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Death toll hits 18 as Palestinians fight

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NEW: Three killed Saturday as Fatah party, Hamas fight for third day
NEW: At least 66 people have been wounded, The Jerusalem Post reports
• Palestinian factions suspend power-sharing talks
• Hamas controls Palestinian government since toppling Fatah in 2006 elections
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Three Palestinians were killed Saturday during a clash outside the Islamic University of Gaza, bringing the death toll to 18 in three days of fighting between rival Palestinian factions.

At least 66 people have been wounded in the fighting, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The fighting began Thursday night when a Hamas operative was killed by a bomb in Gaza, according to Palestinian security and medical sources. The ruling Hamas movement has blamed the bombing on the rival Fatah Party.

Ten Palestinians -- eight members of Hamas and two Fatah members -- were killed Friday during a gunbattle in Jabalya, near the home of a Fatah operative.

Palestinian sources said a 2-year-old boy in Khan Yunis was among those who died in the battle. Gaza hospital officials told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that the boy was killed when Fatah members opened fire on a car believed to be carrying members of Hamas.

Friday also saw a wave of kidnappings, as Fatah's militant wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, kidnapped 11 Hamas members and Hamas kidnapped eight Fatah members in Gaza, sources said.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades also kidnapped nine Hamas members in Nablus on Friday, but a spokesman for the group later said the captives had been released.

One year since Hamas beat Fatah in elections

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Hamas' upset victory over Fatah in the Palestinian elections.

The recent fighting prompted the two groups to suspend negotiations to form a coalition government.

One sticking point in the negotiations is Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. Western nations have frozen funds to the Palestinian territories until this prerequisite is met. Another bone of contention is how the competing security forces should divide responsibilities.

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Hamas exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal in Syria, but the two failed to make much progress toward creation of a national unity government, they told reporters. (Watch how Abbas met with Mashaal despite talks being canceled a day earlier Video)

Legislator Saeb Erekat said that Abbas has declared that if an agreement on a unity government is not reached within three weeks, then Abbas will issue a presidential decree ordering early elections.

Hamas has said it will boycott an early vote.

During a trip to the Middle East earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said America will "deepen" its involvement in Israeli-Palestinian politics and is "absolutely committed" to trying to resolve the conflict via peaceful means.

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Palestinian mourners carry a body during a funeral in Gaza City on Saturday, the third day of fighting between rival factions.



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