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Monday, December 31, 2007

Five killed in Gaza internecine violence

Last update - 23:10 31/12/2007    
 Five killed as violence erupts at Fatah rally in Gaza Strip 
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Five Palestinians were killed after nightfall on Monday as anniversary celebrations for the Fatah movement turned violent in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.
Medical officials said one of the dead was a Hamas police officer, another was a teenager and a third was a Fatah supporter. About 30 people were wounded, they said.
Fatah marks the anniversary of its founding on January 1, but Hamas banned Fatah marches. All over Gaza, Fatah backers fired rifles in the air and set off fireworks.

These were the first fatalities in Fatah-Hamas fighting since November 11, when Hamas forces opened fire on a huge Fatah rally, killing eight and wounding about 85.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Hamas Islamists on Monday to agree to early elections and to open a "new page" by ceding control of the Gaza Strip and holding reconciliation talks with his Fatah faction.
Reviving talk of early Palestinian elections for the first time in several months, Abbas said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the founding of Fatah that any vote should be held in agreement with his Hamas rivals.
"I renew the option of early elections ... and I pledge that I will do my best to ensure this election will be the product of a deep and brotherly understanding," Abbas said.
"I urge all, Fatah and Hamas movements and all other Palestinian factions, to study this alternative and not to rush, as usual, to reject it."
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, prompting Abbas to sack a Hamas-led unity government and appoint a Fatah-backed administration in the West Bank. The rift helped pave the way for U.S.-backed talks with Israel.
Abbas said after Hamas's Gaza takeover he wanted to call early elections. But it has been several months since he talked publicly about holding a ballot although his aides have raised the possibility of snap parliamentary and presidential polls.
Hamas, which won a Palestinian parliamentary vote in 2006, opposes holding elections before they are due in 2010, saying it would be unconstitutional.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum rejected Abbas' speech."It is full of incitement and words calling for divisions," he said. "There is no new initiative or practical step in this speech that can pave the road to start an immediate dialogue."
Barhoum said earlier Monday that the Islamist group was ready for dialogue with Fatah but would not accept Abbas's demand it first give up control of the coastal enclave.
"Abbas is betting on the American-Zionist project and not on dialogue with Hamas," Barhoum told a news conference in Gaza. "We renew our readiness and willingness to restore dialogue with Fatah without conditions."
PA minister: Abbas' forces foil Hamas suicide attack plot
Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas have arrested Hamas militants who were plotting a suicide bombing, the Palestinian foreign and information minister said on Monday.
Riyad al-Malki told a news conference Palestinian security forces had arrested members of the Islamist group, but did not say whether the attack was planned for Israel or the West Bank or how many people had been arrested.
The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out
relaxing Israel's grip on the West Bank until the Palestinians rein in militants.
Israel frequently says it has thwarted suicide bombings but it is rare for the Palestinians to make such an announcement.
Malki declined to say when the arrests took place but said security forces found a confessional video recorded by the would-be bombers. He also said officers had found mercury, which could be used to make explosive devices, in Nablus.
Hamas spokesman Barhoum declined to comment on whether its members were arrested, but said: "We support any act of resistance against the Israeli occupation but we will not be surprised if the government ... fabricates charges to pursue their arrest campaign against Hamas and other factions of resistance."
Abbas's government has deployed hundreds of security officers in West Bank towns in recent weeks as part of a Western-backed drive to crack down on gunmen and gangsters.
Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces said they had not heard about any attacks that had been prevented by Abbas's forces.
Also Monday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket and 14 mortar shells at the western Negev.
Gaza journalists warned not to cover Fatah anniversary events
Several Gaza journalists received anonymous overnight phone calls warning them not to cover upcoming events planned by the Fatah movement, fueling fears that the territory's Islamic Hamas rulers were trying to quash coverage of their rivals.
Reporters for at least five local and foreign news outlets received calls late Sunday and early Monday warning them to stay away from events planned by Fatah to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the veteran Palestinian movement's establishment.
The reporters asked that their names be withheld because they feared retribution from Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in June after routing Fatah fighters loyal to the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
A Fatah rally scheduled for Tuesday has been banned by Hamas, which repeatedly has cracked down on Fatah activists and harassed journalists covering pro-Fatah events since the Gaza takeover.
In an official statement, the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it supported freedom of the press and blamed Fatah for the calls, saying Fatah leaders in the West Bank were trying to embarrass the Islamic group.
Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja, one of Gaza's most prominent remaining Fatah leaders, said the movement would not hold a major rally Tuesday, and would make do with smaller gestures like setting off fireworks and lighting candles in the windows of pro-Fatah homes.
Some 70 Fatah activists were arrested or went underground over the past few days, Fatah officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared arrest. Hamas denied those charges, saying no political arrests had been made.
Hamas police raided Fatah's central office in Gaza City and seized posters, flags and computer hard disks, Fatah leader Ahmad Hillas said at a press conference Monday.
"I want to say clearly and honestly: No one, no power will prevent us or stop us from commemorating this anniversary," Hillas said.

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