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Hamas neared control of the entire Gaza Strip after a day of battles in which the Islamist fighters dislodged rival Fatah forces from key positions, sending some fleeing into Egypt, surrendering or destroying their bases instead of turning them over.
Fatah forces were crumbling fast. Early Thursday, Fatah abandoned positions in central Gaza and blew them up, with Hamas forces advancing through the crowded, poverty-stricken seaside territory.
Earlier Wednesday, Fatah officials and activists in the West Bank called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to resign, holding him responsible for the fact that Hamas was now in control of most parts of the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas talked by phone Wednesday night for the first time since the latest cycle of violence broke out. A source close to Abbas said the two agreed to issue a joint call for a cease-fire.
The calls for Abbas's resignation came as Hamas militiamen scored more victories in their battle to take control over the Gaza Strip. More than 30 Palestinians were killed in Wednesday's fighting, which also spread to some parts of the West Bank.
Fatah officials here confirmed that Hamas had seized large amounts of weapons and military equipment belonging to Abbas's security forces in the Gaza Strip. Some of the weapons were supplied to the PA in recent weeks by Egypt and Jordan as part of a US security plan to boost Fatah-controlled forces.
Hamas said it had seized thousands of M-16 and Kalashnikov rifles and pistols, communication equipment, armored vehicles, trucks, binoculars, military outfits, tents, sleeping bags, hand grenades, mortars and documents.
Hamas militiamen were seen driving some of the confiscated vehicles that have been decorated with Hamas flags and signs.
Pictures of the weapons were posted on a number of Hamas-linked Web sites. "Most of the weapons came from Egypt and Jordan over the past few years," a senior Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. "They did not come directly from the US, although the Americans had initiated the supply of weapons and ammunition."
Hamas representative Sami Abu Zuhri announced that his movement was now in control of 90 percent of the PA security installations and bases in the Gaza Strip. "We are not fighting against the entire Fatah party, but certain murderous elements who have been collaborating with Israel and the Americans," he said.
At a stormy meeting of Fatah leaders here, Abbas came under severe criticism for failing to issue clear orders to the PA security forces and Fatah militias in the Gaza Strip to launch counterattacks on Hamas.
Furious Fatah leaders demanded that Abbas declare a state of emergency and call early elections. They also expressed dismay with the way Abbas was handling the current crisis.
"Hamas is slaughtering our sons in the Gaza Strip and the only thing our president is doing is appealing for a cease-fire," said one Fatah leader. "We have at least 40,000 police officers and militiamen in the Gaza Strip. What's preventing them from launching a massive attack on Hamas? Does the president want to see the Gaza Strip fall into the hands of Hamas?"
Another top Fatah official called on Abbas to step down. "The president must resign," he said. "Unless he takes real measures to halt the Hamas offensive, President Abbas will face a revolt by Fatah."
After managing to capture most of the northern and southern pats of the Gaza Strip, Hamas militiamen on Wednesday launched full-scale attacks on PA security installations in Gaza City. They also attacked Abbas's residence and headquarters in the city with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
"Hamas is now fighting for control of Gaza City," said a local Palestinian journalist. "It's only a matter of time before Hamas takes full control of the city because the Palestinian security forces, especially the Presidential Guard, are only defending themselves."
Fatah suffered yet another major blow in Gaza City when members of the powerful Baker clan surrendered to Hamas on Wednesday. The clan, known for its close ties with Fatah, lives in the Shati refugee camp, where Haniyeh also resides.
Hundreds of men, women and children emerged from the camp with their hands raised behind their heads. Others carried white sheets in a sign of surrender. Eyewitnesses said the clan members were taken to a local mosque, where three men were murdered execution-style by Hamas gunmen.
PA security sources reported that at least 50 Fatah militiamen and security officers fled to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, where they sought political asylum.
Sources close to Hamas told the Post that the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed groups, had joined Hamas in the fight against the PA security forces and Fatah militiamen.
The sources also claimed that dozens of PA policemen had surrendered and handed over their weapons to Hamas in the past 24 hours.
General Musbah Buhaisi, commander of Abbas's Presidential Guard in the Gaza Strip, was said to have fled to the West Bank following death threats by Hamas.
Earlier, Hamas used more than a ton of explosives to blow up the headquarters of the PA Preventive Security Service in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Many security officers were buried under the rubble of the building that was completely destroyed. Hamas also succeeded in occupying a number of PA security installations in Rafah.
Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, issued an ultimatum to all PA policemen to hand over their weapons and leave their bases b Friday evening.
Abu Obaida, spokesman for Izaddin Kassam, said his men were determined to "get rid of all the filthy Fatah elements that have been terrorizing and extorting the Palestinian public for many years."
Meanwhile, in Hamas-Fatah clashes in Nablus and Jenin on Wednesday, Fatah gunmen attacked a number of Hamas-run institutions and kidnapped 12 Hamas supporters.
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