Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Fatah releases deputy mayor of Nablus unharmed

AP , NABLUS, WEST BANK

Fatah gunmen released the deputy mayor of Nablus unharmed yesterday, two days after kidnapping him in a wave of factional violence spreading through the West Bank.

But new unrest erupted elsewhere in the West Bank, as Fatah militants torched stores of Hamas supporters in Ramallah and shot at the house of a top Hamas official.

The kidnapping of Mahdi al-Khamdali, a top Hamas official in the West Bank's commercial center, had raised fears that the violence could soon spin out of control.

His captors released a video on Sunday showing him surrounded by masked gunmen, who threatened to carry out widespread attacks on Hamas targets.

Al-Khamdali, unshaven and his shoes covered in mud, said he was not hurt in captivity.

"They treated me well. They didn't ask me for anything special," he told reporters.

He thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, and other officials for working for his release.

Fatah and Hamas have been in a vicious power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections last year. Hamas controls the legislature and most government functions, while Fatah holds the powerful presidency.

Abbas, a moderate, favors peace talks with Israel, while Hamas rejects the Jewish state's right to exist, despite an international boycott against its government. Abbas has urged Hamas to join Fatah in a more moderate unity government, but months of negotiations collapsed in late November, sparking the latest round of factional violence.

More than 30 people have been killed in the past month of fighting in the Gaza Strip. In recent days, the violence has spread to the West Bank, with a series of shootings and kidnappings.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Fatah militants set fire to six stores belonging to Hamas supporters, security officials said. A large clothing store and a money changing shop were destroyed, the officials said.

Also in Ramallah, the car of former finance minister Salam Fayyad was hit by gunfire accidentally discharged by one of his bodyguards, police said.

The shooting had raised concerns that Fayyad, a former official in the International Monetary Fund, might have been targeted amid a new wave of factional violence.

In the town of el-Bireh, outside Ramallah, militants fired shots at the house of the Hamas-allied mayor, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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