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(photo credit: AP [File])
Buoyed by the growing street protests against Hamas, Fatah leaders vowed over the weekend to step up their efforts to end the Islamist movement's rule in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah and other PLO groups called for a general strike Sunday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in protest against Hamas.
But the strike was only partially observed, reflecting Hamas's grip on power. The strike led many schools in Gaza to cancel classes, and some shops remained shuttered. But public transportation operated on schedule, marketplaces were bustling and many merchants opened their stores.
The strike is part of a wider campaign designed to undermine Hamas's power and rally the support of the Palestinian street behind Fatah, explained a senior Fatah official in Ramallah.
Hamas officials, on the other hand, described the protests as an attempt by Fatah to regain control over the Gaza Strip with the help of Israel and the US.
They said Hamas would use an "iron fist" policy to thwart any attempt to plunge the Gaza Strip into anarchy.
Representatives of the two parties told The Jerusalem Post that they were expecting a "hot" Ramadan, which begins later this week, as tensions between Hamas and Fatah continue to mount.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that Hamas "has dug its grave with its own hands."
Referring to Friday's clashes between Fatah supporters and Hamas militiamen, in which dozens were hurt, he said: "The attacks by Hamas on innocent worshipers are painful. One feels ashamed that these Hamas gangs belong to the Palestinian people, who have struggled for decades against the [Israeli] occupation."
He also strongly condemned Hamas for beating a number of journalists who were covering the Friday confrontations. "How can they talk about democracy when they are beating and arresting journalists?" he asked.
"The revolution of the masses in the Gaza Strip will continue until Hamas is brought down," said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior Fatah official and close aide to Abbas.
Condemning the use of force by Hamas militiamen to disperse Fatah supporters, he said: "These are barbaric acts carried out by Hamas gangs against worshipers and journalists. This proves that Hamas has lost control of the situation and is facing increased isolation."
The Fatah leader expressed confidence that the coming weeks would witness an upsurge in anti-Hamas protests in the Gaza Strip. "The Hamas gangs will pay a heavy price for their crimes," he added. "The day will come when they will be put on trial for their crimes against our people."
Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan said Hamas had "descended into moral, political, financial and social corruption."
Hamas leaders, he added, are privately admitting that they have made mistakes and deviated from the teachings of Islam.
In an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper, Dahlan, who is currently on a visit to the UK, said many Palestinians have been leaving the Gaza Strip since Hamas's violent takeover last June.
"The number of people leaving the Gaza Strip is the largest since 1948," he said. "Businessmen, students and academics are among those emigrating."
PA Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami said it was only a matter of time before the Palestinians "trampled Hamas with their shoes." Hamas, he said, will eventually "fall into a cup of water like a fly."
Hundreds of Fatah supporters on Friday defied a ban by Hamas and held an open-air Friday prayer in the center of Gaza City, triggering street clashes with members of Hamas's paramilitary Executive Force.
The Hamas militiamen used clubs and tear gas to disperse the worshipers, some of whom were admitted to hospital for treatment. Several journalists who were at the scene were also beaten by the Hamas militiamen.
Earlier, the Hamas force rounded up several Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip, including Zakariya al-Agha, Abbas's top confidant, in an attempt to prevent the prayer.
All were released after being held in detention for several hours.
The Hamas government warned that the general strike planned for Sunday would rekindle internecine fighting, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
"We won't allow anyone to impose a strike on the people by force," said a top Hamas official in Gaza City. "The strike serves the interests of Israel and poses a threat to Palestinian unity. It will also have a negative impact on all sectors."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused the Fatah-controlled security forces in the West Bank of arresting hundreds of Hamas supporters and figures over the past few weeks. He also said that the PLO had lost its credibility among the Palestinians.
"Why are the PLO leaders making a big fuss out of the brief detention of some Fatah officials while ignoring the crimes committed by Abbas's security forces against Hamas in the West Bank?" he asked. "Only last night Abbas's people torched three ambulances and kidnapped 10 Hamas supporters in various parts of the West Bank."
In a related development, the Fatah security forces in Nablus said they arrested the son of a Hamas legislator for "security reasons."
They said the man, Muhammad al-Burini, 21, was arrested while leaving An-Najah University.
His father, Hosni al-Burini, is a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
AP contributed to this report.