After six days of fighting that have killed over 100 people and ripped apart
Palestinians' hopes for a state, President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led
government and declared a state of emergency. He held out the prospect of early
elections but it was gun law not the constitution that held sway in Gaza.
Islamist Hamas fighters hunted down key loyalists of the Western-backed
Palestinian president in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after seizing most of the
final strongholds of his secular Fatah movement in the enclave.
Hamas militants "executed" a top Fatah "collaborator" and paraded his body
through the streets and leaders issued a death list of other Fatah supporters.
They dismissed the decrees issued in the Fatah-controlled West Bank and said
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remained in charge in their enclave.
Jubilant young Hamas gunmen hoisted green Islamist flags over captured Fatah
buildings and pounded the remaining Fatah bastion, Abbas's own Gaza compound,
with heavy weaponry.
The White House accused them of "acts of terror" and U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice called Abbas to emphasise support for Palestinian "moderates",
but admitted that finding troops for any international force for Gaza would be
Israel and its allies contemplated the emergence of an aggressive, Islamist
"Hamastan" on its border and a split between Gaza and the larger West Bank,
controlled by Fatah.
In the West Bank, Abbas, signed decrees dismissing a three-month-old unity
government formed with Hamas and declaring a state of emergency. But violence
overtook any legal moves.
At least 29 more people were killed in Gaza, hospital staff said, including
18 Fatah men found in the headquarters of Abbas's Preventive Security force,
whose rout early in the day prompted Hamas to declare victory and the
"liberation" of Gaza.
In all, at least 110 people have been killed in six days of fighting that
many of Gaza's impoverished 1.5 million people saw as a civil war that has left
them under religious rulers set on defying a crippling Israeli and Western
embargo on the Strip.
The fighting has already halted aid shipments from Israel.
Casualty figures are unclear, as was the fate of Fatah fighters seen led
away, bare-chested, after surrendering. There were unconfirmed reports of
prisoners being shot.
A Fatah official in Gaza said he had seen eight colleagues gunned down while
he escaped death "by a miracle".
Hamas's armed wing issued a statement saying it had "executed" Samih
al-Madhoun of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyears Brigades, a close ally of Abbas's top
security aide Mohammad Dahlan.
Fatah officials said Madhoun was alive but his family said he was missing. A
senior Hamas source insisted he had been captured and killed. Residents later
said they saw Hamas fighters parading Madhoun's body in the street.
For Hamas fighters, some in camouflage uniforms, the fall of the security
headquarters was a cause for celebration. They fired gunshots in the air to seal
their victory and handed out chocolates to local people in the coastal enclave.
"Allahu akbar!" (God is Greatest) one chanted through a megaphone from the
roof of the beachfront headquarters of Fatah's intelligence service, captured
later in the day.
Others paraded in the streets and showed off weaponry seized from Fatah,
whose forces the United States has helped train and arm in a bid to counter the
rise of Hamas -- to little effect.
In a statement of victory, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri declared in Gaza:
"What happened today in the Preventive Security headquarters was the second
liberation of the Gaza Strip, this time from the herds of collaborators," the
first being Israel's 2005 pullout of troops and Jewish settlers.
Diplomats told Reuters that an aide to Abbas had admitted that hundreds of
Fatah's men ran from the battle or ran out of bullets during the fighting. Those
in Abbas's own presidential compound in Gaza were among the few still holding
The Islamist group said it had also swept control of other Fatah strongholds
across Gaza. Pro-Fatah broadcasts went off the air and the Voice of Palestine
radio station was set ablaze.
Some Fatah gunmen retaliated against Hamas in the West Bank, shooting and
wounding a Hamas man near Ramallah, seizing Hamas supporters in the towns of
Jenin and in Nablus, where they also stormed a Hamas office and hurled its
computers out the window.
Businesses owned by Hamas supporters were also targeted by angry crowds in
the territory occupied by Israel, where some 2.5 million Palestinians live, in
the hills around Jerusalem.