Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hamas says exile of Fatah clan "a cear message"

Refugee Fatah-loyalists who fled Hamas persecution in Gaza transferred to hands of Palestinian Authority in West Bank on Monday as Hamas boasts it has toppled last Fatah stronghold in Strip. 'We've sent a clear message to all concerned,' Hamas spokesman says

Efrat Weiss
Israel News

Three buses carrying 87 Palestinians who fled Hamas persecution in Gaza arrived in the West Bank city of Jericho on Monday evening, following an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. in the day it was reported that the group would be transported to Ramallah. Military officials said the change of venue to Jericho is due to an internal Palestinian disagreement. The PA however insists Israel dictated the change.

In Jericho preparations were underway to welcome the members of the Hilles clan, who fled Gaza over the weekend after violent altercations with the ruling Hamas movement. In all, 11 people were killed and dozens wounded Saturday during a Hamas raid on the clan. About two dozen wounded were taken for treatment in Israeli hospitals and the rest were kept in army custody.

A special encampment has been prepared for the clan by the PA. Save for one senior Fatah official, Ahmed Hilles, and a small number of additional operatives who will continue on to Ramallah – all of the refugees will remain in Jericho until a permanent solution can be found for them.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak reversed a decision made a day earlier to send the men back to Gaza. After consulting with Palestinian leaders, Barak decided the men who escaped into Israel Saturday would be permitted to cross through Israeli territory to the Fatah-controlled West Bank, according to a statement from Barak's office.

After the Hilles men escaped from Gaza, Abbas first asked Israel to send them back home. Abbas apparently wanted his forces to retain a presence in Gaza despite the danger of reprisals from Hamas, and feared a precedent that could spark a mass flight of Fatah supporters from the territory.

Palestinian officials said Abbas changed his mind when an initial group of 32 of the clansmen were sent back into Gaza on Sunday, only to be immediately arrested by Hamas. A statement from Barak's office Monday, however, said it was Israel that stopped sending them back when it ''received information that they were being arrested by Hamas and that their lives were in immediate danger.''

''Barak ordered an immediate re-evaluation of the situation and direct discussions with Palestinian officials in order to convince them to allow the refugees entry (to the West Bank) instead,'' the statement said.

Hamas: We uprooted last Fatah stronghold

Islam Shahwan, spokesman for Hamas police, said in an interview that the weekend raid - the bloodiest Hamas-Fatah fighting since the Gaza takeover - sent a "clear message to all concerned."

"We do believe this was the last stronghold in Gaza," he said, referring to potential Hamas opponents among the territory's myriad clans. "This stronghold had to be uprooted."

Shahwan said that more than 100 Hilles men had been detained and that Hamas forces seized a large weapons stockpile, including mortars, assault rifles, land mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

In a small sign of defiance, a group of Hilles children went outdoors wrapped in yellow Fatah flags, saying they hoped the sight would annoy Hamas troops patrolling the neighborhood on foot and in pickup trucks.

Fatah: Sign of Hamas' desperation

Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a Gaza native and former Palestinian Cabinet minister from Fatah, said the forced exile of the Fatah supporters was a sign of Gaza's desperation.

"When a man stands between two choices: to be killed by his people or to be arrested by his enemy, and he reaches a conclusion that it is better to be arrested by his enemy, it shows you how cruel the situation is in Gaza," he told Israel's Army Radio.

In the Shijaiyeh district, the weekend fighting left some of the clan members' homes in shambles.

Residents showed reporters two homes they claimed were ransacked by Hamas police.

Shahwan, the Hamas police spokesman, said complaints of theft would be investigated. He argued that outsiders could have come in to steal from the homes during the chaos of fighting.

Hani Busbus, a political analyst in Gaza, said Fatah cannot be written off completely in the Gaza Strip.

"There's still around 30 to 40 percent of Gazans who support Fatah," he said. "On the ground, Fatah will be smaller: It doesn't have it's security strongholds, a military wing, and it doesn't have any activities or institutions. But ideologically, the movement is still here."

Ali Waked and the Associated Press contributed to this story

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