Palestinian factions rage war of words

news5.jpgPalestinian rival factions Fateh and Hamas engaged in a war of words as tension simmered Tuesday in the volatile Gaza Strip where internecine violence has killed more than 30 people in less than a month.

A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh Party slammed what he called “a bloody current within Hamas” that was sabotaging efforts to form a government of national unity.

“For Hamas, national unity and pluralism are nothing but slogans,” Abdul Hakim Amer told a news conference. “Those who express their disagreement with Hamas are labelled as putschists, agents and conspirators.” He also dismissed a Hamas warning on Monday to Fateh strongman in Gaza Mohammad Dahlan, a day after the MP’s vitriolic tirade against the ruling Islamists during a huge rally in Gaza City.

“The fact that Hamas is attacking him is, for Fateh and the majority of our people, proof that he is right,” Amer said. Referring to Dahlan at a news conference late Monday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “We will not allow these putschists to drive our people towards the brink of civil war. We remain vigilant in the face of these putschists and their plots.” Gaza has been embroiled in factional fighting since December 16, when Abbas called for early elections in order to resolve a months-long standoff with Hamas over forming a coalition government.

On Tuesday in Gaza, a top official with Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades group loosely linked with Fateh, Samih Madhun, was shot at in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, but escaped unscathed, security sources said.

Three Hamas members and one Fateh loyalist were kidnapped in tit-for-tat abductions after the shooting, they said.

Three members of the Hamas “executive force” — interior ministry troops that Abbas declared illegal a few days ago — were also wounded when a shell was fired at their vehicle by armed men.

Hamas blamed Fateh for the attack.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday angrily denounced the Palestinian tensions and urged unity.

“These scenes do not befit the Palestinian people…. They are not compatible with Islam, with being a Muslim…. We call on them to end this meaningless feud between brothers and unite in the name of a strong and prosperous Palestine,” Erdogan said.

Since Abbas issued his call for early presidential and parliamentary elections in mid-December and Hamas rejected the move, more than 30 people have died and more than 100 have been wounded in clashes between the rival groups.

The Palestinian president says that early elections are the only way to try to lift a debilitating Western direct aid freeze imposed on the Palestinian government after Hamas took power in March.

Hamas says early polls would amount to a coup against its democratically elected government.

The West, which along with Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, is demanding that the ruling Islamists renounce violence and agree to recognise Israel and abide by past peace deals in order for the aid to resume.

Hamas, which routed long-dominant Fateh last January in an election called free and fair by Western observers, has steadfastly refused to bend to Western demands.

The aid freeze — accompanied by Israel withholding customs duties collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority — has plunged the territories into what the World Bank has called their worst-ever economic crisis.

Fateh and Hamas negotiated for months over forming a coalition amid hopes that a unity government would lead to the return of the badly needed aid, but their talks collapsed over disagreements on who would hold key portfolios and Hamas’ unwillingness to comply with Western demands.

In the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, the Israeli army arrested an Islamic Jihad fighter and his two brothers in Bethlehem, security sources said.

In Ramallah the army also arrested Abdelkaher Srur, a top aide to Hamas parliament speaker Aziz Dweik who has been in Israeli detention since August, they said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian fighters holding a captured Israeli soldier released the first details of the serviceman’s condition on Tuesday , after six months of silence saying he was in “good health”.

However, the fighters said they were prepared to keep the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, until Israel meets their demands for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return.

The impasse over the soldier has held up peace efforts in other areas between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the Palestinian Resistance Committees, made the first official announcement about the soldier’s condition.

“Gilad Shalit is in good health and is being treated according to Islamic standards of dealing with prisoners of war,” he said.

“We are ready to keep him for years, as long as our demands are not met.” The militants did not furnish proof to back their statement that the soldier is in good health. Israeli officials were not available for comment.

The soldier was captured in a June 25 raid by Hamas-linked fighters, who tunnelled under the Gaza-Israel border and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and taking Shalit with them. The PRC is one of three groups that claimed responsibility.

The raid set off harsh Israeli reprisals and five months of violence, largely ended by a ceasefire at the end of November, though Gaza fighters continue firing some rockets at Israel. 

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