Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Fatah cuts off all contact with Hamas

EXODUS Hundreds of Gazans fleeing Hamas rule and hoping to gain sanctuary in the West Bank have found themselves trapped on the Israeli-Gaza Strip border


Fatah's top leadership body decided yesterday to cut off all contact with Hamas, a participant said.

The decision was made in a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmed said.

"The Fatah Central Committee decided today not to conduct any kind of contact, dialogue or meetings with Hamas unless it ends its military coup in Gaza and restores the situation to normal," al-Ahmed said. "Fatah will have no relationship with Hamas on any level."

Meanwhile, hundreds of terrified Gazans fleeing Hamas rule were trapped at a main crossing with Israel yesterday, hoping to gain permission to pass through Israeli territory and find sanctuary in the West Bank.

Fearing death or persecution, Gazans began flocking to the Erez passage after Hamas militants wrested control of the coastal strip from Fatah security forces late last week.

Israel, which has no interest in letting masses of Gazans pass through its territory and possibly destabilize the West Bank, has refused to let most of them in, saying their lives were not in danger.

By yesterday, about 600 people were holed up in the long, concrete tunnel that leads to the Israeli side of the crossing. Around 100 people belonged to Fatah security forces, but the rest were civilians, seeking a better life in the West Bank.

Women, children and young men sat between two high concrete walls about 10m apart, looking tired and sweaty. Suitcases and trash were strewn on the ground. Some families sat on mats, others on bare concrete. A breeze barely stirred between the walls and the tunnel, which has no toilets, reeked of urine and sweat.

On Monday, gunmen allied with Hamas disguised themselves as fleeing civilians and hurled hand grenades at Israeli soldiers and Palestinians at Erez, killing a relative of a slain Fatah warlord and injuring 15 other Palestinians.

In a move to maintain order, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles rolled up to the Palestinian side of Erez yesterday, chasing away cars parked next to the tunnel, including vehicles belonging to journalists. Army bulldozers closed the road leading to the terminal with sand, witnesses said.

Two injured men with blood-soaked bandages were among those sleeping on the bare concrete yesterday, and one appeared to have bullet wounds.

"We are imprisoned between two walls and they are firing at us from behind," a bearded man in the Erez tunnel said. "We're calling on ... all the [Palestinian] authorities to protect these people and children."

Like many of the travelers, he declined to identify himself, fearing for his safety.

Israel, which has sophisticated weapons screening equipment in place at Erez, said it was only letting the staff of international organizations, people with special permission and humanitarian cases to cross.

"We don't think that all of them there are threatened," Nir Peres, a military liaison officer, told Israel Radio.

"There is a clear conflict between security needs and humanitarian considerations," Peres said. "It's clear that we don't want to see in the West Bank [Fatah-allied] al-Aqsa militants who carried out attacks in the past."

Israel allowed about 50 senior Fatah officials and their families to cross into the West Bank from Gaza over the weekend, citing threats to their safety. Some 200 other Fatah officials are in Egypt, trying to travel to the West Bank via Jordan, Fatah officials said.

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