Dozens of Fatah members that had fled the violent clashes on the Gaza Strip were moved to the West Bank by Israeli authorities on Monday, amid concerns their lives were in danger if returned to the Hamas-ruled territory.
Israel sent dozens of Fatah members who had fled clashes in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank on Monday amid concern that others who returned to the Hamas-ruled territory were in mortal danger.
A total of 87 members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's party, which was largely expelled from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in June 2007, arrived in the desert town of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
"(Israel) decided to take the humanitarian decision to transfer to Jericho 87 residents of the Shujaiya neighbourhood in Gaza because of the violence carried out by Hamas," Colonel Yoav Mordechai of the Israeli army said.
"We talked with them on the bus and we told them that Jericho and the West Bank are different from the Gaza Strip and that the Israeli army controls this region. They have to respect the law," he told reporters.
The fugitives were among more than 180 Fatah members who had fled Gaza into Israel on Saturday following the deadliest clashes with their Hamas rivals since the Islamist movement seized control of the impoverished territory.
Israeli authorities initially said they would be sent back to Gaza, but eventually decided that those not considered a security risk could be taken to the West Bank, where Abbas's forces are based.
An Israeli security official said 16 fugitives who were hospitalised for wounds sustained in the fighting will remain in Israel until they recover.
Another 13 people were being held by Israeli internal security services for questioning, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The official said 60 Fatah members had been sent back to Gaza, where several were immediately detained for questioning by Hamas-run security forces.
The defence ministry said it halted the process when it "received information that they were being arrested by Hamas and that their lives were in immediate danger."
Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan had earlier said that 35 people had returned, adding that 10 of them had been arrested and the others had fled.
Abbas on Saturday had asked that the Palestinians be allowed to cross into Israel after several people -- mainly Fatah members -- were killed in clashes with Hamas forces seeking to arrest suspects in a July 25 bombing.
Hamas claimed that Fatah was behind the beachside blast that killed five senior Hamas militants and a little girl, charges Fatah adamantly denies.
A spokesman for the Hamas-run government said those who went to Jericho had by doing so cast doubts on their innocence.
"We never wanted anyone to leave in this regrettable way," government spokesman Taher Nunu told AFP. "This is a path that does harm to them, because by the mere act of fleeing a person places himself in the realm of suspicion."
The two main Palestinian factions launched tit-for-tat arrest campaigns shortly after the attack, although each side has denied its arrests were politically motivated.
Shahwan said nine people, including two police officers, were killed in Saturday's clashes and 90 more wounded. Two hundred people were arrested, of whom 100 have since been released, he said.
On Monday, the Hamas-run administration released the top Fatah leader in Gaza, Zakaria al-Agha, who had been arrested on Friday, in what Nunu called a "sign of goodwill."
Abbas sharply criticised the weekend crackdown in Gaza. "We condemn the criminal acts undertaken by the Hamas leadership against the Palestinian people in Shujaiya in Gaza," his office said in a statement.
"These criminal acts have forced a number of people to flee to Israel, including women and children, and so President Abbas has called on a number of parties to rescue those who are in danger from the Hamas militia.
"The president has also called for the protection of those who are still in Gaza, and for the women and children to be left alone in their homes," the statement said.
Date created : 2008-08-04