Tensions surge after Gaza bombings

AS1233D.jpgJENIN, West Bank (Reuters) – Hamas and Fatah carried out tit-for-tat arrests of each other’s followers on Sunday after deadly Gaza bomb attacks fuelled tension between the Palestinian factions.

In the West Bank, security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas detained 20 Hamas activists in the city of Jenin. They netted 15 more in similar raids in Tulkarm.

A security official in Jenin said the Hamas detainees would be interrogated about arms caches and militant activities.

The arrests followed a crackdown in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where Fatah officials said their Islamist rivals had rounded up nearly 200 Fatah men after one of three bomb blasts killed five Hamas militants and a girl on Friday.

Hamas policemen set up roadblocks across the Gaza Strip to check for guns, explosives and suspects, local residents said.

One senior security officer loyal to Abbas fled across the border into Israel to escape arrest by Hamas forces, sources with the Islamist group said.

Police seeking Fatah activists clashed with gunmen of the Army of Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group, who feared they were being targeted. Two Army of Islam gunmen were arrested.

Hamas blamed Friday’s bombings on Fatah, which denied involvement.

The factional flare-up sparked fears of more violence and was one of the gravest since Hamas routed its Fatah foes and seized control of Gaza a year ago, when hundreds died.

“We are afraid that the devil is pitting brothers against each other and they will shed one another’s blood,” said Fatima Ahmed-Salama, a 40-year-old mother of six in Gaza.

Abu Adel, 65, said the internecine fighting harmed only Palestinians, not Israel. “I ask God to calm them down and make them stop before we have more dead,” he added.

ABBAS URGES DIALOGUE

Abbas renewed calls for dialogue with Hamas, which won a majority in a 2006 parliamentary poll, and said an independent Palestinian committee should investigate Friday’s blast.

Speaking in Cairo after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas said the attack was regrettable and unacceptable, but rejected Hamas accusations that Fatah was behind it.

He said Egypt would invite representatives of Palestinian factions “within days” to dialogue sessions in Cairo. Past attempts to mend fences between Hamas and Fatah have collapsed.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri rejected Abbas’s call to form an investigative committee, and said it “would bypass the legitimate government, and the Hamas security forces who are doing their job”.

Abu Zuhri also said investigations into Friday’s deaths showed senior Fatah officials were involved.

“The bombing and killings in Gaza proved that Fatah was not interested in dialogue with Hamas, and all they aspired to was to cause anarchy and chaos,” the Hamas spokesman said.

Hamas rejects demands by Abbas, who joined U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel last year, that it cede control of Gaza.

An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza took effect last month. It calls on Hamas to halt rocket fire in return for Israel easing its embargo of the poverty-stricken territory. The truce does not extend to the West Bank.

Israeli troops killed a Hamas militant, Shihab al-Natsheh, in the West Bank city of Hebron. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigade, vowed a “swift and painful” revenge.

An Israeli army spokesman said Natsheh, 25, was killed during an exchange of fire with troops who came to arrest him. The army said he had made the bomb belt used in a suicide attack in the Israeli town of Dimona in February that killed an Israeli woman and the two Palestinian attackers.

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