32 wounded in Hamas-Fatah clashes; 100,000 Hamas supporters rally in Gaza.
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Hamas will not release kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit until Israel agrees to a concurrent release of Palestinian security prisoners sentenced to extended terms, Hamas official Halil El-Ahaya said Friday at a demonstration in Gaza City marking the 19th anniversary of Hamas's founding.
Recent internecine Palestinian fighting cast a cloud over the group's celebrations, but some 100,000 Hamas supporters gathered Friday afternoon at a Gaza stadium nevertheless. After at least 32 people were wounded in clashes between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal sought to quell violent tensions between Palestinians on Friday, urging his organization to "practice restraint" and avoid being "dragged into a civil war."
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"I call on our brothers in Hamas to practice restraint... to protect Palestinian blood," Mashaal said in a live radio interview from his base in the Syrian capital of Damascus. "Our battle is against the (Israeli) occupation, and we will not be dragged into a civil war."
The latest outbreak of violence, coming a day after gunmen shot at Haniyeh's entourage, fueled fears of wide scale fighting between the rival Palestinian groups. The violence in Ramallah was sparked when Hamas supporters marched toward the center of town, where Fatah-allied police were deployed in advance of the Hamas celebrations. A total of 32 people were wounded by stones and gunfire, including a man hit in head by crossfire, hospital officials said.
Meanwhile, in Gaza City, masked Hamas gunmen waged battle with Fatah-allied police near a security post in the middle of the city. The four-minute battle sent civilians running for cover.
On Thursday, the procession was postponed after Al Aksa activists threatened to disrupt it.
The street battles came amidst Hamas accusations that senior Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan orchestrated the previous night's assassination attempt on Hanieyeh that left a 24-year-old bodyguard dead and others wounded, including Haniyeh's own son, Abdel Salam, and his political adviser, Ahmed Yousef.
Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Ismail Reduan, said that Dahlan had planned the attempted hit as he led the group of Presidential Guard members who raked the convoy with gunfire. During a press conference in Gaza, Reduan said that Dahlan was leading incitement against Hamas in order to enflame the Palestinian streets and cause a civil war, and called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw his Presidential Guard and Fatah's Force 17 from the Rafah Crossing and the streets of Gaza.
Dahlan denied the accusation and said that those to blame for the attack were the gunmen who stormed the Rafah Crossing. He claimed that Hamas was trying to cover up this week's killing of three children of Fatah members.
Earlier Friday morning, senior Hamas officials vowed that the Hamas-led PA government and the movement's armed faction would avenge the previous night's assassination attempt.
Hamas official Jamal Nasser said, "We know who shot at the prime minister's convoy and killed his bodyguard. Sooner or later we will settle our scores with them."
Nasser said that Dahlan and other Fatah officials were responsible for incitement and for the murder that capped a turbulent day of intense factional fighting between the Hamas and Fatah.
Nasser's comments were reiterated by PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, who claimed that Hamas knew who had attempted to shoot Haniyeh, and vowed that the parties responsible would be "severely punished."
Other Hamas officials blamed the Palestinian Presidential Guard for the incident.
AP contributed to this report.
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