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Hamas on Wednesday accused Fatah of operating "death squads" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the aim of assassinating Hamas leaders and activists.
The allegation came in response to the slaying of Bassam al-Farra, a senior Hamas operative in Khan Yunis, who was gunned down Wednesday morning as he was on his way to work.
Farra, 35, held a senior post in the Islamic sharia court system in the southern Gaza Strip. He was also known as a top commander of Hamas's military wing, Izaddin Kassam.
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Another senior Hamas activist, Ibrahim Sa'abneh, 42, was shot and seriously wounded near his home in Jenin.
In a strongly worded statement, Hamas immediately blamed Fatah for the killing.
"A Fatah gang known as the death squad carried out this despicable crime," it charged. "This is the same death squad that assassinated [Hamas leader] Yasser Ghalban [last summer]."
The statement held Fatah responsible for the assassination of 12 other top Hamas activists over the past few years, including university lecturer Hussein Abu Ajweh, who was gunned down outside his house in Gaza City earlier this year.
The statement also claimed that by targeting Hamas members, Fatah was trying to cover up for the sharp disputes and infighting among its top brass in the Gaza Strip. It said Baha Ba'lousheh, the General Intelligence Force officer whose three sons were murdered earlier this week, was the target of an assassination attempt by Fatah gunmen two years ago.
"Why doesn't Fatah tell everyone the truth about the assassination attempt on the life of Ba'lousheh?" the Hamas statement asked. "Why are they hiding the fact that Fatah gunmen and Palestinian security officers were involved in the assassination attempt?"
Hamas sources claimed earlier this week that the killing of the three children was linked to a severe power struggle that has been raging inside the PA's General Intelligence Force in the Gaza Strip for the past few months. The head of the force, Tarek Abu Rajab, was seriously wounded when an explosive device went off as he entered an elevator inside the offices of the General Intelligence Force.
Hamas legislator Yahya Mussa accused Abbas of conspiring against the Hamas-led government with the help of the Americans and Israelis.
"We urge President Abbas not to succumb to US and Israeli dictates," he said in response to the assassination of Farra.
"The Americans are trying to spread chaos and anarchy to pave the way for overthrowing the [Hamas] government," he charged. "Some Palestinians are involved in this plot."
Mussa claimed that some Fatah elements were responsible for the growing state of anarchy in the PA territories in an attempt to undermine the Hamas-led government.
"These rebellious elements want to return to power at any price, even if the price is the blood of the children of Ba'lousheh or the assassination this morning of Farra," he said.
In yet another sign of increased tensions between Fatah and Hamas, former PA security minister Muhammad Dahlan Wednesday accused Hamas of stealing donations smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing. Dahlan also blamed the Hamas-led government for the anarchy and soaring crime in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"The Palestinian people want solutions now more than ever," he said. "Our priority now is to halt internal fighting; this is even more important than lifting the international sanctions."