Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers ordered striking doctors to shut down their private clinics on Monday, in a challenge to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that threatened to deepen hardship in the long-suffering territory. The faceoff has largely paralyzed Gaza's medical system, putting it at the mercy of the rivalry between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement. Hamas seized control of Gaza in June after routing Fatah forces, while Abbas formed a new government in the West Bank. Hospital doctors across Gaza launched a work slowdown earlier this month to protest the arrest of a prominent physician allied with Fatah. On orders from Abbas' West Bank government, which pays their salaries, most curtailed their daytime hospital schedule to three hours a day, receiving patients afterward in expensive private clinics. Hamas struck back Monday by ordering the immediate shutdown of the clinics. Doctors who do not comply will be fired, and clinics will also be scrutinized to ensure they are properly registered and licensed, Hamas officials said. "We are not going to play with the health sector," said Khaled Radi, a spokesman for the former Hamas-run health ministry. In the West Bank, Information Minister Riad al-Malki accused Hamas of playing politics with people's health. "Hamas is not interested in the quality of medical service," he said. "We stand behind all these doctors and are ready to provide support." Patients complained they were caught in the middle of the rivalry between Hamas and Abbas. Salma Taleb, 55, a breast cancer patient, recounted standing in line 50 minutes at the Shifa Hospital pharmacy in Gaza City recently to buy critically needed medications, only to be told to come back the following day because she reached the counter five minutes after the 11 a.m. closing time. The next day she arrived late and was turned away again - provoking her to file a complaint with the health ministry. "Workers at the health sector are making us victims of a political game between Gaza and Ramallah," Taleb said. Gazans generally seek medical care in hospitals, where visits are covered by monthly health insurance, which costs about $12 (â‚¬9) to $15 (â‚¬11). Private visits cost $7 (â‚¬5) to $17 (â‚¬12.50) - a sizable sum in Gaza, where 70 percent of the territory's 1.4 million people live on less than $500 (â‚¬370) a month, according to a recent survey. Most hospital doctors are affiliated with Fatah. One, who identified himself only as Dr. Nabil, for fear of Hamas retribution, said doctors would resist the shutdown of their clinics. "The aim of the work slowdown is to protest the harassment that we face from the Hamas government in Gaza, and their policy of stripping away our authorities and giving them to Hamas-allied doctors," he said. "We will not allow them to close the clinics down," he said, adding, "We will stop the strike if Hamas stops its harassment." The independent Al Mezan Center for Human Rights urged that the health sector be removed from any political influence. And it called on doctors to end their strike. "The strike will push the level of health services to an even lower point at a time when it is already verging on collapse," Al Mezan said.