KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - Palestinian gunmen ambushed a Hamas commander
outside a Gaza courthouse Wednesday, forcing him to his knees and killing him
gangland-style in an attack that threatened to push Hamas and Fatah closer to
The brazen daylight slaying
forced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to rush home from a trip abroad
and dampened already fading hopes for creating a national unity government and
renewing peace talks with Israel.
Palestinan masked Hamas militants march during the funeral of
Bassam al-Fara, a local Hamas leader, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza
Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006. [AP]
The attack on the Hamas activist was the latest in a wave of bloodshed that
began Monday when unknown assailants gunned down the three young sons of a
Fatah-allied security officer in Gaza City. Fatah accused Hamas in those
killings; the Islamic militant group denied involvement.
Both sides criticized President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah for failing to halt
On Wednesday morning, four gunmen calmly ate breakfast at a food stand
outside the courthouse in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis as they lay in
wait for Bassam al-Fara, 30, a judge at the Islamic court, witnesses said.
When al-Fara, who belongs to the largest clan in Khan Younis, emerged from a
taxi, three men grabbed him and forced him to his knees, while the fourth shot
him, the witnesses said. The attack left his body and the sidewalk riddled with
bullet holes. The witnesses declined to be identified, fearing for their safety.
Palestinian security officials set up roadblocks and Hamas militants
established checkpoints of their own as they searched for the gunmen.
About 3,000 people turned out for al-Fara's funeral, some firing shots in the
Outside the family home, his widow, a black veil covering her face, said her
husband had received many death threats, the last on Tuesday, but she would not
say from whom.
In a statement faxed to reporters, Hamas accused a Fatah "death squad" of
al-Fara's killing. Late Wednesday, Fatah issued a statement saying the killing
was a family dispute, and Fatah was not involved.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said al-Fara was a field commander in the
Hamas military wing. He pledged to hunt down the killers. "Hamas is not going to
forget the blood of its members," Barhoum said.
Fatah spokesman Tawfik Abu Khoussa rejected the accusations. "We condemn all
acts of anarchy whatever may be behind them, and we call on the brothers in
Hamas to stop firing accusations before the investigation," he said.
Haniyeh, who was in Sudan, said he would return to Gaza
on Thursday, cutting short a trip to Arab and Muslim countries including Iran
and Syria. Haniyeh left Gaza on Nov. 28 on what was billed as a monthlong trip.