( AP ) - The southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah fell on Thursday to Hamas fighters, witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah movement said.
Rafah is Hamas' latest conquest in its near-complete takeover of the Gaza Strip. Earlier in the day, Hamas captured a key Gaza City security installation from Fatah.
The capture of the Preventive Security headquarters was a major step forward in Hamas' attempts to complete its takeover of all of Gaza. Hamas followed up that victory by demanding Fatah surrender another key security installation.
The moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, for the first time in five days of fierce fighting, ordered his elite presidential guard to strike back. But his forces were crumbling fast under the onslaught by the better-armed and better-disciplined Islamic fighters.
In all, 14 fighters and civilians were killed and 80 wounded in the battle for the complex, bringing the day's death toll to 25, hospital and security officials said. About 90 people, most of them militants, have been killed since a spike in violence Sunday sent Gaza into civil war.
Fatah said seven of its fighters were shot to death outside the Preventive Security building. A doctor at Shifa Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said he examined two bodies that had been shot in the head at close range.
A witness, Jihad Abu Ayad, said men were killed in front of their wives and children.
"They are executing them one by one," Abu Ayad said. "They are carrying one of them on their shoulders, putting him on a sand dune, turning him around and shooting."
The Palestine Liberation Organization's top body recommended that Abbas declare a state of emergency and dismantle Fatah's governing coalition with Hamas. Abbas said he would review the recommendations and make decision within hours, said an aide, Nabil Amr.
Some of the Hamas fighters kneeled down outside the captured Preventive Security complex, touching their foreheads to the ground in prayer. Others led Fatah gunmen out of the building, some shirtless or in their underwear, holding their arms in the air. Several of the Fatah men flinched as the crack of gunfire split the air.
"We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return," Islam Shahawan, a spokesman for Hamas' militia, told Hamas radio. "The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived."
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, heralded what he called " Gaza's second liberation," after Israel's 2005 evacuation of the coastal strip.
Militants and civilians were looting the compound, hauling out computers, documents, office equipment, furniture and TVs.
Hamas had been tightening its ring around the Preventive Security complex for three days, stepping up its assault late Wednesday, with a barrage of bullets, grenades, mortar rounds and land mines that continued until the compound fell. Electricity and telephone lines were cut, and roads leading to the complex were blocked. Hamas claimed it confiscated two cars filled with arms sent as reinforcements.
The Islamic group was also training its guns Thursday at three other key command centers in Gaza City.
In a broadcast on Hamas radio, the Islamic fighters demanded that Fatah surrender the National Security compound by mid-afternoon. Light clashes were taking place there when the ultimatum was delivered.
Rocket-propelled grenades were also being fired toward Abbas' Gaza compound, provoking return fire from his presidential guard. For the first time since the fighting began, Abbas ordered his guard to go on the offensive against Hamas at the compound, and not simply maintain a defensive posture, an aide said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the situation was fluid.
The intelligence service compound was under siege as well, with Hamas firing dozens of rocket-propelled grenades in its direction.
The two factions have warred sporadically since Hamas took power from Fatah last year, but never with such intensity. Hamas reluctantly brought Fatah into the coalition in March to quell an earlier round of violence, but the uneasy partnership began crumbling last month over control of the powerful security forces.
Hospitals were operating without water, electricity and blood. Even holed up inside their homes, Gazans weren't able to escape fighting that turned apartment buildings into battlefields.
Moean Hammad, 34, said life had become a nightmare at his high-rise building near the Preventive Security headquarters, where Fatah forces on the rooftop were battling Hamas fighters.
"We spent our night in the hallway outside the apartment because the building came under crossfire // one word in 2002," Hammad said. "We haven't had electricity for two days, and all we can hear is shooting and powerful, earthshaking explosions.
"The world is watching us dying and doing nothing to help. God help us, we feel like we are in a real-life horror movie," he said.
Shaher Hatoum, a nurse at nearby Al Quds hospital, said the facility had no electricity, water or blood, and that wounded were propped up on ward floors. Hundreds of bullets flew through windows, and fighters ignored the hospital's appeals to hold fire just long enough to have the generator and water pipes fixed, he said.
"We are waiting here for our end," Hatoum said.
Fatah has threatened to carry the fighting to the West Bank, where Hamas is weak. There have been sporadic battles in the West Bank this week, and on Thursday, Fatah went across the territory rounding up Hamas fighters in an effort to assert control.
Sheik Saleh Arrouri, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, told a radio station that Abbas called a joint meeting of the territory's Fatah and Hamas leadership in Ramallah for later Thursday.
The violence has exposed the depths of the disarray in Fatah's ranks since Hamas ended Fatah's 40-year dominion of Palestinian politics last year.
A Hamas military victory in Gaza would split Palestinian territory into two, with the Islamic extremists controlling the coastal strip and Western-backed Fatah ruling the West Bank. Israel was watching the carnage closely, concerned the clashes might spawn attacks on its southern border.
Israeli defense officials said Wednesday that Israel, which evacuated Gaza in 2005, would not intervene unless Hamas took over Gaza and started attacking Israel.
Fatah has asked Israeli permission to bring in more arms and armored vehicles, but Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio that arming Fatah would be "insane" because the weapons would fall into Hamas hands.
He said Israel was considering backing Fatah forces in the West Bank, but did not elaborate.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he discussed the possible deployment of a multinational force in Gaza with the Security Council on Wednesday.