Page last updated at 21:33 GMT, Saturday, 26 July 2008 22:33 UK

Hamas arrests dozens after blast

Hamas security officials in Gaza (26 July 2008)
Many of those detained on Saturday were senior Fatah officials

Hamas forces in Gaza have detained 160 supporters of the rival Fatah movement after an explosion killed six people, a Palestinian human rights group says.

The Islamist group disputes the figure, but says those being held are suspected of involvement in the blast. Fatah officials have denied any involvement.

Human rights workers also said Hamas had raided Fatah offices and shut down about 40 civil society institutions.

Friday's suspected bombing was one of three in Gaza in a period of 24 hours.

Seven people were killed and at least 18 others were injured during one of the bloodiest days in Gaza since Hamas and Israel agreed a ceasefire last month.

Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007 from Fatah, which is led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

'Dark tunnel'

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights quoted security sources as saying that 162 Fatah supporters had been detained following the explosion on Friday night on Gaza City's coastal road, which killed five Hamas militants and a young girl.

Those who carried out this crime are making war on God, on the security of Gaza, and on the resistance
Khalil al-Hayya
Hamas leader

It said Hamas security forces had also closed tens of civil society organisations, benevolent societies and sports clubs, most of them affiliated with Fatah.

Fatah sources told the Reuters news agency that Hamas supporters had also seized computers and files at the Gaza offices of the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Many of those detained on Saturday were senior Fatah officials, including Ahmed Nasser, its top political leader in Gaza, and Abu al-Abed Khattab, a former major-general in the Palestinian Authority's security forces, they added.

In a statement, the PCHR condemned the suspected bombings but warned against "the implications of climbing down a dark tunnel that will lead to further fragmentation and internal divide, with the price paid by the Palestinian people and their national cause".

Boy injured in Gaza explosion (25 July 2008)
Many enjoying a day by the sea were injured by the Gaza City blast

Hamas officials disputed the figures, but insisted those it had detained were suspected of involvement in a bomb the latest attack.

"The Fatah movement is behind this reprehensible crime," senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told a crowd of supporters at a funeral for those killed, who included one of his nephews.

"Those who carried out this crime are making war on God, on the security of Gaza, and on the resistance," he said. "They will not be released after six months but will be hanged from the gallows and shot."

An unknown group called the Al-Awda Brigades, which claimed to be aligned with Fatah, said it was responsible for the attack. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified.

But the office of President Abbas in Ramallah denied that Fatah had any link to the violence and blamed it on Hamas infighting.

"The claim that Fatah carried out these explosions aims to cover up the fact that there are disputes within Hamas," it said.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool says the Islamist party's firm grip on Gaza has meant relatively few factional killings or attacks against it since taking power, but tensions have remained high.

Beach outing

Earlier on Friday, a bombing outside a cafe in Gaza City killed one person - reportedly the perpetrator - and injured at least three others, Hamas officials said.

It was unclear why the area was bombed, but there have been attacks on internet cafes, music shops and Christian institutions in Gaza in recent months.

Officials also reported a bombing near the home of Marwan Abu Ras, a Hamas politician and academic. No-one was injured.

The explosion on Friday night at a major junction besides Gaza City's beach killed three members of Hamas's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and the 5-year-old girl immediately, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Two more Hamas members died of injuries on Saturday, the ministry added.

The girl killed in the blast had been on her way to the beach with her family, medics said.


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