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Palestinian Fatah Faction Threatens to Kill Leaders of Hamas


Tensions are running high in the Gaza Strip, where fighting between rival Palestinian factions has left 12 people dead since Sunday. It is part of an escalating power struggle between the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and the more moderate Fatah faction.

Palestinian gunmen from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, have issued a leaflet threatening to kill the top leaders of Hamas. The hit list includes Khaled Mashaal, the top leader of Hamas based in Syria, and two senior interior ministry officials in Gaza.

The leaflet described these leaders as traitors and accused them of inciting a deadly wave of violence in Gaza.

The fighting erupted Sunday, when Hamas militiamen moved in to break up protests by striking policemen and civil servants loyal to Fatah who were demanding salaries that have not been paid for six months. The situation quickly deteriorated into gun battles on the streets.

Hamas has been crippled by international sanctions because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. So it has not been able to pay the salaries of 165,000 civil servants since it took power in March.

Kadour al-Faris, a former Palestinian legislator from Fatah, says the situation can only be described as civil war.

"When Palestinians are killing other Palestinians it is civil war," al-Faris told Israel Radio.

Hamas, in turn, has accused Fatah of trying to topple the government in a coup d'├ętat. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad also spoke on Israel Radio.

Hamad said Fatah called the strike with the aim of inciting riots. He said the only way out of the crisis is to establish a national unity government in which Hamas and Fatah share power.

Both sides have agreed to such a government in principle, in a bid to present more moderate policies that would end Western sanctions. But talks between the two factions broke down last week, when Hamas rejected a key international demand and refused to recognize Israel.

The State Department has designated Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as terrorist organizations.