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Hamas targets Fatah prayer rallies in Gaza

Special to The Times

Hamas cracked down Friday on rival Fatah members, making numerous arrests and injuring dozens as its forces enforced a new ban on outdoor prayer rallies that have become a form of weekly protest in the Gaza Strip.

At least 11 people were reportedly injured in gunfire as the radical Islamist group’s Executive Force militia and members of its armed wing dispersed crowds of Fatah supporters who sought to hold Friday prayers at several outdoor locations around Gaza.

In Gaza City, Fatah members and several journalists were beaten as Hamas men wielding clubs forced worshipers to move indoors. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, vainly appealed for calm.

Abbas’ authority has been in effect limited to the West Bank since Hamas routed the more secular Fatah from Gaza during fighting in June. Since then, the two factions have each run their own mini-state, and clashes have been limited mainly to words.

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In recent weeks, Fatah has summoned its followers in Gaza to prayer gatherings as a way to protest Hamas rule, leading to scuffles with forces led by the Islamist movement.

This week, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader deposed as prime minister by Abbas after the June fighting, banned outdoor prayer gatherings, an edict backed by some Gaza clerics on religious grounds.

Hamas warned Thursday that it would vigorously enforce the ban, saying the gatherings were really political rallies meant to create disorder in Gaza.

Hamas militants poured into the streets in a show of force, setting up checkpoints along routes leading to the Gaza City square where a rally was to take place. Fatah members were forced to move indoors.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza said in a statement that those arrested were seeking to create “chaos.”

Several Fatah leaders were among those reportedly detained, including Zakariya Agha, a ranking member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and one of his movement’s top leaders in Gaza.

Two Palestinian television journalists were briefly detained and several others were roughed up by Hamas gunmen.

Earlier Friday, Fatah accused Hamas of having tortured and executed one of its members in Gaza.

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ellingwood@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Abu Alouf reported from Gaza City and Times staff writer Ellingwood from Jerusalem.


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