RAMALLAH/GAZA, (Reuters) – Palestinian security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah opened fired on a Hamas rally in the West Bank on Friday and firefights between the rival groups erupted in Gaza, raising fears of civil war.
The fighting intensified after the ruling Hamas faction accused a Fatah strongman and Abbas’s forces of trying to kill Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas vowed to retaliate.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas’s security forces, dressed in riot gear, used clubs and rifles to beat back Hamas demonstrators before shooting broke out.
Nearly 20 Hamas supporters were wounded by gunfire, according to hospital sources. Some were in critical condition.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Fatah forces fired at each other on the streets. It was unclear if anyone was hurt.
In a show of force, Hamas had deployed hundreds of heavily armed militants across Gaza City and called on Abbas to remove his presidential guard from the streets.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan singled out by name Fatah strongman and lawmaker, Mohammed Dahlan, as being behind the shooting attack late on Thursday on Haniyeh’s convoy as it was leaving the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Dahlan said on Al Arabiya television that the accusations “are not worth answering”. He blamed Hamas “gangs” for the violence, which has surged since unidentified militants shot dead three young sons of an intelligence official loyal to Abbas outside the boys’ Gaza school early this week. “It (Hamas) is pouring oil on the fire … and bears full responsibility for the escalation that may result,” said Abdel-Hakim Awad, a spokesman for Fatah in Gaza.
Israel had blocked Haniyeh from entering Gaza until he agreed to leave behind $35 million in cash raised during a fundraising tour that included Iran.