Gaza Crisis Prompts Haniya’s Return

GAZA CITY – The Palestinian prime minister is cutting short a foreign tour and returning to Gaza on Thursday.

Ismail Haniya was due to be travelling for a month after he left Gaza on November 28, but growing violence in the Palestinian territories between supporters of Hamas and Fatah has forced an early return.

In the latest incident the judge of an Islamic tribunal was shot dead by unidentified men in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis on Wednesday.

Bassam al-Farah was a prominent member of the Hamas movement, which blamed Fatah for the latest killing.

In a statement faxed to reporters, Hamas openly accused a Fatah "death squad" of the killing.

Witnesses said four gunmen waited for al-Fara outside a courthouse. When al-Fara emerged from a taxi, three of the men grabbed him and forced him onto his knees, while the fourth pulled out a weapon and shot him, they said.

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas member of parliament, said: "The seekers of the coup in Fatah bear the responsibility for all actions of chaos taking place in the Palestinian streets."

Tawfik Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman, rejected the accusations.

"We condemn all acts of anarchy whatever may be behind them, we call on the brothers in Hamas to stop firing accusations before the investigation," he said.

Security Concerns

Speaking to reporters in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Wednesday, Haniya dismissed fears that the violence could develop into a civil war.

"We want to assure you that words such as ‘civil war’ don’t exist in our dictionary. They don’t exist in our make-up, in our culture," he said.

"We don’t have time for internal feuds. We will protect the national unity of the Palestinian people and we will thwart any attempt to instigate an inter-Palestinian struggle."

However, one sign of the growing uncertainty and deteriorating security situation was the demonstration outside the parliament building in Gaza.

Hundreds of protesters had earlier gathered in the square to protest at the killing of three young children of a Fatah-allied Palestinian intelligence officer two days ago.
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, said the crowd comprised schoolchildren, mothers, civil society activists and former members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The crowd marched into the PLC where speeches were made to current members, all saying the only way to achieve national security was through national unity.

Armed Factions

Hamas and Fatah have adopted entrenched positions of late. The Fatah-led PLO executive committee has recommended calling early elections.

These calls have been rejected by Hamas, which says the executive committee does not have the authority to make such recommendations.

Meanwhile on the ground, the cycle of killing continues. Al Jazeera’s David Chater joined a patrol of the Hames-led Executive Force in Khan Younis.

The group has had its numbers thinned by targeted killings by Israel, but with more than 5,000 men they are a force to be reckoned with.

Its commander is on that country’s wanted list and he told Al Jazeera that his group’s mission is to protect the Palestinian people from chaos.

He has already been in a shooting match with rival Palestinian factions and, although he says he hopes he is not in that situation again, he said that if he is "forced to stop an outlaw, I will do it again and I won’t regret it".

 -Al Jazeera and agencies

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