Hamas launches attack on Fatah strongholds in Gaza

Hundreds in Fatah-allied clan surrender to Hamas; Fatah post destroyed by 1 ton bomb; 14 killed in Gaza; clashes spread to West Bank.

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Hamas pounded Gaza City's three main security compounds with mortars, grenades and assault rifles Wednesday, calling on beleaguered Fatah forces to surrender, as it battled to take control of the entire Gaza Strip. In one dramatic victory, hundreds of members of a Fatah-allied clan that had fought fiercely surrendered to masked Hamas gunmen and were led, arms raised in the air, to a nearby mosque. The Bakr clan, numbering thousands of people, lives in a seaside neighborhood in Gaza City, and has about 200 armed men. On Wednesday afternoon, Hamas forces entered the area and led hundreds of men, women and children, their hands raised behind their heads, to a nearby mosque, said an area resident, Nael Ghoben.
  • Analysis: Hamas's Gaza and Fatah's West Bank
  • HRW: Palestinians committing war crimes At least 14 Palestinians have been killed in clashes between Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday, as fierce battles over key security positions spread to central Gaza. In the southern town of Khan Yunis, a one-ton bomb planted in an underground tunnel tore through the headquarters of a security force loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, said Ali Qaisi, a Presidential Guard spokesman. At least one person was killed and eight others were injured, medics said and security forces said they had lost control of the town. "Khan Yunis is finished, but we are still holding on in Rafah," said Ziad Sarafandi, a senior security official. Before the blast, Hamas gunmen called on the officers inside the building to come out, threatening to blow up the building, witnesses said. Elsewhere, Hamas gunmen wrested control of the coastal strip's main north-south road - and put themselves in position to cut off reinforcements to beleaguered Fatah forces. Meanwhile, forty members of the Abbas-loyal PA Preventive Security Force crossed the Gaza border, seeking refuge in Egypt. Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds more Palestinians were planning to flee the Strip for Egypt due to the ongoing violence. Hamas has given Fatah-linked security officers in northern Gaza a two-day ultimatum to lay down their arms, according to a statement sent by text message and announcements made on Hamas-linked radio stations Wednesday. The gunmen said that if the security forces did not turn over their weapons by 7 p.m. Friday, they would take the weapons by force. A PA official expressed deep concern over Hamas's success in taking control of several Palestinian security installations. He revealed that Hamas had succeeded in laying its hands on large amounts of weapons belonging to the Fatah-controlled security forces in many parts of the Gaza Strip. "They have seized thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition and dozens of vehicles, including armored jeeps," he said. "This is really bad news for all." Violence also spread to the West Bank with exchanges of fire between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in Nablus, after Fatah gunmen tried to storm a pro-Hamas TV production company. The incident began when gunmen from the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot, tried to seize employees of the production company. Hamas gunmen rushed to the scene, and a firefight erupted. Aksa leaders said the attack on the TV company came in retaliation for Hamas attacks on positions of Fatah-allied security forces in Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Those killed in Wednesday's fighting included seven Fatah insurgents who died in a gun battle with Hamas gunmen at the home of senior Fatah spokesman Maher Miqdad, Israel Radio reported. According to Palestinian sources, Miqdad escaped the premises. Hamas has prepared a hit list with the names of Fatah leaders it wishes to eliminate. The top name on the list is PA National Security Adviser Muhammad Dahlan, who is currently in Egypt. Like Dahlan, most of the personages on the list are not presently in Gaza. Five Palestinians were wounded in Gaza overnight Tuesday, two seriously, as fighting between Hamas and Fatah showed no sign of respite. Palestinian sources reported that Hamas members fired mortars and anti-tank missiles at Fatah security posts in Gaza City, in refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip and in Khan Yunis. The five casualties were apparently civilians.