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Hamas Detains Fatah Men Returned From Israel to Gaza

The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is continuing a crackdown on Palestinians from the rival Fatah faction. Some Fatah men have sought refuge in Israel. Israel on Sunday began sending dozens of Palestinian Fatah members who fled deadly fighting in the Gaza Strip back to the territory, where they were detained by Hamas security forces. Robert Berger reports for VOA from Jerusalem.

Israel plans to return most of the 180 supporters of the Palestinian Fatah faction to Gaza, after they fled across the border Saturday to escape a bloody crackdown by Hamas. Nine Palestinians were killed and 90 wounded when Hamas attacked a Fatah stronghold in Gaza City. Hamas charged that the perpetrators of a bombing that killed five Hamas gunmen and a child a week ago were holed up in the neighborhood.

It was one of the bloodiest days of fighting since Hamas routed Fatah forces in the Gaza civil war a year ago. Today, Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a more moderate government in the West Bank.

Israel allowed the Fatah men into the country and the wounded are receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals. But Israel decided to send most of the men back to Gaza in response to a request from Mr. Abbas. Palestinian officials say moving the men to the West Bank would be handing Hamas a victory while further weakening Fatah in Gaza.

But when the first 30 Fatah men were returned to Gaza, they were immediately arrested by Hamas security forces.

Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdel Hadi condemned Hamas actions, saying they are harming efforts at dialogue and reconciliation.

"Nobody can govern by gun, and everybody wants to go to Gaza to dialogue with everybody and put an end for this military, ugly, brutal coup d'etat," said Mahdi Abdel Hadi.

The spectacle of Fatah supporters fleeing for refuge in Israel points to an ironic new reality in the wake of the Gaza civil war: Fatah men would rather face detention by the Israeli army than by their fellow Palestinians from Hamas in Gaza.