Hamas forces late Thursday moved into the last Fatah stronghold in Gaza City, the compound and offices of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, witnesses and Hamas officials said. Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said there was no fighting at the site, because Fatah officers had left earlier in the evening. Hamas forces overran the main Fatah security force headquarters on Thursday, taking control of virtually all of the Gaza Strip. Abbas was in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the time.
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Earlier, three of the PA's most important symbols in the Gaza Strip fell into the hands of Hamas after hundreds of PA security officers surrendered or fled to the West Bank. The southern town of Rafah also fell into the hands of Hamas.
The latest Hamas victories in the Gaza Strip shocked many Fatah leaders here. "This is a real coup against the Palestinian Authority," said Nabil Amr, a top advisor to Abbas.
Hamas militiamen on Thursday night issued an ultimatum to policemen in the main headquarters of the PA security forces in Gaza City to surrender or face death. The headquarters, known as the Saraya, is located in the center of the city and houses hundreds of policemen belonging to the PA National Security Force. By 11:00 p.m. Thursday night Hamas forces had captured the stronghold.
Hamas leaders said they were planning to hold Friday prayers inside the compound after "liberating" it from Abbas's loyalists. "With God's will, we will all pray in the Saraya," declared Nizar Rayan, a prominent Hamas official. "We call on Abbas's army of prostitutes to surrender or else they will be executed in public."
Earlier, Hamas occupied the headquarters of the Preventative Security Service and General Intelligence in Gaza City, and dozens of security officers were seen leaving the compound half naked and with their hands behind their heads. The pictures, broadcast on Hamas's Al-Aksa TV station, were reminiscent of situations where PA policemen had surrendered to the IDF in the West Bank.
Eyewitnesses reported that some of the officers who were dragged out of the Preventative Security headquarters in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood were later executed gang-style by masked Hamas militiamen.
The Preventative Security Service was established by former Gaza security Chief Muhammad Dahlan immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. For many years, the Fatah-controlled force was known as Hamas's most-feared enemy.
Shortly after capturing the headquarters of the force, Hamas gunmen launched a major offensive against the building of the General Intelligence in the Sudaniyeh neighbourhood in the city. Within minutes, all those inside emerged with their hands in the air.
Shouting Allahu Akbar! [God is great] jubilant Hamas gunmen rushed into the building, known as the Safina [ship] because its shape resembles that of a ship, and raised Hamas's green flag on top of an antenna standing on the roof.
Hamas announced that it had seized many documents, weapons and security equipment inside the two compounds that, when made public, "would shed light on Fatah's relations with Israel and the CIA."
Medical sources and eyewitnesses said at more than 26 people were killed and 120 wounded in Thursday's fighting, most of them members of Fatah and the PA security forces.
PA officials here told The Jerusalem Post that at least 30 senior Fatah security commanders and activists have fled from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank over the past few days. They confirmed that Israel had given permission to the Fatah operatives to cross through the Erez border crossing.
"I don't think they will be able to return to their homes in the Gaza Strip in the near future," said one PA official. "They are all on Hamas's list of wanted men."
Dahlan, who has not been seen or heard from since the beginning of the Hamas offensive, arrived in Ramallah on Thursday and immediately headed to Abbas's Mukata "presidential" compound. Dahlan's aides said he had been recovering in Cairo after undergoing surgery in his ankles in Germany two months ago. They added that Dahlan had no immediate plans to travel to the Gaza Strip.
In Gaza City, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, announced that Dahlan would be killed the minute he sets foot in the Gaza Strip. "This man is wanted for crimes against Hamas and the Palestinian people," he said. "Dahlan and his boss, Mahmoud Abbas, are no longer welcome in the Gaza Strip. They can go live in Tel Aviv, where it's much safer for them."
Hamas also announced on Thursday that its men had executed Sameeh Madhoun, a top commander of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, who was closely associated with Dahlan. Madhoun, who has been wanted by Hamas for many years, was captured hiding in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip.
In addition, the headquarters of the Fatah-allied Voice of Palestine radio station was on fire.
AP contributed to this report