Top Palestinian government aide abducted in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) – A senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s government was abducted by unknown gunmen in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday, Abbas’s Fatah faction said.

It was the highest-profile abduction since Hamas Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing secular Fatah forces.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah remain high in Gaza, where an explosion hit a funeral procession for three militants killed in an Israeli air strike on Thursday.

Medical officials said at least two mourners died and 35 were wounded in Friday’s funeral blast. Hamas security sources said a gunman appeared to have accidentally dropped a hand grenade into the crowd.

Fatah said Omar al-Ghoul, who advises Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, was taken from his home in Gaza one day after he arrived in the coastal territory from the occupied West Bank.

Ghoul has been living in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Fayyad’s government is based, for the last three months. It was not immediately clear why he returned to Gaza, where his family lives.

Fayyad’s information minister, Riyad al-Malki, blamed “criminals working for Hamas” for the abduction and called for Ghoul’s immediate release.

“Hamas and all of its parties are responsible for his life.” Malki said the abduction was a message to Fatah leaders that “Gaza is closed to them”.

Hamas denied any involvement and said its forces were investigating the incident. No group has claimed responsibility.

Ghoul is a well-known columnist for local newspapers and a frequent critic of Hamas.

Abbas responded to the takeover of Gaza by dismissing a Hamas-led government and appointing Fayyad to run a Western-backed administration in the occupied West Bank.

Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But the Islamist group continues to say it will not formally recognize Israel and its 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

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