Fatah gunmen abduct 5 Hamas militants in Gaza
The members of Hamas military wing were released several hours later, but tensions remained high.Updated: Jan 09, 2007 13:34 IST
Five members of Hamas' military wing who were abducted at gunpoint by rival Fatah Party loyalists in the Gaza Strip were released several hours later, a Palestinian mediator said early on Tuesday, but tensions in Gaza remained high.
All of the hostages were released hours after being seized from their car in northern Gaza, according to Mohammed Madhoun of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small organisation that helped mediate the men's release.
Hamas confirmed that they had been freed. There was no comment from Fatah.
A Hamas lawmaker from Beit Lahiya, Mushir al-Masri, cautioned after the kidnapping that the renewal of violence would only increase tensions between the two groups, which have been engaged in deadly confrontations in recent weeks.
"Tension and escalation will only serve the interests of the occupation and the coup-seekers," he said.
The "coup-seekers" was a reference to Fatah, which seeks to replace the current Hamas-led Cabinet with a more moderate Fatah-Hamas coalition that would induce the West and Israel to lift crippling economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.
Fatah and Hamas have been in a vicious power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections last year.
Hamas controls the legislature and most government functions, while Fatah holds the powerful presidency.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas favours peace talks with Israel, while Hamas rejects the Jewish state's right to exist.
Abbas tried for months to persuade Hamas to join Fatah in a more moderate unity government, but negotiations collapsed in late November, touching off the latest round of infighting.
The kidnappings in Gaza took place after factional violence flared Monday in the West Bank.
Pro-Fatah militants set fire to six stores owned by Hamas sympathizers in the town of Ramallah, destroying a large clothing store and a money-changing shop, and opened fire at the house of a Hamas-allied mayor in the nearby town of El-Bireh, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. No one was hurt.
The Ramallah firebombings marked the first time militants have targeted civilians in the West Bank.
Up to this week, most of the latest factional fighting has been centered in Gaza, where more than 30 people have been killed in clashes between armed forces loyal to the rival groups.
Now Fatah militants in the group's West Bank stronghold have begun retaliating for Hamas attacks in Gaza, the Islamic group's base.
At a news conference in Gaza after sundown Monday, Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum charged that Fatah was trying to violently oust the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
"We will not allow those seeking a coup to drag our people into the flames of a civil war, and will never let them drag our people into a family war," Barhoum said.
Another Hamas official, Ismail Radwan, called on his people to use their weapons against Israel, not each other.