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Gunfire kills 5 at memorial for Arafat

Gunfire kills five people at a Fatah memorial rally for Yasser Arafat that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters of the defeated faction.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2007 02:36 IST

Gunfire killed at least five people on Monday at a Fatah memorial rally for Yasser Arafat that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters of the defeated faction in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a medic said.

A sea of yellow Fatah flags had filled a Gaza square for the biggest assembly Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular faction has held in the territory since Hamas Islamists routed its fighters in violence last June.

But the rare Fatah rally broke up in chaos after gunfire rang out and grew into what Hamas described as battles with the rival group's fighters, forcing even members of the crowd who had initially stood their ground to bolt for cover.

A medic at a hospital said at least five people were killed, the highest death toll in violence involving the two factions since battles five months ago. Other medical officials said at least 50 people, including women and youngsters, were wounded.

Fatah officials accused Hamas forces of opening fire from the nearby Islamic University. Hamas said its men had come under attack from Fatah gunmen and shot back.

The emotional memorial event for Arafat had given Fatah a rare chance to assemble its supporters in the Gaza Strip. Abbas has rejected any renewed dialogue with Hamas until the group relinquishes control of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has banned opposition rallies since its takeover of the territory but any move to prevent a remembrance ceremony for Arafat, the iconic leader who died on Nov. 11, 2004, would have been widely unpopular among Palestinians.

"Today we all rise up and one day the Hamas aggressors will be gone," said a teenager at the event who would give his name only as Khaled.

In an earlier incident near the scene of the rally, Fatah activists said a Hamas security man fired at a vehicle carrying people to the assembly, killing one passenger.

Hamas said he might have been killed by Fatah fire.

Arafat tribute

Huge murals of Arafat in his trademark Arab headdress, and a smaller picture of Abbas, had provided a backdrop for the event which organisers said was attended by more than 250,000 people.

Fatah nationalist songs blared from loudspeakers as many in the crowd voiced their longing for Arafat, regarded by Palestinians as a symbol of unity.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) is not like Arafat but he is our president now and we respect him. We urge him to end Hamas occupation," Khaled said.

WAFA news agency, run by Abbas's office, accused Hamas of stealing dozens of pictures of Arafat and 30,000 headdresses symbolising the late leader, that came through an Israeli-run border crossing point earlier in the day.

A pro-Hamas Internet site quoted a Hamas security official as saying trucks carrying yellow Fatah flags and hats were seized "at a time when the Gaza Strip is being deprived of basic goods and medicine".

Israel has tightened border restrictions with Gaza since Hamas, which opposes Abbas's peace moves with the Jewish state, came to power in the territory but has pledged humanitarian aid can go through.

First Published: Nov 13, 2007 02:34 IST