9 killed as Hamas raids Fatah stronghold in Gaza
Islamist group' security forces raid stronghold of Fatah-allied Hilles clan in Gaza City. In retaliation, masked Fatah gunmen in West Bank briefly seized Hamas-linked university professor in West Bank. Earlier five Palestinians killed in smuggling tunnel's collapse under Gaza-Egypt border
Hamas security forces asserted control in a Gaza stronghold of political rival Fatah on Saturday, following a day of battles with mortars and machine guns, ending with the surrender of the Fatah-linked Hilles clan.
Nine Hamas gunmen and Hilles clan members were killed and at least 88 others were injured during the clashes. Among those injured were 12 children and a woman.
Sources in Gaza said following the clashes that Hamas gunmen fired mortars at Palestinians who were trying to escape to the Gaza-Israel border fence, near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Other Gazans turned themselves in to Hamas forces, the sources said.
More than two dozen members of the Hilles clan who fled the fighting were allowed through a Gaza crossing into Israel, Israeli military officials said.
A clan leader and senior Fatah member, Ahmed Hilles, was among those who had reached Israel, according to a Palestinian official close to the events, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Loud explosions and gunfire could be heard throughout the day across Gaza City. Hamas said it arrested 15 people, including 10 who had tried to flee disguised as women, and confiscated weapons and ammunition.
In retaliation, masked Fatah gunmen in the West Bank briefly seized a Hamas-linked university professor as he drove in his car and threatened to execute him unless Hamas halted the Gaza raid. He was released unharmed.
With Saturday's violence, the current round of Hamas-Fatah tensions threatened to spiral out of control. The confrontations began last week when a car bomb killed five Hamas gunmen in Gaza.
In response, Hamas seized more than 200 Fatah supporters in the biggest crackdown since wresting control of the territory from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, in June 2007. Fatah, which runs the West Bank, retaliated by arresting scores of Hamas activists.
Hamas gunmen in Gaza City's streets (Photo: AFP)
Saturday's fighting began under heavy morning fog when Hamas police took up positions in Gaza City's Shijaiyeh neighborhood, a stronghold of the Fatah-allied Hilles clan. Hamas accused the Hilles clan of hiding suspects in last week's bombing, an allegation denied by Ahmed Hilles, a Fatah leader and senior clan member. Hilles said Hamas police cut off electricity as they launched the raid, but said his clan would defend itself.
"You have to decide: Either be trampled under Hamas' shoes, or stand in dignity," he said in a phone interview, as gunfire crackled in the background.
'Hamas rulers the new Mongols'
Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan said several clan members tried to flee disguised as women. Three Hamas police and a member of the Hilles clan were killed. During the fighting, a rocket hit members of a family, wounding several people, said Shahwan. Shahwan said Hamas security men stormed several high-rise buildings and arrested rooftop snipers, as well as gunmen and wounded fighters.
"We are determined to continue the raid until we arrest all those involved," Shahwan said. "This is just the beginning," He said.
Hamas officials shut down a radio station affiliated with the small Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, saying that the station was reporting "lies and rumors and inciting sedition," the group said.
A senior Abbas aide in the West Bank, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, denounced Gaza's Hamas rulers as "the new Mongols." But in act of goodwill, Hamas released 10 Fatah leaders after Egyptian mediation.
Infighting in Gaza City (Photo: AFP)
Also in Nablus, pro-Fatah security forces searched cars at checkpoints in northern West Bank cities, checking identification cards. Dozens of Palestinian Authority security men toting AK-47s in blue and khaki uniforms patrolled Nablus.
Hamas said two more supporters were arrested in the West Bank overnight, bringing the total in the past week to more than 150.
Abbas' forces also arrested some 40 loyalists from the Liberation Party, an Islamic group that calls for the establishment of a pan-Muslim state, said a spokesman for the group, Muaz Abu Abed.
Abu Abed said the arrests aimed to thwart the group's plans to hold an annual rally.
The Liberation Party frequently denounces the West Bank's moderate leadership as infidels, but unlike Hamas espouses nonviolent change.
Meanwhile, five Palestinians were killed and 18 wounded in a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border after Egyptian troops blew up the entrance, officials said Saturday.
The destruction of the entrance deprived those inside the tunnel of oxygen, said the Egyptian official, who is stationed at the border and spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
The tunnel entrance was destroyed late Friday, near the Gaza border town of Rafah.
Networks of tunnels runs under the Gaza-Egypt border and are used to bring supplies into Gaza. The territory has been virtually cut off from the world since June 2007 when Hamas seized control by force. Both Israel and Egypt have enforced the closure of Gaza.
Israel says Gaza"S Hamas rulers use the tunnel to bring in weapons and cash. In recent months, Egypt has begun cracking down on the smugglers.
In the past week, Egypt has destroyed 14 tunnels, the Egyptian official said. Since the beginning of the year, 27 Palestinians have been killed in tunnels, including the five killed late Friday.