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Friday, December 15, 2006

Violence follows Hamas accusation

Violence follows Hamas accusation
Clashes have erupted between rival Palestinian factions after Hamas accused Fatah of trying to assassinate Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas.

Hamas accused Fatah's Mohammad Dahlan of organising an attack on Mr Haniya as he crossed into Gaza from Egypt.

Hospitals in the West Bank town of Ramallah said 32 people were injured in clashes there. Fighting was also reported in Gaza City.

The clashes come as Hamas marks the 19th anniversary of its founding.

Tens of thousands of supporters gathered in a Gaza City football stadium to hear Mr Haniya speak.

Hamas gunmen patrolled the streets of the city as the group put on a show of strength following Thursday's attack on Mr Haniya.

"We tell all those who believe in the logic of assassination that this does not scare even little children in Hamas," he told the crowds.

"We did not join this movement to become ministers but rather to become martyrs."

One bodyguard was killed and Mr Haniya's son was among five injured in the gun battle at the Rafah border crossing.

'Grave threat'

The violence in Ramallah on Friday came as Hamas supporters attempted to march towards the centre of town, reports said.

Their path was blocked by security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president and head of Fatah.

Fighting broke out, with hospital officials saying that at least 32 people were injured by gunfire and stone-throwing.

Shooting also erupted in Gaza City between masked Hamas gunmen and PA police allied to Fatah.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan had earlier said the attack at Rafah was "an assassination attempt carried out by traitors led by Mohammad Dahlan".

Mr Dahlan is a former Palestinian Authority security chief and a fierce critic of Hamas.

In the 1990s he led a crackdown on militants who refused to acknowledge the new PA.

He has rejected the Hamas accusations, saying the governing party was trying to "mask its failures".

A Fatah spokesman said the attack was a "grave threat" to Palestinian unity, and called for an official investigation.

Mr Abbas said he regretted the attack, but Hamas said he had to share some responsibility.

Chaotic scenes

Inter-faction tensions have increased since the killing of three sons of a pro-Fatah security chief on Monday.

Mr Haniya had tried to cut short his first trip abroad as prime minister to deal with the crisis.

But Israel on Thursday closed the Gaza border, saying the reported $30m (£15.3m) Mr Haniya was carrying in donations as he returned from his foreign trip would fund "terrorist operations".

When Mr Haniya eventually crossed late in the evening, without the money, guards allied to Fatah exchanged fire with Mr Haniya's security forces.

Mr Haniya was shielded by his bodyguards, one of whom died after being hit.

Hamas, a militant Islamic group, won elections in January, but has faced a Western aid boycott after refusing to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has been unable to pay full salaries to its 165,000 workers.

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