Hamas captures last Fatah stronghold; Abbas ends unity government


Gaza : Hamas captured the last Fatah stronghold in Gaza early Friday, bringing the entire Gaza Strip under its control after a day of clashes in which the militant Islamic group picked off several key security compounds.

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Hamas wrested control of four key compounds from Fatah Thursday in clashes that killed at least 14 and also claimed to have executed a senior Fatah commander.

Thursday's violence followed a week of Palestinian faction clashes and led Abbas to declare a state of emergency in Gaza and dissolve the fragile government coalition formed just three months ago between his Fatah organization and Hamas.

Ismail Haniya of Hamas was dismissed as prime minister and the emergency was declared because of the "criminal war" being waged in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Abbas said through a spokesman. An emergency administration will now run the government.

Haniya declared that the government would continue to operate despite the dissolution.

Abbas "made a haphazard decision. Apparently his advisors did not fully consider its consequences," Haniyeh told a press conference, website ynetnews.com reported.

Gunmen from the Islamic Hamas movement took over three key Fatah compounds in Gaza City Thursday, and Abbas' residence fell early Friday.

"This is the beginning of Islamic rule" over Gaza, Hamas declared in a written statement to reporters.

The developments prompted the Arab League to call an extraordinary meeting to discuss not only the Palestinian situation but also violence in Lebanon, where an anti-Syrian politician was killed in an assassination bombing Wednesday.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have discussed the possibility of calling in an international force to quell the fighting, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also raised the idea.

But the feasibility of such a proposal was met with skepticism by the United States, which said it would be difficult to find forces that would be "effective in going into such a clearly non-permissive environment."

However, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US backed Abbas' decision to dissolve the government in the hopes it gave them "an opportunity to return to peace and a better future."

On Thursday morning Hamas rejected the idea of an international force, saying it would be regarded as an "occupying army."

After hours of fighting which killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more, Hamas overpowered Fatah's Preventive Security compound, one of the four major security compounds in Gaza City that fell into its hands by the end of the day.

The Preventive Security is considered Hamas' most hated rival and was previously headed by Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, despised by Hamas for past crackdowns against it and alleged corruption.

Hours later, the General Intelligence headquarters, the Saraya headquarters, which houses the administrative offices of Abbas' security forces, and Abbas' presidential compound also fell to Hamas. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The "conquest" of the compounds means Gaza is now largely in the hands of the ruling, radical Islamic movement, which had already seized most security posts in the north and south of the Strip as well as along the border with Egypt in the past two days.

Hamas militants also manned several roadblocks along Salah a-Din road, thus controlling the Strip's main north-south traffic artery.

Hamas' number two leader in exile, Moussa Abu Marzouk, denied that Hamas was trying to create an Islamic regime in Gaza separated from the West Bank.

The Palestinian territory "is united and will remain," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). "We will work to liberate all Palestinian lands."

Hamas sources said its fighters had executed a senior Fatah commander after seizing him in the central Gaza Strip.

Samih al-Madhoun, a local leader of Fatah's military wing in northern Gaza Strip, was seized when he tried to pass over a Hamas-run checkpoint in Central Gaza Strip town of al-Nussairat. Following a shoot-out between his car and Hamas gunmen, he was reportedly captured and openly executed at a Hamas' fighter house.

Hamas had accused al-Madhoun of staging assaults on its members in northern Gaza Strip and killing a number of them.

A 13-year-old passerby and a Hamas militant also died in exchanges of gunfire in the southern town of Khan Younis, bringing Thursday's death toll to at least 16.

The number of Palestinians killed in vicious internecine clashes since they resurfaced last week and escalated dramatically Monday numbers at least 86.

Abbas had earlier rejected out of hand some eight conditions posed by Hamas in return for a truce, which included demands that he sack certain security chiefs, an aide said earlier.