Fatah scraps Gaza rally to avoid clash with Hamas

GAZA – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction will limit its anniversary celebrations in Hamas-run Gaza to candles and fireworks this week for fear a rally — banned by the Islamist group — will spark violence.

Tensions are running high between Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, and Abbas’s secular Fatah faction. Fatah said on Monday it had called off an annual rally after a Hamas ban to avoid clashes with its Islamist rivals.

“Fatah has chosen the way that would preserve the blood of our people and that would avoid any form of friction,” senior Fatah leader Ahmed Helles told a news conference in Gaza.

Hamas banned the rally planned for Tuesday to mark the founding of Fatah in 1965 in case Fatah loyalists used it to carry out “acts of sabotage”, police officials said. The yellow Fatah flags that would normally fly to mark the occasion could not be seen around Gaza because of the ban.

Seven people were killed in November when a massive rally held by Fatah to mark the third anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ended in gunfire.

Abbas, whose rift with Hamas helped pave the way for the relaunch last month of long-stalled peace talks with Israel, prevented Hamas from holding an anniversary rally this month in the West Bank, where Fatah holds sway.

Fatah loyalists say they have come under pressure in the Gaza Strip, with some 60 members detained, while Hamas says hundreds of its supporters have been held at times in the West Bank.

Speaking at Fatah’s office in Gaza City, which officials said was raided by Hamas police on Sunday, Helles said Hamas security forces were still arresting Fatah members in the coastal enclave.

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