Hamas leaders, Gaza's effective rulers, say they will ban the public prayers because they are politicised and aimed at deepening divisions in Palestinian society.

 

Islam Shahwan, spokesperson for the Hamas Executive Force, said: "We will not allow anyone to break the decision of the government and we will strike with an iron fist all those who try to sabotage public order."

 

Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh said a relgious ruling (fatwa) from Hamas-allied religious figures has backed the decision, calling those who attend the demonstrations "sinners".

 

Grenade

 

Last Friday there were violent scenes when the Executive Force cracked down on a rally after Friday prayers.

 

Thirteen people were injured, including a French journalist, when a grenade was thrown amid the demonstrators.

 

Palestinian human rights organisations have accused the Executive Force of torturing and mistreating the dozens detained during the crackdown. They have also condemned the force's imposition of fines on the detainees.

 

The Hamas Executive Force held a news conference late on Thursday in which one of its officials called those participating in Friday demonstration prayers and rallies "poisonous bacteria".

 

The force has made assurances that it will deal with protesters "appropriately", promising Fatah supporters and the media with a "surprise".

 

Israeli raid

 

In related news, the Israeli army killed six armed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Thursday as they approached a military position intending to launch an attack, an Israeli army officer said.

  

"Six Palestinians armed with assault rifles and grenades, who were approaching a military position in the Kissufim area, intending to attack, were killed during a combined air force and infantry action," Colonel Shlomi Dahan said.

 

The incursion on Thursday came a day after Israel's defence minister said a broad operation inside the territory was inevitable.