Gunmen ambush, kill Hamas commander
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip – Palestinian gunmen ambushed a Hamas commander outside a Gaza courthouse Wednesday, forcing him to his knees and killing him gangland-style in an attack that threatened to push Hamas and Fatah closer to civil war.The brazen daylight slaying forced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to rush home from a trip abroad and dampened already fading hopes for creating a national unity government and renewing peace talks with Israel.The attack on the Hamas activist was the latest in a wave of bloodshed that began Monday when unknown assailants gunned down the three young sons of a Fatah-allied security officer in Gaza City. Fatah accused Hamas in those killings; the Islamic militant group denied involvement.Both sides criticized President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah for failing to halt the violence.On Wednesday morning, four gunmen calmly ate breakfast at a food stand outside the courthouse in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis as they lay in wait for Bassam al-Fara, 30, a judge at the Islamic court, witnesses said.When al-Fara, who belongs to the largest clan in Khan Younis, emerged from a taxi, three men grabbed him and forced him to his knees, while the fourth shot him, the witnesses said. The attack left his body and the sidewalk riddled with bullet holes. The witnesses declined to be identified, fearing for their safety.Palestinian security officials set up roadblocks and Hamas militants established checkpoints of their own as they searched for the gunmen.About 3,000 people turned out for al-Fara’s funeral, some firing shots in the air.Outside the family home, his widow, a black veil covering her face, said her husband had received many death threats, the last on Tuesday, but she would not say from whom.In a statement faxed to reporters, Hamas accused a Fatah “death squad” of al-Fara’s killing. Late Wednesday, Fatah issued a statement saying the killing was a family dispute, and Fatah was not involved.Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said al-Fara was a field commander in the Hamas military wing. He pledged to hunt down the killers. “Hamas is not going to forget the blood of its members,” Barhoum said.Fatah spokesman Tawfik Abu Khoussa rejected the accusations. “We condemn all acts of anarchy whatever may be behind them, and we call on the brothers in Hamas to stop firing accusations before the investigation,” he said.Haniyeh, who was in Sudan, said he would return to Gaza on Thursday, cutting short a trip to Arab and Muslim countries including Iran and Syria. Haniyeh left Gaza on Nov. 28 on what was billed as a monthlong trip.At the al-Fara home in Khan Younis, Hamas lawmaker Salah Bardawil said Abbas was responsible for failing to stop the security agencies from carrying out killings. “We ask the president to live up to his responsibilities before God and the law,” he said.After nightfall, gunmen fired at a Hamas rally at the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, witnesses said. One demonstrator was hurt.Fatah activists also criticized Abbas; about 1,000 Fatah supporters marched to his house in Gaza City, demanding action.Maj. Othman Shalouf, a Palestinian security officer, said Abbas must take charge of the situation.”The time has come to exercise your powers and stop this farce,” he said. “Security agencies are able to control things, but we need a political decision from you.” Abbas was at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the time and had no plans to go to Gaza.Also Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian near the Israel-Gaza border fence. The military said he was armed and carrying explosives. A cease-fire has stopped most violence between Israel and Gaza.Abbas plans a speech to his people on Saturday in which he is expected to outline his plans to hold elections to break the deadlock between Fatah and Hamas.The Hamas victory in January’s parliamentary voting pushed Fatah out of power but led to an economic and political stalemate. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, which list Hamas as a terror group, all cut off contacts, economic ties and aid to the Palestinian government, further deepening poverty and instability in the West Bank and Gaza.Hamas is responsible for dozens of suicide bombing attacks in Israel over the past decade. The Islamic group has rejected international demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals, but Hamas flatly refuses.Israel has tried to promote the idea of separate peace talks with Abbas, a moderate who was elected a year before the parliamentary vote.
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