Hamas bans rally by Abbas’s supporters in Gaza

GAZA – Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip have barred supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction from holding an anniversary rally for the movement next week, Hamas officials said on Saturday.

A massive rally by Fatah in November, marking the third anniversary of the death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, ended in gunfire that killed seven people.

Hamas police officials said the ruling group, which seized Gaza in June after routing Abbas’s forces, decided to ban next Tuesday’s rally, an annual event marking Fatah’s founding on Jan 1, 1965.

A Hamas police official said the decision “was meant to protect Palestinian citizens from any acts of sabotage that … may be planned to exploit the anniversary.”

A Fatah official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused Hamas of acting like “an occupation force”, a term Palestinians usually use to describe Israel.

“The ban will not weaken Fatah. On the contrary, the more oppressive the measures by Hamas, the more popular we will get,” the Fatah official said.

Tension between Hamas and Fatah has risen in the run-up to next week’s rally.

On Friday, two Hamas militants were shot and wounded in an attack on a security position.

Hamas security forces also arrested more than 40 members of Fatah, some of whom were painting murals to commemorate Fatah’s founding, Fatah officials said.

Hamas officials have been urging their leaders to ban the Fatah rally in response to Abbas’s decision to block similar assemblies by Hamas supporters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Fatah still holds sway.

Hamas requires all groups to get permission before holding rallies in the Gaza Strip, except those against Israel.

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