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24 Palestinians Killed as Rival Islamic Groups Clash in Gaza

  • Robert Berger

At least 24 Palestinians have been killed and more than 120 wounded in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip during clashes between rival Islamic militant groups.

Hamas security forces launched a fierce assault on a mosque in Gaza, and the leader of a rival Islamic group inspired by al-Qaida was killed along with many of his armed followers. Hamas officials say more than a dozen gunmen from Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Followers of God, were killed, as well as several Hamas policemen and an 11-year-old girl.

Hamas accused the leader of the group, Abdel-Latif Moussa, of treason after he gave a fiery sermon at Friday prayers.

Moussa declared Gaza an Islamic emirate - challenging Hamas rule with a more radical form of Islam. Hamas says Moussa was killed when he blew up an explosives vest he was wearing during the shootout.

Israel has charged that al-Qaida, the group responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, has infiltrated Gaza from the outside. But Ihab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, denied that.

Ghussein said Moussa's group was Palestinian and had no external ties. He said the group has carried out bomb attacks on Internet cafés and wedding parties, in what he described as a misguided attempt to impose Islamic Law on Gaza.

Since many Palestinians are secular, especially in the West Bank, Hamas has been reluctant to impose strict Islamic Law on Gaza, saying it prefers to set a pious example for people to follow.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in the Palestinian civil war two years ago, routing the Fatah forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, who now heads a more moderate government in the West Bank. Since then Hamas has violently quelled any resistance by Fatah and other groups in Gaza.

Responding to the latest clashes, Hamas said it put down a coup by "outlaws."

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