GAZA, May 14 — The Palestinian interior minister, Hani al-Qawasmeh, resigned Monday, and four more Palestinians were killed in fierce factional gun battles.
Mr. Qawasmeh, who has been unable to control either the Fatah or the Hamas forces, said he had not been given authority to direct the security forces that were supposed to be under his control.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, said he would take over the Interior Ministry temporarily. But the resignation and the bloodshed put enormous strain on the unity government. Mr. Qawasmeh was a compromise candidate approved by Fatah and Hamas, but neither accepted his authority.
His resignation followed the worst outbreak of factional violence in Gaza since Hamas and Fatah reached the agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 8 to form a unity government. The clashes, which have left at least nine Palestinians dead and dozens wounded since Sunday, together with the resignation, are being viewed in Gaza as signs that the government may collapse.
“From the beginning, I faced obstacles that robbed the ministry of its powers and made my position empty, without authority,” Mr. Qawasmeh told reporters.
A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, blamed Fatah, and particularly the elite Presidential Guard, which is loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, for the latest round of bloodletting. The clashes started after Fatah had sent forces into the streets without coordinating the action with Mr. Qawasmeh or Hamas.
But Mr. Barhoum said that Hamas “is still committed to the agreement and won’t allow Fatah to drive us away from it.” Privately, Hamas activists contend that Fatah is trying to bring about the failure of the government, in which Fatah serves as a junior partner.
Fatah blames Hamas for the violence. An cease-fire brokered by the Egyptians was supposed to go into effect at 1 a.m. on Monday, but Maher Miqdad, a spokesman for Fatah, said Hamas took that as the signal “for an explosion.”
“They raided the intelligence headquarters; they tried to raid my house,” Mr. Miqdad said, adding that members of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah’s militia, and his own bodyguards confronted the attackers. Two Fatah men were killed in the fighting, including one of the bodyguards.
Mr. Miqdad is known to be close to Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah strongman in Gaza who was recently named national security adviser by Mr. Abbas. Mr. Dahlan is despised by Hamas, and his appointment has been a particular source of tension.
Palestinian officials said Mr. Qawasmeh had complained that the ministry’s director general, Rashid Abu Shbak, another close Dahlan ally, had been obstructing his work and unilaterally giving orders to Fatah-controlled security forces.
Under the Mecca agreement, the interior minister was to be an independent chosen by Hamas and approved by Fatah, rather than a member of either group. Mr. Qawasmeh, a former civil servant with no security expertise or political strength, was a compromise candidate.
He had drafted a security plan, calling for sending large numbers of forces onto the streets of Gaza to restore order. But on Thursday, Fatah, which dominates the security forces in the Palestinian Authority, sent out a few thousand men without consulting with Hamas or with Mr. Qawasmeh, leading to the first clashes.
Members of Hamas’s Executive Force, which was set up to counter the official security apparatus, have taken part in the fighting, along with Hamas’s underground Qassam Brigades. Uniformed members of the security forces loyal to Fatah have joined in, alongside Aksa Brigades militiamen.
Muhammad Mansour, 27, a Ministry of Education employee, described from his bed in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital how he was attacked on Sunday by, he said, Fatah forces.
“They took our IDs, our cellphones, blindfolded us and took us to Shalihat,” a private beach close to the president’s office, Mr. Mansour said. He said he was badly beaten and accused of belonging to Hamas.
“I said no,” Mr. Mansour said. “One said, ‘You have a brother working for the Executive Force.’ I said I have another brother working for the police. Then they shot at my thighs, saying, ‘This is for your brother that works for the Executive Force.’ ”
Fatah supporters being treated in another hospital, Al Quds al Dawli, reported similar experiences at the hands of Hamas.
The unity government, sworn in two months ago, was formed to try to end the diplomatic and economic embargo imposed by many countries after Hamas came to power in elections in January 2006. The embargo is still in effect.
The new government also was seen as a way to end factional violence that threatened to escalate into civil war. On Monday, Ahmed Yusuf, another spokesman for Hamas, said that the prime minister and the president were anxious to prevent further escalation of the violence, and that they had agreed to set up a joint operations room in Gaza.
“It is too early to say where this will all go,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of Passia, an independent Palestinian research organization. “The Mecca agreement was more a declaration of principles. It was never fully endorsed by the grass-roots factions of Fatah and Hamas on the ground.”
He added that what the Palestinians are looking for is “a hero, not a leader,” someone who is “willing to take the risk of acting” to restore order on the ground, and to accept the consequences. So far, he said, neither Mr. Haniya nor Mr. Abbas has taken any firm action.
Correction: May 17, 2007
A picture caption on Tuesday about clashes between
A picture caption on Tuesday about clashes between