GAZA, (Reuters) – Palestinian Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip arrested 120 men aligned with the rival Fatah faction on Saturday, after an explosion there killed five Hamas gunmen and a girl, Fatah officials said.
Friday’s blast next to a car used by men from the armed wing of Gaza’s ruling Islamist Hamas group killed the girl and three militants. Two others died of their wounds in hospital, Hamas and medical officials said.
The blast, the third of its kind in a day, marked one of the biggest flare-ups in internal Gaza violence since Hamas routed the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s more secular Fatah faction to seize control of the territory a year ago.
Abbas, finding his authority limited to the occupied West Bank, split with Hamas and revived peace efforts with Israel. He recently sought reconciliation with his Islamist rivals but they have balked at his precondition that they give up Gaza. Hamas officials blamed “members of the fugitive party” — a derogatory term for Fatah — for Friday night’s blast at a major junction outside Gaza City.
Although Fatah officials in Ramallah denied any involvement, a group called the “Al-Awda Brigades”, which said it is aligned with Fatah, claimed responsibility for the attack. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified. “The turn will come to all those who shared in executing and liquidating our people,” the al-Awda statement read. “Our revenge will reach all members of the black militias of the executive force and leaders of Qassam (Hamas).”
Earlier, Fatah officials in Ramallah said the violence was part of Hamas infighting. “The Fatah movement has no link whatsoever with these internal disputes within Hamas,” a Fatah statement said.
Another statement from Abbas’s office said: “The claim that Fatah carried out these explosions aims to cover up the fact that there are disputes within Hamas.”
Hamas security forces stormed offices of Fatah officials throughout the Gaza Strip, confiscating documents and computers. Fatah put the number of detainees at 120.
Thousands turned out for the funerals of the six victims of Friday’s attack, some chanting “Revenge, revenge” as shots were fired into the air.
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya, whose nephew was killed in the blast and whose oldest son was wounded, vowed to punish those responsible. “Those who did this must be hanged in a public square and must be fired upon,” Hayya said before the burials. He accused Fatah leaders of responsibility for the attack and said the statement by the Al-Awda Brigades proved this.
Hayya said Hamas had “hot warnings” that Fatah members were planning a series of assassinations against the Islamist group.
At least 19 other Palestinians were hurt in Friday’s blast, medical officials said, many of them passersby on their way to the beach.
The factional violence has eclipsed Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza, where an Egyptian-brokered truce has largely held since last month despite some violations on both sides.
The ceasefire stoked intra-Palestinian tensions as Hamas sought to prevent other groups from firing rockets across the border into Israel.