a government-issued car.

Hamas said it was determined to impose order and was setting an example. Members of the clan warned that Hamas was making new enemies by taking on large families in tribal Gaza.

The fighting turned the clan's Shijaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza City into a ghost town. Smoke rose from the district, and gunfire was heard across town.

Hamas snipers took over rooftops, while clan members blocked roads with rocks and mounds of sand. Both sides also fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades. Electricity was cut in parts of the neighborhood, and phone lines were down.

Twelve people were injured, two seriously, medical officials said.

Hamas has appeared to be increasingly jumpy about what it said is a Fatah attempt, allegedly directed from the West Bank, to try to destabilize Gaza with bombings.

Hamas took control of Gaza by force in June, prompting moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah to install his own Cabinet in the West Bank.

Earlier this month, three Fatah activists and a bystander were killed when a blast went off in a car in Gaza City, possibly because of mishandled explosives. Several small bombs have gone off near Hamas installations or policemen, causing some injuries.

The Hamas-Hilles clashes began Wednesday when Hamas security forces demanded that a member of the clan hand over a government-issued car. The clan refused, and a gun battle erupted, killing three Hilles men and a Hamas police officer.

Largely affiliated with Fatah, the Hilles clan also includes members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who side with the family during any fighting.

Abu Osama Hilles, a Fatah supporter, said Hamas is ignoring the tribal culture of Gaza.

"They know our culture. They are not Americans coming to rule Gaza," he said. "They should respect big families ... so they don't turn into their enemies."

However, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, said there would be no exceptions.

"Every family should respond to the new administration. That is the will of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza ... to be governed by Hamas," he said in an interview. "We are going to make an end for this chaos."

Elsewhere, a 51-year old woman was killed Saturday during clashes between Hamas security members and militants from the small Islamic Jihad group in southern Gaza, medics and Hamas officials said. Eight other people were injured in the clashes that erupted the town of Rafah.