A top Fatah official who was kidnapped on Monday has been released after his abductors shaved off his mustache.
Fatah officials held Hamas responsible, saying the act was designed to humiliate Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, who is one of the most senior leaders of Fatah in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, however, said Abu al-Naja's kidnappers were former Fatah security officers who were angry because the Palestinian Authority had not paid them their salaries.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the clashes between Hamas and Fatah rose to eight as the two parties continued to fight each other in various locations in the Gaza Strip. At least 110 people were wounded in the fighting, which began when thousands of Fatah supporters took to the streets Monday to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Fatah's first armed attack against Israel.
Abu al-Naja, who has not appeared in public since his release early Tuesday, has been wearing a mustache for nearly 35 years.
A top Fatah leader in Ramallah expressed outrage over the abduction of Abu al-Naja, denying Hamas's claim that disgruntled Fatah officers were responsible. "As usual, Hamas is lying about its serious crimes," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Hamas's gangs are targeting all Fatah members in the Gaza Strip, including the leaders."
Ihab al-Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior, strongly denied the allegations. "You can ask Abu al-Naja himself about the identity of those who kidnapped him and shaved his mustache and he will tell you the truth," he said.
Hamas recently accused the Fatah-controlled security forces in the West Bank of shaving the beards of Hamas detainees.
Over the past 48 hours, Hamas's security forces in the Gaza Strip have launched a massive crackdown on Fatah, arresting dozens of members. Hamas accused Fatah of using the anniversary event to stir unrest in the Gaza Strip in a bid to undermine the Hamas government. Earlier this week, Hamas decided to ban the Fatah celebrations.
Sources close to Hamas said Monday's clashes erupted after Fatah gunmen opened fire at Hamas security officer Omar Asfour in Khan Yunis, killing him instantly. They said the gunmen later opened fire indiscriminately from several rooftops, killing 12-year-old Ayman Abu al-Wafa and 58-year-old Mahmoud Abu Taha.
On Tuesday, the clashes spread to the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City. Eyewitnesses said Hamas's security forces shot and killed Mahmoud Dughmush, a Fatah activist, after blowing up his family's six-story building.
The incident took place shortly after a member of the notorious Dughmush clan killed a Hamas policeman.
Hamas's security forces on Tuesday arrested Farouk al-Adgham, spokesman for the Fatah-affiliated Martyr Ayman Judeh Group in the Gaza Strip.
The Fatah-Hamas clashes coincided with PA President Mahmoud Abbas's call for dialogue with Hamas. Abbas made the call during a speech in Ramallah marking the Fatah anniversary.
He also called on Hamas to agree to early elections.
Hamas welcomed Abbas's call for dialogue, but rejected the early elections idea. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told reporters in Gaza City that his movement was ready to resume "unconditional" talks with Abbas's Fatah faction in a bid to end the crisis in the Palestinian arena.
"We welcome any initiative to resume dialogue [with Fatah]," Zahar said. "We extend our hand to unconditional talks and with good intentions." He said Hamas rejected the idea of holding early elections "because Hamas had been elected in a free and democratic election."
Zahar accused Abbas's security forces of waging a campaign of "terror and repression" against Hamas in the West Bank by arresting many of the Islamist movement's supporters and closing down Hamas-affiliated institutions.