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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 14:11 GMT
Palestinians divided over Hamas
Rioting at house of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
There were violent clashes when police tried to arrest Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Kylie Morris

After a lull of just 48 hours, Israel has resumed its attacks on the Palestinian territories, with F-16 fighter planes being used to attack Gaza City.

Though Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he has arrested 180 Islamic militants since the weekend suicide attacks, the message from Israel would appear to be - that is not good enough.

Fatah members demonstrating
Fatah still enjoys large support
In a demonstration in Gaza City on Thursday morning, a few hundred Fatah supporters held aloft pictures of Yasser Arafat, shouted nationalist slogans and declared that Yasser Arafat is the one and the only Palestinian Authority.

But the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is not pulling the crowds he used to, not at least compared to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Spiritual leader

When I last interviewed him, Sheikh Yassin explained that Israel is the occupying force, and it is subject to attack because it attacks Palestinians.

His views are the foundation of the organisation's philosophies.

An attempt by the Palestinian Authority to put the Sheikh under house arrest prompted running gun battles between his supporters and the Palestinian police.

Painting of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Sheikh Yassin is drawing more support

At the height of the troubles, in which one Hamas supporter was killed, armed Hamas hard-liners took back control of his street from the Palestinian police.

In that same street late on Thursday, his supporters were remembering the heroics of the night before.

One man explained why thousands of people descended on the neighbourhood:

"They were very angry. They wanted to criticise the Palestinian authority who were being illogical, and it's only because of Israeli and American pressure," he said.

Fear of violence

According to another Hamas supporter, what happens next is up to the Palestinian Authority.

"If the Palestinian Authority wants to escalate, we are ready, and if they don't want to, they have the choice," he said.

That could lead to what would be a nightmare for the Palestinian Authority - Palestinians against Palestinians, and open rebellion in the streets.

The Palestinian Authority always knew that any attempt to control the Hamas founder was risky, now it has a picture-perfect illustration of the risks it faces if it takes on its enemies within, even as a much bigger enemy, Israel, is loading on the pressure.

The BBC's Kylie Morris
Reports from Gaza
See also:

04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat's Hamas problem
06 Dec 01 | profiles
Sheikh Yassin: Spiritual figurehead
06 Dec 01 | Middle East
Now what for Arafat?
06 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's 'relentless' strategy
05 Dec 01 | Middle East
US torn over Arafat
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