Loyal to Mahmoud Abbas (photo), the Palestinian president, security forces have detained 35 members of the rival Hamas movement, in the West Bank.
They were arrested on Sunday, in Jenin and Tulkarm, after a crackdown in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Hamas, where in recent days almost 200 members of Mr Abbas’s Fatah faction have been rounded up.
But a senior Palestinian security official denied that the arrests in the West Bank and events in Gaza were linked, though it began after Palestinian rivals have been blamed by Hamas for three bomb blasts that killed five fighters and a young girl on Friday.
And since then, along with the arrests, witnesses say that roadblocks have been set up by Hamas officials across the Gaza Strip, in order to check for guns, explosives and suspects.
On Sunday, when Hamas- run security forces clashed with members of the Army of Islam group, at least six people were wounded.
“Hamas forces came to arrest us early this morning, just after midnight”, one member of the group, who asked not to be named, told reporters.
“There was fighting for several hours, with rocket-propelled grenades, explosions and gunfire, but they did not arrest anyone.”
‘Shed one another’s blood’
The spectre of the factional violence has been raised by Friday’s bombing on the beachfront in Gaza, that would kill hundreds of people, during which Hamas seized full control of the territory.
“We are afraid that the devil is pitting brothers against each other and they will shed one another’s blood”, said Fatima Ahmed-Salama, a 40-year-old mother of six in Gaza.
The internecine fighting harmed only Palestinians, not Israel, said Abu Adel, a 65-year-old man. “I ask God to calm them down and make them stop before we have more dead”.
According to Hamas, it is to undermine its rule that Fatah carried out the attacks, but any involvement in the blast has been denied by the latter, who said that the attack was part of an internal conflict within Hamas.
The independent Al-Mizan Centre for Human Rights said that more than 120 offices, sporting clubs and charities, most of them linked to Fatah, have been raided since the bombing, confiscating computers and documents.
Houses of Zakariya al-Agha and Ibrahim al-Naja, the two Fatah leaders, have also been raided, and their cars confiscated, a senior Fatah official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
Hamas officials have denied that the latest string of arrests was political.
“There were only a limited number of people arrested and most of them were later released”, said Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman.
“We condemn this focus on the arrests, which are connected to the murder of five fighters and a child, while everyone ignores those who were arrested in the West Bank for political reasons.”
Calls for dialogue with Hamas, which won a majority in a 2006 parliamentary poll, have been renewed by Mr Abbas, who also said that Friday’s blast should be investigated by an independent Palestinian committee.
Palestinian president said, after talks with Hosni Mubarak, his Egyptian counterpart, that the attack regrettable and unacceptable. He added that “within days”, representatives of Palestinian factions would be invited by Egypt to dialogue sessions in Cairo.
Previous attempts to mend fences between the two sides have ended in failure.
In the same time, on Sunday, a senior Hamas fighter has been killed by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian medical workers and Hamas officials.
Refused to surrender
In the city of Hebron, after Shihab al-Natsheh, 25, refused to surrender and opened fire at Israeli soldiers, they fired a shell at his house, said local residents.
According to other witnesses, the house has been surrounded by Israeli soldiers, who exchanged fire with Mr al-Natsheh and eventually bulldozed the house hours later, when he refused to surrender.
Shihab al-Natsheh’s badly mauled body was seen being removed from the rubble.
He was a Hamas member, said the group, adding that for 12 hours he fought the soldiers, before being killed.
The Izz el-Din Brigade, the group’s armed wing, vowed to avenge his killing.
In a statement it said : “Our response will be swift and painful.”
The Israeli military confirmed it carried out the raid, saying that during the exchange of fire, troops heard explosions from inside the house, presumably from bombs stored inside.