Gunmen from the Palestinian Fatah faction have seized institutions of the rival Islamic militant group Hamas in the West Bank. Fatah went on the offensive after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip earlier this week. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Fatah gunmen stormed Hamas-controlled institutions in the West Bank. They planted the Fatah flag on the roof of the parliament building in Ramallah and took over the city council in Nablus. Hamas officials and their staff were expelled and told not to return. At least seven Hamas activists were kidnapped.
The attacks were revenge for the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza this week, in which Fatah security forces were routed.
Independent Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Fatah must not allow the civil war in Gaza to spill over to the West Bank. "There have been several calls by everybody concerned, by all political leaders, asking for calm and quiet and for public order and not to resort to acts of vengeance," she said.
There were also acts of vengeance in Gaza, where crowds looted the home of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a co-founder and symbol of Fatah.
Ashrawi expressed shock, describing the Hamas takeover of Gaza as a coup d'état. "This is a deliberate blow to Palestinian realities, to the Palestinian national agenda," she said, "but it is also a division - dividing Palestine into two entities, Gaza and the West Bank. And this is absolutely drastic. It's disastrous for Palestinian realities."
The United States has expressed support for the West Bank entity headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who supports peace talks with Israel. The U.S. informed Mr. Abbas that it will end a crippling aid embargo on the Palestinians as soon as he forms a new government without Hamas. The U.S. aim is to strengthen Palestinian moderates while weakening the radicals.