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(photo credit: AP [file])
Dozens of Palestinian students were wounded, some seriously, in clashes at An-Najah University in Nablus between Hamas and Fatah supporters on Tuesday.
Eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post that some of the students fired pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles during the melee, which was described as one of the worst-ever incidents of its kind on a Palestinian campus in the West Bank.
"The students turned the campus into a real battlefield," said one eyewitness. "They fought each other with chairs, knives, swords and everything they could get their hands on."
The university administration decided to suspend studies until further notice and advised all students to stay away from the campus.
Rami Hamdallah, president of An-Najah University, accused Hamas-affiliated students of instigating the fight.
"The Islamic list on campus has been planning these clashes for a long time," he said. "They are trying to disrupt the educational process on West Bank campuses, as they did two weeks ago at Bir Zeit University" [north of Ramallah].
Bir Zeit University was also closed down earlier this month following severe violence between Hamas and Fatah supporters.
Tensions have been running high on all West Bank campuses ever since Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.
Hamdallah said the Hamas supporters had violated university regulations by engaging in political activities on campus.
He said the confrontation began when the Hamas-affiliated students distributed leaflets in which they claimed that the IDF had arrested a number of their colleagues over the past few days.
"When Fatah supporters tried to prevent the distribution of the leaflets, they were attacked by a large number of Hamas people," said a professor who witnessed the clashes. "I don't see how we can resume studies in the near future."
Saddam Omar, one of the leaders of the Fatah student list, said Hamas militiamen shot and wounded one of his colleagues, Hani Masheh, during the riots. "The Hamas students bear full responsibility for the violence," he said. "They organized an illegal demonstration on campus and chanted slogans against the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, accusing them of collaborating with Israel. They also cursed Fatah supporters, and that's what triggered the clashes."
Hamas, for its part, accused Fatah supporters on campus and members of the PA security forces of using force to break up a peaceful protest against Israel. They said dozens of Fatah gunmen stormed the school and sprayed tear gas at female students belonging to Hamas's student list. The gunmen also opened fire, wounding three Hamas supporters in the legs, they added.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhir warned against taking the fight between Hamas and Fatah to university campuses, saying this constituted a "dangerous development." He accused PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of ordering PA security forces in Nablus to use force against the students, adding that more than 20 Hamas supporters had been arrested.
"Those who ordered the assault on our students at An-Najah University will bear the consequences of their actions," Abu Zuhri said. "Abbas's militias and gangsters in the West Bank are operating on behalf of the Israeli army."