Hamas on alert for Arafat anniversary rallies

Hamas gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas deployed large numbers of troops at intersections and outside government ministries in Gaza City on Monday, ahead of a mass rally by the rival Fatah movement on the third anniversary of the death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The rally was expected to be Fatah's biggest show of strength since Hamas overran Gaza in June, expelling the security forces of Fatah's leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has been harnessing Arafat commemorations, stretched out over three days, to build up support for re-launching peace talks with Israel at a US-hosted Mideast conference later this month. Hamas, which opposes a peace deal with Israel, says Abbas does not have a mandate to negotiate, and some in the Islamic movement have denounced him as a traitor. However, Hamas has also tried to co-opt former rival Arafat since his Nov. 11, 2004 death, by portraying him as closer to its hard-line ideology. "We honor and respect Yasser Arafat because he ... refused to give up the rights of our people in this holy land," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Monday. It was not clear whether Hamas would try to disrupt Monday's rally. On Sunday, Hamas seized a West Bank shipment of thousands of Fatah posters, scarves and baseball caps after it reached Gaza, Fatah officials said. Hamas radio said Monday the items were returned to Fatah. Large numbers of Hamas police, some in riot gear, took up positions Monday at key intersections, outside government ministries and near parliament. Fatah activists were decorating streets with yellow Fatah flags and Arafat posters. Hamas police didn't intervene, but wrote down license plates of some cars flying Fatah flags. Hazem Abu Shanab, a Fatah spokesman, said activists were told to avoid confrontations with Hamas forces. He said armed men would not be allowed to take part. A prelude to the Gaza City rally came late Sunday in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, where about 10,000 Fatah supporters marched. In clashes with Hamas police after the march, two people were wounded, residents said. On Sunday, Abbas addressed a crowd of tens of thousands of Palestinians at the refurbished gravesite of Arafat next to the president's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.