/ 7 September 2007

Hamas forces clash with Gaza protesters

Hamas security officers beat protesters, hurled stun grenades and fired in the air to disperse open-air prayers the rival Fatah faction held in the Gaza Strip on Friday in defiance of the territory’s Islamist rulers.

Palestinian medical officials said at least 20 people, some with gunshot wounds, were taken to hospital for treatment.

”They are chasing and beating and arresting us as if they were occupation soldiers,” said one young Fatah supporter in Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, likening Hamas forces to Israelis.

The street showdowns, which erupted three months after Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip, had been widely expected after Hamas said it would not allow Fatah to conduct ”political prayers” outdoors on the Muslim rest day.

The Friday gatherings have become focal points for clashes between Hamas’s Executive Force security wing that polices the territory, and members of Fatah, once the dominant faction in the Gaza Strip and now holding sway only in the West Bank.

The Executive Force took away three Palestinian journalists — two working for Japanese television and the third man a photographer for the Associated Press — and roughed up five other reporters in the latest confrontations, witnesses said.

The three detained journalists were later released, their employers said. The Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association demanded an end to a ”coordinated … policy of harassment” of the media.

In another blow to its rival, the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip seized three members of Fatah’s local leadership and an adviser to West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas.

”The security services arrested a number of violators of the law and instigators of chaos,” the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip said in a statement.

Talat al-Safadi of the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organisation said the arrests were indicative of ”the low level to which Hamas and the Executive Force have stooped”.

Fatah called for new protests to begin on Friday evening. — Reuters