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Middle East
Hamas seizes Fatah loyalists
Palestinian PM says government is still functioning as Hamas gains control of Gaza.
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2007 10:31 GMT
Hamas fighters posed for photographs after capturing the presidential compound in Gaza City [Reuters] 
Hamas fighters, now in apparent full-control of the Gaza Strip, have seized several senior Palestinian security force commanders and Fatah officials, a spokesman for the group's military wing said.

The commanders of the National Security Force and the Presidential Guard were among those being interrogated by Hamas, Abu Obeideh said on Friday.
Earlier, Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister and Hamas member, said that the "unity government" would continue to function despite being sacked by Mahmoud Abbas, the president.

He called his dismissal and the declaration of a state of emergency on Thursday "hasty".

Abbas was expected to name an emergency government later on Friday, aides said.


Looting

Civilians poured into the presidential compound in Gaza City on Friday, hauling away fridges, satellite dishes, and doors, as Hamas fighters fired shots into the air in an attempt to disperse them.

"This is our money, the money of the people and we are taking some of it," one looter said.


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But another resident nearby expressed concern at the chaos.


"This is a coup," said Abu Khaled. "What we see today is an indicator of the future, chaos will prevail."


Security force vehicles and weapons had already been taken by members of the armed men and some the compound's buildings were set on fire.

Portraits of Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, lay on the ground as Hamas fighters showed reporters pools of blood where they said two of Abbas's guards shot themselves rather than surrender.

A Fatah official said the guards were killed.

Other armed men had their pictures taken sitting at Abbas's desk and in his bedroom.

 

Embargo

With Gaza effectively under the control of Hamas, Israel and the United States were preparing to ease an embargo on the Palestinian Authority in order to channel funds to Abbas's Fatah-run West Bank administration.


"If there will be an emergency government without participation of Hamas, then the funds can flow," a senior Israeli official said. "From our point of view, there isn't a Hamas government any more."

Fatah and Hamas had formed a unity government in March in a deal brokered at Mecca in an effort to overcome their differences.

The Israeli army said on Friday that all crossings into the Gaza Strip had been closed after Hamas seized control of the territory.

"The crossings are closed until further notice. There are constantly security assessments," an army spokeswoman said.

Haniya promises the government will
continue to function in Gaza [EPA]
The closure includes the Erez crossing - the route for travellers between the territory and Israel - and the Rafah border terminal with Egypt.

 

Some 3,000 Palestinian travellers remain stranded in the El Arish area of Egypt due to the border closure, most of them anxious to go home and make contact with their families.

 

Hamas has said that it plans to take control of the Rafah crossing, which was previously patrolled by Abbas' Presidential Guard.

 

Under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, it was monitored by European observers. It is not clear whether the monitors or Israel would accept such an arrangement.

 

Fleeing Gaza

 

Ninety-seven Palestinians, most of them aligned with Fatah and fleeing the advance of Hamas, sailed into the Egyptian port of El Arish on Friday aboard a fishing boat, Egyptian police said.

 

The boat contained members of the Preventive Security force, the civilian police force, the border guard, the Fatah-run intelligence service and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is also affiliated with Fatah. Thirteen had been wounded in the fighting.

 

Overnight, about 20 Palestinian civilians also managed to enter Egypt through the main Rafah crossing point, thought it is officially closed.

 

About 100 police and border guards loyal to Abbas handed themselves over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border on Thursday as they attempted to escape the fighting.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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