The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has intensified a crackdown on a rival Palestinian group. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Hamas security forces have arrested 15 senior officials from the rival Palestinian Fatah faction in Gaza, including two top representatives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They were appointed to oversee Fatah operations in Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in a civil war a year ago. Mr. Abbas's Fatah forces were routed in the conflict and he now heads a more moderate government in the West Bank.

Hamas has arrested more than 200 Fatah members since blaming the group for a bombing that killed five Hamas gunmen and a child in Gaza a week ago. In retaliatory raids, Fatah forces have arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused President Abbas of trying to "liquidate" Hamas.

He said the Gaza arrests are "temporary and limited" and are aimed at pressuring Fatah to release Hamas activists in the West Bank.

Senior Fatah official Hussein al-Sheikh described Hamas as a gang of criminals.

He said the arrests are a major blow to efforts for Palestinian reconciliation.