Hamas clamps down on Fatah supporters
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas security agents clashed with supporters of the rival Fatah movement Friday, firing into the air and beating journalists covering a demonstration against the Islamic militant group’s rule in the Gaza Strip.It was the second time in recent weeks that Hamas has scuffled with Fatah protesters, a signal of possible cracks in the Islamic group’s two-month-old takeover of Gaza. Harassment of journalists and political opponents has grown increasingly common in the coastal strip.The demonstrators gathered after weekly Muslim prayers in an open square in Gaza City, organized by Fatah activists who say they have not been welcome in mosques since the Hamas takeover.The protesters threw stones and bottles at a former Fatah security compound now used as headquarters of the Hamas paramilitary police. Hamas men fired guns over the heads of hundreds of demonstrators.The Fatah activists shouted names of former leaders forced into exile. Some wore T-shirts with a photo of Samih Madhoun, a notorious Fatah strongman killed by a crowd of Hamas supporters during five days of fighting in June that led to the Hamas takeover.When several Hamas security men roughed up a Reuters TV cameraman and tried to confiscate his camera, protesters surrounded the Hamas men, beat them to the ground and prevented the journalist’s arrest.The Hamas men also detained a photographer for Agence France-Presse and a cameraman for the Russian TV channel Russia Today, along with two other reporters working for local news outlets. They also broke a TV camera belonging to the Arabic-language TV network al-Arabiya.All four detained journalists were quickly released and got their equipment back, Hamas officials and witnesses said. Later, journalists staged a protest against the crackdown.Khaled Bolbol, one of the local reporters detained, said he was abused and ordered to speak to Hamas’ al-Aqsa television station.”I refused,” he said. “I was beaten and stepped on … I don’t want to speak to (Hamas) TV or any other.”Hamas militia spokesman Islam Shahwan accused a small group of Fatah activists of “inciting chaos and bringing back the situation to lawlessness.” He said Hamas “will not allow the situation to be repeated” and promised to arrest those behind the protest.Hamas says it is willing to tolerate dissent, but has cracked down on the remnants of Fatah in Gaza, including breaking up private parties earlier this month where people were singing pro-Fatah songs.At a recent protest, Hamas security men clubbed Fatah protesters, seized photographers’ cameras and raided media offices to prevent news footage from getting out.Hamas has closed down all opposition media and banned protests that lack official permission.In southern Gaza, deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said protests must be held “according to the law.” Since taking control of Gaza in five days of fighting, Hamas has pledged to restore law and order to the chaotic territory.”The right of protest for all forces and factions is unaffected, but it must be on the basis of the law and protect (Gaza) against the return of chaos,” he told worshippers.After Hamas’ victory in Gaza, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah formed a new government in the West Bank, ousting Haniyeh. That government has been embraced by Israel and the international community while Hamas has remained largely isolated in Gaza.Separately Friday, the Israeli army said it killed two Palestinian militants who fired at soldiers on the Israeli side of the border. An Israeli raid in search of militants in a West Bank village sparked a firefight that left two Palestinians dead, including an 11-year-old boy, Palestinian officials said.