GAZA CITY (AFP) – Fatah’s strongman in Gaza branded the ruling Hamas “a bunch of murderers and thieves”, in the latest verbal salvo between the rival Palestinian factions engaged in a deadly power struggle.
“They lost the Palestinian street, which sees what they have become. A bunch of murderers and thieves who execute Palestinians only because they are Fatah members,” Mohammed Dahlan said in an interview with Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily.
The comments marked the latest assault in an escalating war of words between president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the ruling Islamist Hamas. Armed clashes between the two have killed more than 30 people and wounded more than 100 in the Gaza Strip in less than a month.
Dahlan said that a huge Fatah rally held in Gaza City on Sunday and attended by thousands of supporters was aimed at being a show of force.
“We proved to Hamas that Gaza is not theirs. Gaza is not Tora Bora,” he said, referring to a one-time stronghold of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan.
Dahlan also warned Israel to stay out of the internal Palestinian crisis.
“Stay away from us. You don’t help, you only do damage. Every time somebody on your side talks about ‘helping Abu Mazen’ they hurt him,” he said, referring to Abbas by his nom de guerre.
Dahlan, the former head of the pro-Fatah preventative security force and one-time minister who is currently an MP in parliament, is widely reviled by the ruling Islamists. Under his stewardship, the security services had led a crackdown on militant groups, including that of Hamas, in the late 1990s.
Referring to Dahlan at a news conference late Monday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said: “We will not allow these putschists to drive our people toward the brink of civil war. We remain vigilant in the face of these putschists and their plots.”
Gaza has been embroiled in factional fighting since December 16, when Abbas called for early elections in order to resolve a months-long standoff with Hamas over forming a coalition government and Hamas rejected the move.
The Palestinian president says that early elections are the only way to try to lift a debilitating Western direct aid freeze imposed on the Palestinian government after Hamas took power in March.
Hamas says early polls would amount to a coup against its democratically elected government.
The West, which along with Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is demanding that the ruling Islamists renounce violence, agree to recognize Israel and abide by past peace deals in order for the aid to resume.
Hamas, which routed long-dominant Fatah last January in an election called free and fair by Western observers, has steadfastly refused to bend to Western demands.
The aid freeze — accompanied by Israel withholding customs duties collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority — has plunged the territories into what the World Bank has called their worst-ever economic crisis.