Saturday, June 16, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas began releasing prisoners yesterday amid scenes of triumph mixed with looting after its dramatic two-day conquest of all security positions previously held by its rival Fatah.

While Hamas vowed to hunt down Mohamed Dahlan, the key Fatah hard-line leader still at large, the Hamas leadership and its military wing issued a general amnesty to those it had fought in the past few days but were otherwise considered “clean.”

“We want to set all of our hostages free in due course,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman. “We are not seeking vengeance.”

Hamas also ordered a group holding British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston to release him immediately. It did not specify what action would be taken if the demand was rejected.

Two Fatah leaders were tracked down and killed Thursday — one of them reputedly fatally shot by the mother of his last victim, using the Fatah leader’s own American-made M-16 rifle.

His body was placed in a pickup truck and driven around the streets of two refugee camps, periodically being displayed to emerging residents with cries of: “God is great. This is the body of Sameeh Madhun the traitor.”

A spokesman for the Hamas military wing said his men were releasing 13 Fatah leaders, including the head of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ guards and the National Security Forces commander. Both men had been warned in advance of decisive assaults on their strongholds that they should surrender or die — warnings they ignored.

In the end, resistance crumbled fast, with some of the leaders purportedly fleeing the presidential compound in commandeered fishing vessels.

There was a large pool of fresh blood in one room of the presidential compound. Three men lay dead and were quickly removed to a mortuary. Mr. Barhoum said the Fatah men killed themselves as the Hamas militants moved in.

Hamas fighters, some discarding their woollen black masks, fired volleys of shots into the air at the residences and offices of the president and Mr. Dahlan, to mark their triumph.

The Associated Press described Hamas gunmen rifling through Mr. Abbas’ belongings in his bedroom, adjacent to his office. They lifted the mattress and searched drawers. One gunman sat at the Fatah leader’s desk, picked up the phone and pretended to call Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The roof of Mr. Dahlan’s three-story home was smoldering late yesterday, after the house had been ransacked. Not even the toilets, showers or light-fittings remained. Hamas fighters, weary but excited from days of battle, periodically fired shots over the heads of crowds seeking to join in the looting, which by late yesterday reportedly had been brought under control.

Numerous trucks drove off with household booty. One Hamas gunman was seen carrying off a large television set. One of his colleagues turned to him and said: “Come on, give me one of the printers. You already have three.”

Meanwhile, defeated Fatah fighters were giving their version of events to explain the unexpectedly feeble defense of their key security positions. Many blamed an absence of clear orders from the leadership.

An 18-year-old recruit to the Preventive Security Service — one of the four key armed forces loyal to Fatah — told of a desperate effort to avoid death as Hamas forces fought their way in to a tall building alongside their headquarters on Thursday.

He and 11 other security personnel had been positioned on the 10th floor of the 11-story building, but six had already died in exchanges of fire from the windows.

The young security man, Wael Akad, used a cell phone to call his father and urge him to rush over to the building to plead with the Hamas fighters to accept a surrender. The father, accompanied by his two children, found the building after a desperate search and managed to negotiate a surrender.

Hamas took Mr. Akad and five surviving colleagues prisoner, but later released them.

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