PA, Hamas continue back-and-forth arrest of leaders

(dpa) - The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip continued their back-and-forth arrests of top party leaders Friday, capping a week of detentions sparked by a car explosion in the Gaza Strip that killed five Hamas militants and a girl.

Hamas blamed Fatah for the blast and arrested over 160 Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip over four days. Fatah said the explosion was due to internal conflicts within the Islamist organization and arrested over 100 Hamas members in the West Bank.

Four Hamas members including Muhammed Ghazal - a leading Hamas member detained the previous day in Nablus - were released by security forces of President Mahmoud Abbas late Friday, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported.

Abbas had told his security forces Thursday night to free all Hamas supporters taken in the West Bank over the past week.

However sources close to the detained activists had told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Friday morning that at that point they were unaware of anyone being released.

On the contrary, they said, more arrests were made overnight, with PA forces arresting Muhammad Ghazal, a member of Hamas leadership council, and many other Hamas leaders and supporters in the West Bank Thursday and Friday morning in a campaign that came in response to Hamas arrest of dozens of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip.

At the same time, PA and Fatah said the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip arrested top Fatah leaders in the salient early Friday morning.

Those arrested included Zakaria al-Agha, the highest ranking Fatah official in the Gaza Strip and member of its Central Committee, as well as Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a senior Fatah official, and many other Fatah leaders.

Hamas said in a statement Friday that "the arrest of Fatah leaders in Gaza came in response to the arrest of Hamas leaders in the West Bank."

For his part, Hussein Sheikh, a Fatah leader in the West Bank, accused the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip of acting like a "gang."

"I think that what is going on now in Gaza are the actions of a gang, a gang with a black heart and mind," he told Israel Radio.

"It (Hamas) wants to take control of the Gaza Strip by force of arms. It is making arrests, going into houses, demolishing houses, punishing people, punishing the women and children of the Fatah leadership in the Gaza Strip. "

He repeated the Fatah accusations that Hamas was split by internal rivalries, saying that "according to the information that we have, there is much dissension inside Hamas and they only want to show this as the picture, as if the problem were between Fatah and Hamas."

The two movements have been at loggerheads since Hamas defeated Fatah in the January 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories.

The tensions came to a head in June 2007 when Hamas gunmen routed forces loyal to Abbas to seize control of security installations in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas retaliated by pulling Fatah out of a Hamas-led unity government and by dismissing Hamas leader Ismail Haniya from his post of premier.

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