The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, threatened for the first time on Tuesday to kill Hamas leaders, including exiled political chief Khaled Mashaal.
The threat marked an escalation in the power struggle between Fatah and the ruling Hamas movement after two days of internal fighting in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in which 12 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded.
In a statement sent to Reuters, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said it held Mashaal, Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyam and senior Interior Ministry official Youssef al-Zahar responsible for the deaths.
“We in al-Aqsa announce, with all might and frankness, the ruling of the people in the homeland and in the diaspora, to execute the head of the sedition, Khaled Mashaal, Saeed Seyam and Youssef al-Zahar, and we will execute this ruling so those filthy people can be made an example,” the statement said.
Mashaal is based in Damascus, while Seyam and al-Zahar are in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said al-Aqsa was “pouring oil on the fire” between the rival groups.
He said Hamas would “not show mercy” if any of its leaders were targeted by what he called “the leaders of the internal coup”.
A spokesman for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Gaza declined to say whether the statement represented the views of the entire group or certain factions.
The spokesman described the statement as a “natural response” after Seyam ordered his forces to take to the streets of Gaza on Sunday to confront striking policemen demanding overdue salaries. Clashes between rival Hamas and Fatah forces quickly erupted and spread.
IAF destroys metal foundry
Abbas has been locked in an increasingly bitter power struggle with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas over stalled efforts to form a unity government after Hamas defeated Fatah in elections in January.
Tension has been fuelled by the government’s inability to pay full salaries to its workers, many of them from Fatah, as a result of a Western aid embargo designed to push Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim deals.
A top aide to Abbas said on Monday the president was seriously considering the possibility of forming an emergency government, an administration of technocrats or calling early elections to end the crisis with Hamas.
In a separate incident on Tuesday, an Israeli air strike destroyed a metal foundry in the southern Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinians, medical staff and residents said.
An Israeli army spokesman said the air strike was aimed at a suspected weapons factory.
Israel has frequently targeted buildings it believes are used by militants to make or store rockets.