Three Palestinians, all members of the same Hamas-affiliated family, were killed in the Gaza neighborhood of Sabara Saturday evening in exchanges of fire with members of a Fatah-affiliated family.
The incident took place when a Palestinian, his brother and his son were making their way to greet Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar upon his return from Mecca.
Members of the Fatah-affiliated Dagmash family, who lost two relatives in a recent gun battle between the rival factions, opened fire and killed the three.
Palestinian sources also reported of heavy exchanges of fire between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Earlier it was reported that seven Palestinians identified with Hamas were kidnapped in Gaza and the West Bank.
In the first incident, gunmen stopped the car of Nablus' deputy mayor, Mahdi al-Khamdali, pulled him out and took him away in a separate car, security officials said.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, meanwhile, gunmen stormed the offices of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, shot the office manager in the legs and took him away, Palestinian security officials said.
The man, also a Hamas supporter, was released in a nearby town and hospitalized, the officials said.
Later Hamas sources reported that five of the group’s members were kidnapped by Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Hamas warned that it would not sit idly by as its members are attacked.
Hamas spokespeople in Tul Karm and Jenin said that for the time being the group does not intend to respond so as not to escalate the violence.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Hamas’ paramilitary militia in the Gaza Strip illegal, raising the stakes in his standoff with the Islamic movement.
'Reshuffle security forces'
It’s quite possible that this announcement will not have any practical implications, as this was not the first time Abbas has declared the Hamas security force illegal.
Abbas made the announcement two days after members of the Hamas force attacked the home of a senior security commander in Gaza, killing the man and seven of his bodyguards.
The man was a member of the Preventive Security force, which is loyal to Abbas’ Fatah party. Fatah accuses Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar of ordering his brother, who heads the Hamas security force, to launch the attack on the group’s senior commander.
“In light of continued security chaos and assassinations that got to a number of our fighters ... And in light of the failure of existing agencies and security apparatuses in imposing law and order and protecting the security of the citizens, President Mahmoud Abbas decided to reshuffle the security forces and its leadership and to consider the (Hamas) executive force, officers and members, illegal and outside the law,” Abbas’ office said in a statement.
'It will be dealt with accordingly'
Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was quick to reject Abbas’ call to dismantle his security force.
Fatah and Hamas have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections a year ago. The dispute has centered around control of the powerful Palestinian security forces.
With Abbas, who was elected in a separate presidential vote, claiming authority over most of the security forces, Hamas last year formed its own unit, known as the “Executive Force.”
Members of the black-clad Hamas militia are visible throughout Gaza, and have periodically clashed with the existing pro-Fatah security forces.
More than two dozen people have been killed in the latest wave of factional violence, which erupted early last month. Thursday’s attack on the Fatah commander’s home in northern Gaza was the bloodiest single battle in the standoff to date.
Abbas has agreed in recent months to integrate the Hamas unit into existing security forces. But those efforts have failed to make progress.
In his statement Saturday, Abbas reiterated the offer but said he would not wait forever. “It will be dealt with accordingly so long as it is not immediately folded into the legal security forces,” Abbas said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Abbas’ announcement “Misplaced and useless.”