Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, on Tuesday, called on Palestinians to ‘remain united’ in a common cause after days of clashes between Haniya’s Hamas and Fatah factions.

Haniya moved to ease tensions whipped up by the US President Bush, UK Prime Minister Blair and Israeli Premier Olmert after the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmud Abbas called for early elections last Saturday.

Hamas rebutted Abbas’ call as an attempted ‘coup’ against the democratic will of the Palestinian people.

A fragile truce was agreed on Sunday but the flare-up continued culminating in sharp clashes on Tuesday.

In a televised address in Gaza City on Tuesday afternoon, Haniya said the Palestinian cause would ‘not be derailed by internal struggles’ in the face of the Israeli occupation.

The prime minister said: ‘The smallest drop of Palestinian blood is dear to us and it should not be spilled except to defend our land.

‘We are all aboard the same boat.’

Haniya’s speech came on a day of street battles in which at least five people were killed and more injured.

Nine Fatah members and five Hamas loyalists were also kidnapped in the Gaza Strip during the day but released after a few hours.

Schools were closed after at least five children were among those hurt in the violence.

PNA President Mahmud Abbas also called for an end to the fighting in order to save national unity.

He said: ‘As president of the Palestinian people, I call on everybody to cease fire now – to save our unity.’

He called for all factions to respect the truce agreed on Sunday.

Speaking in the Syrian capital, Damascus, Dr Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy political bureau chairman of the Hamas Movement, on Tuesday urged Abbas to go to Gaza and to initiate dialogue with prime minister Haniya to contain the growing crisis in the Palestinian lands.

He also asked Abbas to stop voicing statements that only complicate the problem and ‘pour oil on fire’.

In a statement he addressed an appeal to all Palestinians to deal with the ongoing events in a responsible manner to avoid more tragedies, affirming that dialogue and concurrence were the only means to avoid such problems and tragedies.

He warned: ‘What is currently going on in the Palestinian lands only benefit the Zionist enemy.’

He added that Hamas had repeatedly warned of embarking on any political step that would escalate tensions.

Abu Marzouk charged that a certain ‘irresponsible group’ was cunningly pushing the Palestinian people into feudal fighting.

He further said that the latest security deterioration was the fruit of Abbas’ speech in which he called for early elections.

The Hamas leader asked all Arab, Islamic and friendly countries to use their good offices to halt such deterioration and to denounce Israel, USA and UK attempts to further ignite the strife through openly declaring support for one Palestinian party against the other.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinian MP Sheikh Hamed Al-Beitawi, the head of the Palestine Scholars League, urged the Palestinian forces and factions to shun difference and infighting and to cement ranks in face of the Israeli occupation.

Beitawi said that political differences were legitimate, but carrying weapons against each other was forbidden and not acceptable on the national and ethical levels.

He said that the feudal fighting between Hamas and Fatah Movements in Gaza streets only served occupation and delayed progress in the Palestinian national project.

He urged all parties to end the strife and to resort to dialogue and reason.

The MP called on the two big factions to avoid whatever might ignite feelings against each other and to spread the culture of unity and coexistence.

The Sheikh asserted: ‘Spilling Palestinian blood at the hands of Palestinians is an alien phenomenon to our people’s traditions.’

He called for directing all weapons at the Israeli occupation.

Rival Palestinian fighters clashed at three locations on Tuesday.

The fiercest clash took place in Gaza City, where two security personnel loyal to Abbas’ Fatah faction were killed in a street battle with Hamas security forces.

Witnesses said a Hamas policeman was killed in and during an attack by Fatah forces outside al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Ismail Abu al-Kheir, 25, was killed and another eight people wounded in the firefight between forces of the Hamas-controlled interior ministry and the security services loyal to Abbas, a hospital medic said.

It was not immediately known whether Kheir was a combatant or a bystander.

Meanwhile, Israeli special forces carried out another assassination in the occupied West Bank early Tuesday.

A special Israeli force on assassinated Mohammed Mahmoud Hamad, the commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed group linked to Fatah, north of Tulkarem, while standing in a shop.

Local witnesses said that the Israeli soldiers, disguised in plain clothes, infiltrated into the town of Allar in a taxicab carrying Palestinian registration plates and murdered Hamad, 25, in downtown.

The witnesses said that the soldiers did not ask Hamad to surrender but fired at him directly with the apparent aim of killing him, adding that the soldiers took away the martyr’s body then dumped it in a field near the town.

Anas Ahmed Ajaj, 19, of the Islamic Jihad Movement was wounded in the same operation and arrested along with the owner of the shop, Bilal Shadid.

Israeli armed forces also stormed the city of Tulkarem and the refugee camps of Tulkarem and Noorshams in a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday amidst intensified firing.

The soldiers arrested four citizens, including two brothers, after storming numerous houses in the city and its refugee camps.

Palestinian resistance fighters engaged the invading troops, who retaliated by shooting indiscriminately at residential quarters backed by heavy machine gun fire from Apache helicopter gunships.

Palestinian president Abbas had on Monday described the situation as a ‘grave internal crisis’.

He added: ‘Any bullet shot anywhere is a loss for the Palestinian people and is not in our interest.’

Visiting British Prime minister Tony Blair appealed to the international community to back the moderate president.

Standing alongside Abbas at a Ramallah news conference, Blair called for an initiative to support the Palestinians and move toward a two-state solution for the Middle East conflict.

Blair said: ‘I hope therefore that we will be in a position over these coming weeks to put together an initiative that allows us both to give that support, in particular for reconstruction and development, and to alleviate the suffering and plight of the Palestinian people.’

Most Palestinians were not impressed by Blair’s crocodile tears.

The Palestinian territories have been plunged into their deepest ever financial crisis because of a Western aid freeze imposed by the US and EU and backed by Blair after Hamas came to power in March.

Arab League chief Amr Mousa called the situation in the Palestinian territories ‘extremely dangerous’ and called for an emergency meeting of foreign ministers next Sunday aimed at ending the fighting.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said after talks with Blair on Monday: ‘There is no doubt that we have to support the moderates favourable to negotiations among the Palestinians – and that everything should be done to reinforce Mahmud Abbas.’

Washington also moved on Monday to stir tensions by backing Abbas’ call for early elections.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: ‘President Abbas is doing what he can, taking the steps that he thinks are prudent to try to resolve this situation.

‘And we certainly hope that the steps that he is taking can lead to a reduction in the violence.’