Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fatah, Hamas clash in worst fighting since Gaza takeover

The Hamas government controlling the Gaza Strip on Saturday accused Fatah of stirring unrest there as part of a plan to remove the Islamist group from power. The accusation came after Friday's street clashes between thousands of Fatah supporters and members of Hamas's paramilitary Executive Force. During the fighting, the worst since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June, several journalists were beaten and detained by Hamas militiamen.

The violence began after thousands of Fatah supporters attend Friday prayers in a public square in the center of Gaza City. The prayer was called by Fatah to protest against incitement in Hamas-run mosques in the Strip.
Fatah leaders in Ramallah said Friday's confrontations marked the beginning of a "popular uprising" against the Hamas government. They denied that Fatah was behind the demonstrations, which they described as a genuine expression of disappointment with the Hamas regime.

"Some Fatah elements are trying to exploit the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip to stir unrest and undermine internal security," said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government. "They want to take the Gaza Strip back to the days of anarchy and lawlessness."

Admitting that Hamas militiamen had targeted journalists during the demonstrations, the spokesman said his government had launched an investigation. Nunu scoffed at Fatah officials for accusing Hamas of targeting journalists, pointing out that the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah had been responsible for the arrest of journalists.

As for the recent clashes, he said Fatah supporters marched on former Fatah-controlled security installations immediately following Friday prayers, throwing stones and empty bottles at Hamas security forces. He added that the security forces were forced to disperse the demonstrators by firing into the air.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Fatah leadership in Ramallah was behind the protests. "They organized it and planned it," he said. "The demonstrators cursed the Hamas security forces and threw stones at them without there being any provocation. The Fatah leaders in Ramallah are sending instructions and money to the rioters."
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel also described Friday's incident as the beginning of a "mutiny" orchestrated by the Fatah leadership in Ramallah. "They want to destabilize the situation in the Gaza Strip," he said. "They have decided to launch a large-scale mutiny against the Hamas government."

Bardaweel accused the Fatah-controlled government of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad of inciting against the Hamas government. Fayad was responsible for last week's power outage in large parts of the Gaza Strip and for inciting doctors there to stay away from work, Bardaweel said.

"Fayad and his men want to show the world that the situation in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of explosion and that the Fayad government is the only savior of the masses."

Hamas expects the Fatah-backed revolt to escalate in the weeks leading up to this fall's US-sponsored Middle East peace conference, Bardaweel said. "We have received information according to which Fatah has established secret cells in the Gaza Strip to assassinate senior Hamas figures. We are also expecting them to step up the economic, military and political pressure on Hamas on the eve of the proposed conference."

Fatah officials said Hamas arrested dozens of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip following Friday's violence. They said many of those arrested had been brutally tortured by Hamas militiamen and then taken to hospital for treatment.
The officials named top Fatah activists as being among those taken into custody: Hamdan al-Amsi, Ashraf al-Shatawi, Musa Turk, Falah Hasanat, Mazen Kitnani and Bassam al- Malahi.

Senior Fatah leader Zakariya al-Agha said the residents of the Gaza Strip were "sick and tired" of listening to incitement and messages of hatred in Hamas mosques. "More and more people are boycotting the Hamas mosques because they don't want to listen to the negative messages," he said. "The worshipers organized a peaceful demonstration after the Friday prayer, but the Hamas militias began firing into the air and used force to disperse them."

PA Information Minister Riad al-Malki accused Hamas of "crimes against humanity and the freedom of expression." He was speaking during a protest organized Saturday in Ramallah by scores of Palestinian journalists against the arrest of their colleagues in the Gaza Strip.

"We are afraid for ourselves and our families," said journalist Imad al-Asfar. "Unless we receive the support of the masses, the truth will fall victim to these practices."

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