Hamas warns Abbas: No peace concessions
( AP ) - Thousands of Hamas loyalists protested outside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Gaza City home Friday, warning that violence would erupt if he makes concessions to Israel in a U.S.-sponsored peace conference.
The protest by about 10,000 followers of the militant group came just days after Hamas security shot and killed eight civilians at a large rally of Abbas' Western-backed Fatah party. The rally was Fatah's greatest show of strength since Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip in June.
Abbas called on Thursday for action against the Hamas rulers of Gaza, saying "We have to bring down this bunch ... (that) is abusing the sufferings and pains of our people."
As the leader of the West Bank after he kicked Hamas out of the government and installed his own, Abbas will attend the meeting with Israel in Annapolis, Md. this month. Hamas is not invited.
In Friday's demonstration, the Hamas backers chanted slogans demanding Abbas not give in on the major issues in the conflict.
Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas leader, warned of violence if Palestinian rights over the Al Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem are denied. Bloodshed will also result if Israel does not open Gaza's crossings with the outside world, he said. Israel closed the passages after Hamas' takeover of Gaza.
"We warn the whole region ... against harming Al Aqsa, meddling with our basic rights, or tightening the siege" on Gaza, al-Haya told the crowd. "We warn of a huge explosion, in which Palestinians will blow up in all places ... No seas or barbed wire will prevent that."
Al-Haya's remarks appeared to be a veiled threat of a possible return to attacks.
Israeli security has predicted that Hamas could try to violently derail the peace conference if it appears progress is being made toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the rally was a message to the Annapolis conference.
Hamas' rivalry with Abbas' Fatah movement and control of the Gaza Strip undermine Abbas' ability to negotiate a peace deal on behalf of all Palestinians, and preside over a future state.
Abbas has little influence in Gaza. Hamas has tried to cement its grip on the territory since the rally, rounding up more than 400 Fatah activists and announcing media restrictions and plans to limit public gatherings.
On Friday, Hamas said it had released dozens of the Fatah detainees but was continuing to hold and interrogate an unspecified number who were "directly involved" in the disturbances. Fatah says 450 people were arrested in all.
New-York based Human Rights Watch called on Hamas in a statement Friday to investigate its security forces' "excessive and indiscriminate force against pro-Fatah demonstrators."
Hamas had said Thursday that it established a commission to look into the violence. Human Rights Watch said the body must be "truly independent" and lead to the prosecution of anyone who broke the law.