Fatah official rejects Haniyeh's call

Hamas head appealed for disarmament on Gaza streets after violent clashes.

funeral hamas gaza 88 (photo credit: )
funeral hamas gaza 88
(photo credit: )
Dozens of gunmen fired wildly into the air as a Gaza Strip strongman rejected calls for an end to public displays of weapons, raising the risk of new factional violence. Samir Masharawi, a senior member of the Fatah Party in Gaza, spoke Saturday, a day after four people were killed and 36 wounded in unrest sparked by the killing of a top, Hamas-linked terrorist in a car bombing. His followers accused the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Service and top Fatah officials in Gaza, including Masharawi, of involvement. Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, appealed for calm Saturday and pledged to prevent rogue gunmen from carrying guns in the streets of Gaza. But Masharawi, one of the most powerful figures in Gaza, rejected the call. Returning to Gaza from Egypt in a heavily armed convoy, Masharawi told reporters that he was offended by the "baseless" allegations against security forces and Fatah leaders. He also said he would not be able to persuade his followers to hide their arms. "It seems that the brothers in Hamas forget that they are in power and represent a Palestinian government and are responsible for defending security institutions," he said. As he spoke, dozens of bodyguards fired repeatedly in the air. Haniyeh's call for disarmament on Gaza streets came after the assassination on Friday of one of the leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip. The assassination triggered armed clashes between members of the group, and Fatah and Palestinian Authority security forces, resulting in three deaths and the wounding of 40. The clashes, the first since Hamas took control over the PA cabinet, erupted after the group, an alliance of militiamen belonging to various armed groups in the Gaza Strip, accused Fatah leaders Muhammad Dahlan and Samir Masharawi of standing behind the assassination of Abdel Karim Koka, who was killed as he passed near a booby-trapped car. Fatah leaders and Palestinian Authority security commanders on Saturday strongly denied involvement in the assassination. Koka's group initially blamed Israel for the killing, but later said PA and Fatah leaders were responsible. Muhammad Abdel Al, a spokesman for the group, also accused the commanders of the PA's Preventive Security Force and General Intelligence, Rashid Abu Shabak and Tarek Abu Rajab, of involvement in the assassination. Abdel Al, who is also known as Abu Abir, made the allegations at a press conference in Gaza City shortly after Koka's death. As he was addressing reporters, unidentified gunmen opened fire at him and his friends. Abdel Al was not hurt, but several people who were at the scene were wounded, some seriously. Before the attack, he claimed that the PA security services had been trying to kill Koka for some time, and that agents of Dahlan and Masharawi were seen spying on Koka's home on Thursday. He added that the PA security forces were upset by the fact that Koka, a former security officer, had defected. "This is not the first time they tried to kill him," he said. "There is a long history of conflict between us. The Preventive Security always tries to demean our members. We have documents and other evidence implicating Dahlan, Masharawi and other security commanders." During Koka's funeral later in the day, gun battles broke out between his followers and PA policemen and Fatah gunmen. The fighting erupted when the mourners passed near the homes of Masharawi in the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City. Clashes also erupted outside the home of Nabil Tamous, a senior Preventive Security officer who heads the notorious "Death Squad," which is responsible for the killing and torture of several Palestinians. Both Tamous and Masharawi are key allies of Dahlan. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who convened an urgent meeting of his cabinet on Friday night, ordered the establishment of an inquiry panel to investigate the circumstances of the car blast that killed Koka. He described the situation in the Gaza Strip as "very dangerous" and vowed to prevent gunmen from carrying arms in public. Earlier, Haniyeh and Interior Minister Said Siam attended Koka's funeral and strongly condemned the assassination. "We condemn this despicable crime that caused the death of one of our brave men," Haniyeh said. "I would like to stress that it's necessary to avoid internal fighting and stop exchanges of fire and trading accusations. This would never help us reach tangible results in our inquiry." Dahlan, Abu Shabak and Masharawi strongly denied any link to the killing of Koka and demanded that those behind the allegations be arrested and brought to trial. The three denounced the spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees as a mercenary and accused him of "trading in the blood of the Palestinians." "This man has done a big service to Israel," Masharawi said, referring to Abdel Al. "Israel should thank him for igniting internal fighting." The Fatah leader also criticized the new Hamas cabinet for failing to accuse Israel of standing behind the assassination. "We demand that the interior minister condemn the charges against us," he said. Koka, 44, was responsible for a series of attacks on Israeli targets over the past five years, including the firing of rockets and roadside bombings. A former Fatah operative, he returned to the Gaza Strip with the PLO after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994. At the beginning of the intifada, he formed the Popular Resistance Committees together with a group of dissident PA security officers and scores of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists. Koka, according to sources in the Gaza Strip, was responsible for the 2003 roadside attack on a US diplomatic convoy in the northern Gaza Strip in which three Americans were killed. The sources said Koka, who survived three attempts on his life by Israel in recent months, carried out the attack at the request of top PA and Fatah leaders, who were interested in getting rid of him to conceal their role in the scheme. Koka's group was also responsible for the assassination of General Musa Arafat, commander of the PA's Military Intelligence and a cousin of former PA chairman Yasser Arafat, who was killed last summer in Gaza City.