GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Leaders of the Fatah Party accused gunmen of deliberately targeting innocent children in the ambush slaying of an intelligence officer’s three young sons Monday, an unprecedented attack that threatened to escalate fighting between Palestinian factions.
The boys and their driver were killed by black-masked men who riddled their car with more than 60 rounds of automatic weapons fire as they were leaving for school. Their father, a Fatah loyalist who had dodged a September shooting attack by Hamas militants, was not in the vehicle.
Doctors said one boy was shot 10 times in the head. A bodyguard in the car and at least four bystanders were wounded in the 7:10 a.m. shooting.
Later in the day, hundreds of mourners burned tires, blocked roads and shut down the city’s central market.
Palestinian leaders said the slayings crossed a line in the factional struggle for control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a conflict that has claimed scores of lives. The episodic fighting triggered by the Hamas movement’s upset victory in parliamentary elections in January had not previously targeted children.
Hamas joined in a universal condemnation of the attack and denied staging it. No group claimed responsibility. Fatah officials, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, were careful to avoid casting blame.
Senior intelligence officials said it was unclear who carried out the attack. But it brought tensions between the political movements to a boil two days after the more moderate Abbas said he expected to call early elections in a bid to oust the Iranian-backed Hamas government, end Western economic sanctions and open the way for peace talks with talks with Israel.
Police investigators said it was possible the assailants meant to kill the children’s father, Col. Baha Balousheh, thinking he was inside the white 2006 Skoda sedan with tinted windows. An officer in the Fatah-led Palestinian General Intelligence Service, Balousheh became notorious a decade ago as an interrogator during a clampdown on Hamas by a previous Fatah government.
But the family, supported by Abbas and other authorities, said they were convinced that Osama, 9, Ahmed, 6, and Salam, 3 – Balousheh’s only children – were the targets.
“Whoever did this knew how to get to him,” Balousheh’s wife, Linda, told mourners.
Abbas called the attack “a revolting crime carried out by scummy people who wanted to kill children.”
Fatah activists reacted furiously, shutting down parts of the city but avoiding new bloodshed. One group of armed Fatah activists stormed the Parliament building, where Fatah lawmakers demanded the dismissal of the Hamas minister of interior, Saeed Seyam.