Hamas security forces armed with rifles and clubs beat Fatah supporters trying to hold street prayers to protest the Islamic group’s rule in Gaza, witnesses said. Hamas men also assaulted at least seven journalists and detained five.
An explosive device thrown into the middle of one protest rally in southern Gaza injured four people. The prayer protest was the latest episode in friction between the groups since Hamas’ bloody seizure of power in Gaza in June.
This week Hamas banned all public prayers after Fatah supporters began holding worship sessions that quickly escalated into raucous protests against Hamas rule.
In the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jebaliya, dozens of Hamas security men in uniform and civilian clothes were stationed in the streets to head off any attempt by Fatah supporters to gather. They fired in the air to keep Fatah supporters away, beat several people and detained one man, witnesses said.
Rescue workers said two people were brought to the hospital, one wounded by gunfire and another who had been beaten.
Across Gaza, seven journalists covering the clashes were beaten and two of them were later detained, witnesses and reporters said. Two Associated Press staffers and another news photographer were also briefly detained by Hamas men. In Jebaliya, the Hamas security men ordered journalists to stop filming and move away.
One security officer told reporters, “If a single shot is on TV, you know what will happen.” He then drew his finger across his throat. At one point a Hamas security man tried to take a photographer’s camera.
“I identified myself as a journalist and showed him my card, my journalist card, I told him, ‘If you want the tape take the tape, I don’t care,’ but they kept on beating me and took the camera,” Muhammad Abu Sido, a cameraman for a Palestinian news service, told AP Television News.
Similar incidents of harassment against journalists took place during previous weeks’ Fatah protests.
Taher Nunu, a Hamas government spokesman in charge of coordinating media coverage, said the reports of harassment of journalists “were individual cases and won’t be repeated,” and that he was working to free the detained reporters.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed for calm from the West Bank, where he and his Western-backed government have ruled since Hamas took over Gaza.
“We ask our worshippers to avoid any friction or confrontation with the coup-makers and their armed militia, which will not be deterred from carrying out the most gruesome and repressive measures against citizens,” Read the statement from Abbas.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, about 750 Fatah supporters gathered with Abbas for prayers to demonstrate solidarity with Fatah in Gaza. Thousand of Palestinians gathered at similar prayer rallies elsewhere in the West Bank.
In Gaza City, Hamas forces scuffled with Fatah worshippers after trying to force them off a main square and to a nearby mosque, witnesses said. At least one man was dragged to a Hamas jeep and beaten by several security men, the witnesses said, and several journalists trying to cover the scuffle were attacked.
One of them, a local journalist working for the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, was beaten as tried to film someone being detained.
Fatah said that among those arrested were two of its highest-ranking officials left in Gaza, Ibrahim Abu Naja and Zakaria Agha. A statement from Hamas said the two men
were detained for "instigating riots." Hamas said two other Fatah officials were also arrested, one of them a woman, Jamila Saidom.
The four were later released after signing a pledge not to engage in such protests in future, Saidom said.
In Khan Younis, an explosive device was thrown in the middle of the crowd, and hospital officials said four people were injured, including one by shrapnel. It was not immediately clear who threw the explosive.
Also Friday, a former member of a feared Fatah security force was found shot dead in Gaza, medics said, and a Fatah official charged Hamas with killing him. Hamas’ forces have arrested hundreds of Fatah security forces and officials since taking over Gaza.
Tarazan Doghmush was found dead Friday, the morning after he and his brother were kidnapped by unknown assailants, medics said. His brother is currently in intensive care at a Gaza hospital, the medics said. No further information was immediately available about the brother or how he was hurt.
Doghmush was a member of a Fatah-affiliated force, Preventive Security, before Fatah lost control of Gaza in June. The force was especially hated by Hamas men because of its role in crackdowns against the Islamic organization.
A Fatah official blamed Hamas for Doghmush’s death, charging it was part of an arrest campaign against Fatah loyalists since the Hamas victory. The Fatah official spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from Hamas.
Hamas official Naser Khalifa confirmed Doghmush was killed, but denied his group was responsible. The charge was part of a Fatah smear campaign against Hamas, he said.