GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP) – Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Saturday accused aides of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of being behind an alleged plot to assassinate a top Hamas official.
Abbas’ office denied the claims, which set off an angry verbal exchange between the bitter rivals and further dimmed already faint prospects of reconciliation.
In violence Sunday, Israeli troops backed by aircraft and tanks clashed with Palestinian gunmen in the southern Gaza Strip. Health officials said one militant was killed and eight were wounded.
Hamas security officials and residents said Israeli bulldozers razed farmlands in an effort to deny rocket squads cover, and troops arrested 25 men. The Israeli military said the operation targeted militants who regularly fire rockets and mortars at southern Israel, but offered no further details.
In Gaza City on Saturday, a senior Hamas official, Said Siyam, presented details of what he alleged was a plot to assassinate Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
At a news conference, Hamas aired confessions of alleged suspects, including several who said they received instructions from a senior Abbas aide.
One of the alleged suspects, Nafez Dabaki, said in the video that he had been offered more than $70,000 if he blew himself up at a mosque where Haniyeh was praying. Dabaki said he was asked three times to carry out the attack, but didn’t go through with it.
Another alleged assailant, Mohammed Kheil, said he had been asked to kill Haniyeh at a public rally. Kheil said he carried 55 pounds of explosives in a backpack, but was spooked by security guards at the rally and left.
Abbas’ office dismissed the allegations as fiction and denounced Hamas as an “outlaw movement.”
Also Saturday, thousands marched in a funeral procession for eight Palestinians killed in a huge explosion at the home of a senior Islamic Jihad activist in the Gaza refugee camp of Bureij.
Islamic Jihad claimed the eight, including one of its rocket masterminds, were killed in an Israeli airstrike and threatened revenge attacks. Israel routinely targets Gaza militants but denied any involvement in Friday’s blast in Bureij.
In an apparent response, Gaza militants fired at least seven rockets at Israeli border areas Saturday, causing no damage or injuries, the Israeli military said.
Visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, meanwhile, urged an opening of Gaza’s borders, which were largely sealed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control of Gaza by force in June.
“We are calling to remove the blockade on Gaza because there must be movement for goods and people,” Kouchner told the Palestinian daily Al Quds in an interview published Saturday. “The economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is bad, and the blockade is affecting the economy in general, and also the living conditions.”
On Friday, the U.N.’s top humanitarian affairs official, John Holmes, said the closure has created “grim and miserable” conditions that deprive Gazans of their basic dignity. After a tour of Gaza, Holmes urged a reopening of the borders.
Last month, Hamas militants breached Gaza’s border with Egypt, enabling hundreds of thousands of Gazans to flood parts of Egypt’s Sinai border region for 12 days. Egypt has since resealed the border, and warned that it would use force to stop any further attempts to break through.