Gaza: Four Fatah operatives killed in clashes with Hamas

Eleven wounded in Khan Yunis gunfights; PA prime minister completes formation of emergency government; Arafat's home raided by looters.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Four Fatah gunmen were killed from Hamas gunfire in the Gaza Strip early Saturday night, Palestinian medical officials said. Eleven more Palestinians were wounded in the gunfight which had ensued in Khan Yunis. Earlier, newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad completed the formation of his new government and presented it to Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, hundreds of Fatah gunmen stormed Hamas-controlled institutions across the West Bank, seeking revenge for the Islamic group's takeover of the Gaza Strip, while Hamas's deposed prime minister appointed a new security command in a bid to solidify control over Gaza.
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  • Editorial: The fall of Gaza Despite Hamas pledges to restore calm in Gaza, looters attacked several prominent Fatah symbols, including the home of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Dozens of terrified Fatah officials tried to flee Gaza, continuing an exodus of recent days. The lingering violence, along with an increasingly bitter war of words, reflected the deepening divisions between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. The areas have effectively become separate political entities, endangering the Palestinian dream of forming an independent state in the two territories. Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the new government would be sworn in by Sunday. He also rejected dialogue with Hamas until the group withdraws from former Fatah positions in Gaza and dissolves its militia there. "There will be no dialogue with killers who carried out field executions in Gaza," he said. Abbas also rejected a plea from the Arab League to meet with Hamas's exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, an Abbas aide said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The international community, both in the Arab world and the West, have sided with Abbas in the dispute. In a major boost for Abbas, the US consul-general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, said Washington would end 15 months of sanctions once the new Palestinian government is formed, Palestinian officials said. The sanctions were imposed after Hamas, which several countries including the US and Israel have branded a terrorist group, were elected to power in January 2006. There was no immediate US confirmation to the Palestinian claim. Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic group's election victory. After several bouts of infighting, the tensions in Gaza erupted into all-out civil war early in the week, and Hamas routed Fatah-allied forces in Gaza. The dispute was largely focused on rival claims to control of security forces. In Gaza, deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh replaced security commanders loyal to Abbas and appointed a new command, a spokesman aid. The new security chief will be Maj. -Gen. Said Fanouna, said the spokesman, Khaled Abu Hilal, and he will reorganize the previously Fatah-dominated National Security force. Earlier, the chief commander of the Palestinian police in the West Bank and Gaza, Kamal Sheikh, had announced that he would not work with Hamas, and called on his officers and soldiers not to obey Haniyeh's orders. In response, Haniyeh appointed a new security chief. Since seizing control of Gaza on Thursday, Hamas has tried to impose law and order in the area - in part due to fears of retribution in the West Bank. Saturday's attacks on Hamas targets were the most serious so far. In Ramallah, hundreds of Fatah gunmen took over the Palestinian parliament and other Hamas-controlled government offices, telling staffers that those with ties to Hamas will not be allowed to return. At the parliament, several hundred Fatah supporters chanted, "Hamas Out," while gunmen climbed on the roof of the building and fired in the air. They planted Fatah and Palestinian flags on the building. They also whisked the deputy speaker, a Hamas ally, out of the building, but were prevented from pushing him into a car. The gunmen planted Fatah flags and Palestinian banners on the buildings they had taken over. Many government employees tied to Hamas had not showed up for work on Saturday, the start of the work week in the West Bank. Apparently, the staffers feared reprisals. Other Fatah activists took over the Education Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office. In the West Bank city of Nablus, Fatah gunmen took over the Hamas-controlled city council and planted the Fatah flag on the top of the building. In Hebron, Fatah gunmen stormed government offices and ordered senior Hamas-linked officials to stay away. In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas forces on Saturday blew up the home of a prominent Fatah family, collected rivals' weapons and deployed hundreds of security men at strategic locations. "They are going to provide the people with all the security they have lacked in the past few years due to the bad behavior of some corrupt agents," said Abu Hilal, the Hamas spokesman. With Hamas firmly in control, Gaza City's streets largely returned to normal Saturday. Outdoor marketplaces were alive, and traffic jams clogged the streets _ a dramatic contrast to the fierce street battles seen earlier in the week. Still, jittery residents stocked up on flour and other basic supplies in fear of further violence. Hamas units took up positions at former Fatah security buildings. At the damaged headquarters of the Preventive Security Agency, Hamas said it found the bodies of seven people it claimed were executed by the pro-Fatah force before it was routed. Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas militia, known as the "Executive Unit", said his forces were out to protect the public. "We told all Palestinian security personnel who still have weapons to surrender their weapons," he said. It was not known how many weapons were confiscated. Despite Hamas's pledges of calm, looting persisted at key Fatah symbols, including the home of Arafat, the founder of Fatah who ruled the Palestinians for 40 years. Witnesses said gunmen stormed the house early Saturday, taking furniture, including a bed, and three cars. Hamas security forces later arrived and locked the house. The home had been empty since Arafat left Gaza in 2001. He died in 2004. The witnesses declined to be identified, fearing for their safety. Other targets of looters were former Fatah security buildings and what had been the opulent home of Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan. Looters ripped out electric wiring from the wall, and a group of people also burned down the garden outside, witnesses said. Dahlan has fled to the West Bank. Since losing control of Gaza, Abbas has been trying to assert himself. He fired Haniyeh and has replaced him with Fayyad, a US-educated economist who is well respected in the West.