GAZA (Reuters) – About 30 pro-Fatah Palestinians who fled to Israel after fierce clashes in the Gaza Strip were sent back to the Hamas-controlled enclave on Sunday and the Islamist group said they were immediately detained by its forces.
They were among 180 supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction granted refuge in Israel on Saturday after nine Palestinians were killed and 95 were wounded during a Hamas assault on their Gaza City neighborhood.
The fighting was the bloodiest since Hamas routed Fatah and took over the coastal enclave a year ago.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said dozens of those who fled the fighting returned to the Gaza Strip and were detained.
The 30 men sent back to Gaza are pro-Fatah members of the Helles clan, who were criticized by Fatah officials in the West Bank for failing to resist Hamas’s takeover in June 2007.
A spokesman for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Abbas had asked Israel to send the Fatah men back to the Gaza Strip. He said the wounded would remain in Israel for treatment and the rest would be returned to the Hamas-held territory.
Fatah leader Hussein Al-Shaikh, the senior civil affairs official in the Palestinian Authority, said: “We are discussing with the Israelis how to allow the people to return to Gaza.”
Saturday’s fighting erupted when Hamas forces surrounded the Shejaia district of Gaza City to arrest 11 people suspected of a role in bombings that killed seven people, including five Hamas militants, on July 25.
“Those found to be … connected to bombings will be interrogated and brought to justice. The rest will be immediately released,” Abu Zuhri said.
An official at Israel’s Barlizai hospital near the Gaza Strip said 11 Fatah members from Gaza were being treated there.
Atef Helles, one of the wounded, told Reuters television from his hospital bed: “Hamas raided our family, burnt our houses and terrified our children. That’s why we ran from Gaza.
“They (Hamas) wanted some people from this area but we refused to hand them over,” he said. “They attacked the area and fired rockets and grenades at us. Many were killed and wounded.”
Hamas gunmen fired at the Helles clan as they came through the Nahal Oz crossing into Israel on Saturday, Colonel Ron Ashov, commander of Israeli forces there, told Army Radio.
“There were gunmen firing on Israeli territory. The soldiers extracted them under fire. We fired at the group (of Hamas gunmen) to keep them away,” Ashov said.