Palestinian Authority security forces allied with Fatah arrested three dozen Hamas members in the West Bank on Thursday, as the Islamic group were close to a military takeover of Gaza.
Fatah leaders said a decision was made by security commanders to crack down on Hamas in the West Bank, to prevent it from taking any positions in that territory, a Fatah stronghold.
"Last night, there was a decision by the leaders of the security forces to go after Hamas and to arrest them, before they think of bringing the war here," said Issam Abu Baker, a Fatah leader in the West Bank city of Nablus. "This is true for all of the West Bank. Perhaps it was a belated decision, but now we can stand against Hamas and defend ourselves."
Arrests of Hamas members were reported in the West Bank cities of Jenin, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, security forces wore ski masks, to avoid being identified, as they seized Hamas activists in their homes and businesses, witnesses said.
The arrests came as Hamas increasingly took control of Gaza from Fatah.
Also Thursday, Fatah gunmen seized a Hamas preacher from a West Bank village and shot him in the legs, security officials said. In Ramallah's Al Quds University, Fatah-allied students kicked out Hamas supporters and forced a suspension of teaching, the officials said.