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Fatah protest in Gaza turns violent

Gathering seen a sign of strength

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Hamas security officers opened fire after protesters hurled rocks at them in the Gaza Strip yesterday in the biggest demonstration against the Islamist group since it seized control of the territory in June.

No injuries were reported, but the confrontation between supporters of President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction and Hamas's Executive Force policing the Gaza Strip underscored the volatility of the rivalry between the two movements.

Demonstrators chanted "jihad, jihad" as they marched down the streets of Gaza City, applauding as others smashed an unmanned Hamas security post on the roadside.

Dozens of protesters threw rocks at a security post the Executive Force commandeered during the brief civil war against Fatah fighters two months ago.

Witnesses said Hamas security men opened fire in response, peppering a storefront with bullets. Executive Force spokesman Islam Shahwan said they fired warning shots in the air.

"We allowed them to gather freely but they started to chant curses and attacked the security compound with stones," Shahwan said.

A Fatah official called the demonstration "a clear sign that Fatah did not vanish with the Hamas coup" -- the faction's description of the Gaza takeover.

"People are against Hamas suppression of Fatah. Hamas thought it can eliminate Fatah -- they are wrong. Fatah is rising again," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Drivers honked car horns and protesters waving yellow Fatah flags climbed on top of vehicles during the demonstration that followed outdoor Muslim prayers held by Abbas supporters.

At the Gaza border yesterday, Israeli soldiers crossed into the territory and killed two Palestinian gunmen who had opened fired at them near a border fence, an army spokeswoman said in Tel Aviv.

In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed a 13-year-old Israeli Arab boy and a Palestinian gunman during a raid yesterday, Palestinian ambulance crews said.

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