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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Hamas operatives kidnapped in Gaza

 Hamas operatives kidnapped in Gaza

Five Hamas operatives were kidnapped by loyalists of the rival Fatah Party who stopped their car at gunpoint in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya late Monday, Hamas and other factions said.

Three were released after about an hour following mediation by three other militant groups, said one of the mediators, Mohammed Madhoun of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Hamas said two others continued to be held.

There was no comment from Fatah on the latest incident of violence between the two groups.

The Hamas operatives were driving near the house of a Fatah leader when gunmen stopped their car, seized them, then torched the vehicle, Hamas said.

Prior to the kidnappings, Fatah gunmen went on a rampage throughout the city Sunday night, destroying several businesses, charities and cars belonging to Hamas figures and supporters.

Eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that Palestinian Authority security forces in the city did not intervene to stop what they termed as a "pogrom."

The attack, the biggest of its kind against Hamas in the West Bank since the power struggle with Fatah began, was strongly condemned by many residents who expressed fear that the violence in the Gaza Strip was spreading to the West Bank.

"What happened in Ramallah on Sunday night was disgraceful," said school teacher Abdel Kader Tawil. "Many armed gangs set fire to at least 20 shops and offices. They also shot at businesses owned by Hamas supporters. The attack continued all night long."

Hamas representatives accused Fatah leader Muhammed Dahlan of being behind the attack. "The attack came only hours after Dahlan incited against Hamas in a speech in Gaza City," said one Hamas leader. "It's obvious that this was a well-planned attack aimed at sending a warning to Hamas."

Sources in the Ramallah Municipality said at least 22 shops were torched during the attack. They said the gunmen also fired several shots at the home of Hamas official Omar Hamayel, the acting mayor of the nearby Al-Bireh Municipality. No one was hurt. It was the second attack of its kind on Hamayel's home in less than 24 hours.

The sources estimated the damages at more than NIS 10 million.

Abdullah Daraghmeh, owner of the Daraghmeh Shopping Center, one of the largest businesses here, said his place was completely destroyed after the assailants set it on fire.

"The attack began around midnight," he said. "The gunmen fired at the center, setting it ablaze. The fire destroyed all the clothes."

The gunmen also set fire to the Ajouli money-changing business, a supermarket owned by the Izhiman family and another shop owned by Hamas legislator Abdel Jaber al-Fukaha.

Businessman Muhammed Izhiman said neighbors woke him up shortly after 2.00 a.m. to tell him that his family's supermarket had been targeted.
"The gunmen fired many bullets at the place and caused extensive damage," he said. "How can any Palestinian do such a thing?"

In more scenes of anarchy, unidentified gunmen on Monday morning fired at the office of former PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad in the Balou neighborhood of Al-Bireh. The attackers fled in a car and no one was hurt. The motive for the attack remained unclear, although some Fatah activists blamed Hamas.

Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, warned Hamas against establishing a new militia in the West Bank. The warning came in response to reports that Hamas was planning to deploy members of its Gaza-based "Executive Force" in the West Bank in the coming days.

The group's representatives in Nablus expressed support for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's decision to outlaw the Hamas force which, they added, was created to serve the interests of "foreign parties."

Earlier, the Fatah group released Nablus Deputy Mayor Hamdi Hanbali, who was kidnapped over the weekend. Hanbali, who is associated with Hamas, was released unharmed following the intervention of Abbas and other senior Fatah leaders, local sources said.

In Gaza City, Fatah gunmen fired several shots at the main offices of the Palestinian government, but no casualties or damages were reported.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned as "barbaric" attacks on Hamas businesses and personalities in the West Bank. He said at least 70 anti-Hamas attacks took place in the West Bank in the past few days.

Barhoum accused Dahlan of "paving the way for a civil war" in the PA territories. He claimed that Dahlan was spearheading efforts to topple the Hamas-led government "in the same way he tried to stage a coup against Yasser Arafat several years ago."

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