2 Palestinian factions clash

Backers of Fatah, Hamas fight in streets over dispute between Abbas, ruling party


JERUSALEM -- Street clashes erupted yesterday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a dispute between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian government.

Stone-throwing confrontations in Gaza City and the northern West Bank town of Nablus broke out between hundreds of supporters of Hamas and Fatah, the former ruling faction defeated in January's parliamentary election.

Palestinian police and witnesses said the separate melees escalated to include firebombs and an exchange of gunfire. Scores of people were hurt, but no one was killed.

The violence began after exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in an address delivered late Friday, accused Abbas of being a traitor for seeking to limit Hamas' powers of governance.

Abbas, who is considered a relative moderate, had issued a decree earlier in the day that annulled Hamas' appointment of a well-known Palestinian militant leader as chief of a new security force mainly made up of members of "resistance factions," or groups involved in the fight against Israel.

Hamas did not immediately indicate how it intended to respond to Abbas' decree.

Meshaal, in a message disseminated from his base in Damascus, Syria, had suggested that Abbas was party to a "military-Zionist" effort to topple the Hamas government.

The clashes were the worst open fighting in months between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas formally took control of the Palestinian Authority last month after its upset election victory in January. Until then, the sole governing authority had been Fatah.

Palestinian Interior Minister Said Siyam appointed Jamal Abu Samhadana, a wanted militant accused of masterminding several attacks on Israel, to lead the new security force Tursday. Abbas annulled the appointment Friday.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Khaled Abu Hilal, offered reassurances yesterday that the new force would come under the auspices of the existing Palestinian security apparatus, which largely is controlled by Abbas.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times. Fayed Abu Shammalah of the Times contributed to this article from Gaza City.

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