- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

1:14 p.m.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gunmen allied with Hamas and Fatah clashed at a West Bank mosque and in Gaza Strip streets today, deepening factional violence a day after gunmen shot at the convoy of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

The street battles came as Hamas accused the powerful Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, of orchestrating the attack on Mr. Haniyeh — and a powerful Hamas politician called for the Fatah strongman’s assassination. Leaders of both groups have warned that the spiraling violence threatens to bring the Palestinians to civil war.

The clashes in Gaza City and the West Bank town of Ramallah marred celebrations today marking the 19th anniversary of Hamas’ founding. However, the Islamist militant group pushed ahead with its rallies, and about 70,000 loyalists gathered at a stadium in Gaza City, cheering wildly, sobbing and firing into the air when Mr. Haniyeh arrived flanked by more than 50 armed bodyguards.

“We joined this movement to become martyrs, not ministers,” Mr. Haniyeh declared in a fiery speech, referring to the attack on his entourage yesterday.

The fighting today in the normally peaceful city of Ramallah began when Hamas supporters tried to march toward the town center, where Fatah-allied police had deployed to prevent a planned Hamas celebration.

Police formed a cordon around a Hamas mosque to prevent those inside from marching, then beat them with clubs and fired their rifles in the air when the activists tried to leave. The marchers fought back, throwing stones and bottles at the police, some of whom fired into the crowd.

Thirty-two persons were wounded by stones and gunfire, hospital officials said.

In Gaza City, masked Hamas gunmen waged battle with Fatah-allied police near a security post. The four-minute shootout sent civilians running for cover. There were no reports of injuries.

The showdown, a block from the home of Mr. Dahlan, broke out shortly after Hamas accused the Fatah strongman of orchestrating the attack on Mr. Haniyeh on Thursday at the Gaza-Egypt border terminal.

The latest round of fighting erupted Monday with a drive-by shooting that killed the three small children of a Fatah security official and continued Wednesday with the gangland-style execution of a Hamas judge.

Yesterday, Mr. Haniyeh rushed home from a trip abroad to try to quell the violence. However, Israel ordered the Rafah crossing closed to keep him from bringing in an estimated $35 million he had collected abroad to help alleviate the Palestinian financial crisis. Israeli officials said Mr. Haniyeh could return to Gaza without the money.

While Mr. Haniyeh was delayed at the crossing, angry Hamas militants stormed the border terminal and fought with security forces stationed there who are loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader.

When Mr. Haniyeh finally crossed, unidentified men began firing toward him. One of his bodyguards was killed, and his son and 26 others were wounded.

At the bodyguard’s funeral, Khalil al-Hayeh, head of the Hamas bloc in parliament, told mourners that Mr. Dahlan was trying to instigate a coup against the government and called for his head.

Mr. Dahlan rejected the accusations as “false and baseless.”



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