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Fleeing Fatah members return to Gaza

Latest update : 2008-08-03

Israel opened its borders to fleeing Fatah members seeking to escape Gaza clashes between Fatah and Hamas on Saturday; Israel returned the members at the request of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel began returning Fatah members who had fled deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip to the territory on Sunday following a request by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Israeli security officials said.
   
Abbas had asked Israel to allow some 180 people to leave Gaza after nine people were killed in clashes on Saturday with Hamas-run security forces in the deadliest internal fighting since the Islamists seized power in June 2007.
   
"Yesterday evening Abu Mazen (Abbas) and (Palestinian prime minister Salam) Fayyad made a request for Israel to allow them to cross into Israel and then to hospitals and the West Bank," a senior Israeli official told AFP.
   
"Shortly afterwards (Israeli Defence Minister Ehud) Barak was contacted again by Abbas who asked him to allow all of them to return to Gaza," the official said on condition of anonymity.
   
Another security official said the decision was taken by Abbas following "assurances given from a foreign party" -- a reference to Egypt which has brokered indirect negotiations between the rival Palestinian factions.
   
At least 22 people who were evacuated from Gaza and hospitalised for wounds inflicted in the fighting were expected to remain in Israel until they recover.
   
Spokesmen for Abbas could not be reached for comment, and neither Hamas nor Israeli officials would confirm how many out of the more than 180 who fled had been sent back.
   
The scores of Fatah supporters had fled Gaza on Saturday through the Nahal Oz crossing after clashes between Hamas-run security forces and the pro-Fatah Helis clan, killing nine people and wounding more than 90.
   
The clashes followed a week in which the Islamist movement cracked down on its rivals in Abbas's Fatah party, detaining upwards of 300 people.
   
Tensions have been high in the impoverished coastal strip of 1.5 million people since Hamas blamed Fatah for a beachside bombing more than a week ago that killed five senior Hamas militants and a little girl.
   
On Saturday Hamas accused members of the Helis clan over the attack.
   
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Sunday Hamas-run security forces had received "dozens" of Fatah members sent back and were investigating them, insisting that the arrests were not political but connected to the bombing.
   
"Those who are accused of breaking the law will be investigated and if they are found to be guilty will be brought to justice. Those who are proved innocent will be released," Abu Zuhri told AFP.
   
He had earlier said the decision of the Fatah supporters to flee "confirms these people are breaking the law, because they prefer to surrender themselves to the (Israeli) occupation than to stay in their homes."
   
Fatah denied any involvement in the beach bomb, but in an apparent tit-for-tat arrest campaign Abbas's security forces detained dozens of Hamas members in the Israeli-occupied West Bank over the past week.
   
The Arab League on Sunday called on both sides to halt the violence.
   
"The Arab League calls for an end to the use of arms between brothers in the occupied Palestinian territories," Assistant Secretary General for Palestinian affairs Mohammed Sobeih told reporters in Cairo.
   
"What is taking place is causing unimaginable harm to the Palestinian cause."
   
Following requests from Egypt and Abbas Israel, which has been holding US-backed peace talks with the Palestinian leader since November, initially allowed the Fatah members to leave Gaza despite a months-old blockade.
   
"Our position on principle is that we work with and aid those among the Palestinians who struggle against radical Islam, who oppose terrorism, and who favour negotiations," Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon told army radio.
   
Since Hamas seized power in Gaza Israel has sealed the territory off from all but limited humanitarian aid as Palestinian militants have launched hundreds of rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.
   
The fighting came to a virtual halt on June 19, however, when Israel and Palestinian militants entered into an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Date created : 2008-08-03

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