- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip | Hamas security forces arrested dozens of supporters of the rival Fatah group, hurled grenades at the home of a Fatah leader and set up checkpoints across Gaza on Saturday after a mysterious beachside blast that killed five Hamas members and a 6-year-old girl.

Hamas leaders blamed Fatah for Friday’s explosion, although it is not clear what happened. Fatah leaders denied involvement, and an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Hamas crackdown on Fatah - the toughest in recent months - is reducing prospects for eventual reconciliation.

If Hamas was targeted, it would be the deadliest such attack since the Islamic militants ousted Fatah-allied security forces from Gaza in a violent takeover more than a year ago.

The blast went off underneath a car parked near a crowded Gaza City beach on Friday evening, Hamas officials said. At the time, a group of Hamas activists was picnicking on the beach, Hamas said. The blast shattered the windows of the white sedan and damaged its doors.

Three Hamas members and the girl were killed immediately. Two more Hamas activists died of injuries Saturday, and 15 people were wounded, according to a statement by the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Among the dead were a senior Hamas field commander and Iyad al-Hayeh, a nephew of Hamas lawmaker Khalil al-Hayeh, health officials said. Osama al-Hayeh, a son of the lawmaker, was wounded.

Tensions were palpable on Gaza’s streets after the blast.

Thousands of Hamas loyalists marched in the funeral of the explosion’s victims, waving their movement’s green flag. Gunmen fired automatic rifles into the air and angrily vowed revenge.

“The collaborators who did this must be hung in Palestine Square and shot,” Khalil al-Hayeh said in a eulogy, referring to Gaza City’s main square.

“The people who stand behind this [attack] are from Fatah,” Mr. al-Hayeh said. “We hold their leaders responsible … and say, either be nationalists or collaborators, the choice is yours.”

Mr. al-Hayeh has survived two Israeli assassination attempts that killed members of his extended family.

Hamas policemen set up checkpoints on major thoroughfares and roads leading to security compounds, checking suspicious cars and forcing others to slow down.

Dozens of Fatah supporters were rounded up, said Ibrahim Abu Naja, a prominent Fatah leader in Gaza. Mr. Abu Naja said Hamas police also raided offices and institutions belonging to Fatah overnight.

The offices of independent lawmaker Ziad Abu Amr and of Zakariya al-Agha, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, were among those targeted. Another senior Fatah leader, Abdel Rahman Hamad, fled his home amid concerns he would be arrested, his family said.



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