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Hamas Accuses Fatah Of Attack On PM’s Entourage December 16, 2006

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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GAZA CITY (AP)–Angry Hamas officials Friday blamed a powerful Fatah leader of orchestrating a shooting attack on Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s entourage, setting the stage for an escalation of a recent wave of violence between the rival groups.

The fighting cast a cloud over planned celebrations Friday to mark Hamas’ 19th anniversary. However, the Islamic militant group said it would push ahead with massive rallies in the afternoon, and Haniyeh was expected to address well-wishers after Friday prayers in Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Fatah-allied police deployed throughout the streets in advance of the Hamas celebrations.

The fighting Thursday erupted at the Rafah border terminal after Israel temporarily barred Haniyeh from returning to Gaza after a tour of Muslim countries. Angry Hamas militants stormed the border terminal and engaged in a gunbattle with security forces stationed there who are loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah.

After Haniyeh finally crossed, unidentified men began firing toward him in an attack that killed one of the prime minister’s bodyguards and wounded his son. Hamas said the shooting was a failed assassination attempt on the premier, which Fatah denied.

But both sides agreed the explosion of violence was bringing the Palestinians closer to civil war.

On Friday, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman, told a news conference that Gaza strongman and senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan “planned and organized” what he called a “cowardly assassination attempt.”

Fatah dismissed the accusations that Dahlan was behind the shooting at Rafah, which lies inside Dahlan’s power base in southern Gaza.

“These accusations are not true, as long as no investigation has been conducted,” Tawfik Abu Khousa, a Fatah spokesman, said, calling for an official probe. “These accusations are posing a grave threat to Palestinian unity.”

Abbas’ Presidential Guard, which is in charge of security at the terminal, also denied involvement in the attack, which it said occurred during “complete chaos” at the terminal. In all, 27 people were wounded in the gunbattles at the border terminal.

Radwan also accused the U.S. of involvement in the shooting, saying it resorted to violence after its efforts to bring down the Hamas-led government failed.

“This is an absurd allegation,” said Geoff Anisman, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The violence came amid a political deadlock between Abbas and the Hamas-led Cabinet and parliament after the failure of talks to form a unity government. Abbas hoped such a government would end crippling international economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won January elections.

Hamas, responsible for dozens of deadly suicide bombings in Israel, is listed as a terror group by the U.S. and the European Union.

Abbas, a relative moderate, was to address the Palestinians Saturday on his plans for ending the impasse and was expected to threaten early elections. A call for new elections, which Hamas says is illegal and has likened to a coup attempt, would likely further inflame the situation.

The latest round of Hamas-Fatah fighting erupted Monday with a drive-by shooting that killed the three small children of a Fatah security official and continued Wednesday with the gangland-style execution of a Hamas judge.

On Thursday, Haniyeh rushed home from a trip abroad to try to quell the violence.

But Israel ordered the Rafah crossing closed to keep Haniyeh from bringing in an estimated $35 million he had collected abroad to help alleviate the Palestinian financial crisis. Israeli officials said Haniyeh could return to Gaza without the money, which it said was to be used for terror attacks. Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for European monitors at the crossing, said Haniyeh left the funds in Egypt.

Meanwhile, impatient Hamas militants waiting outside stormed the terminal, shooting in the air. The Presidential Guard returned fire, and terrified travelers ran for cover. Crying women and children hid behind walls and taxis, while the European monitors fled.

The rampage destroyed furniture and computer equipment inside the terminal and plunged the area into darkness before Haniyeh was allowed to cross.

Thursday’s unrest was likely to strain the U.S.-brokered deal that turned over control of the crossing to the Palestinians last year after four decades of Israeli control. The border can only operate in the presence of European monitors.

Despite the chaos, Telleria said the European monitors had sent a team to the terminal to assess the damage and figure out when the border can be reopened.

“We need to continue operating as soon as possible,” she said. “There is no way we can think about withdrawing the mission.”

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israel’s Army Radio that government officials made the right decision not to let Haniyeh bring the money into Gaza, adding if Haniyeh had been killed, “I wouldn’t put up a mourning tent.

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