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Israel to Send Fatah Fighters Fleeing from Gaza  to West Bank

Israel is giving a reprieve to Palestinian fighters who escaped from internal fighting in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israel will allow about 150 Palestinians from the Fatah faction to relocate to the West Bank after they fled a crackdown by the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza. About 180 Fatah men were allowed to cross the border into Israel on Saturday, after Hamas launched an assault on their stronghold in Gaza City.

Nine people were killed in some of the bloodiest fighting since Hamas routed Fatah forces and seized control of Gaza in a civil war a year ago. Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now heads a more moderate government in the West Bank.

At first, Mr. Abbas asked Israel to send the fighters back to Gaza on grounds that he wanted Fatah to maintain a presence there. But he changed his mind after 30 men who were sent back were immediately arrested by Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri says they are being questioned in connection with a bombing that killed five Hamas gunmen and a child in Gaza 10 days ago. Hamas blamed Fatah for the attack and since then has detained more than 200 Fatah men in Gaza including top leaders.

A Fatah leader who was wounded and fled to Israel, Ahmed Hilles, accused Hamas of an abuse of power.

He said Hamas cannot continue to govern by force and the days of its regime are numbered.

Israel is caught in the middle between the warring Palestinian factions. It allowed the Fatah men to cross the border, fearing that they would be massacred by Hamas. Now, they will be allowed to take refuge in the Fatah-ruled West Bank.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Yitzhak Herzog.

"We are seeing unique circumstances in the Gaza region, and clearly we have taken a humanitarian gesture in this respect,"

One Fatah official said it is a "cruel" state of affairs when Palestinians have to seek mercy from Israel to escape from their own brothers in Hamas.