* Hamas rivals Fatah condemn expression of regret to Israel
* Say Islamists should first apologise for dead Palestinians
* Hamas officials insist report did not contain "apology"
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Hamas’s Palestinian rivals denounced the Islamist movement on Saturday for expressing regret over the deaths of Israeli civilians during the Gaza war a year ago.
A spokesman for the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was "stunned" at the remark in a report to the United Nations this week and said Hamas should apologise rather to fellow Palestinians for deaths and injury caused when Hamas routed Fatah forces to seize control in Gaza in 2007.
In a statement from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Fatah still holds sway, spokesman Ahmed Assaf urged Hamas "to apologise first to the Palestinian people for its bloody coup which has ... caused the worst damage to the Palestinian cause."
He also said that Hamas’s statement, issued to deflect U.N. accusations that its forces committed war crimes by firing rockets from Gaza at nearby Israeli towns, had been an admission that such rocket-fire had not helped ordinary Palestinians.
Hamas, which unlike Fatah has rejected peace negotiations with Israel, said in the report obtained by Reuters on Friday that it did not target civilians but that it simply lacked technology to aim more accurately at Israeli military targets.
Three Israeli civilians were killed, along with 10 soldiers, during a 22-day offensive begun in December 2008. Some 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, were also killed.
Israel, where hundreds of civilians have been killed by Hamas suicide bombers in the past couple of decades, dismissed any regrets as insincere. Israel has also rejected suggestions by a U.N. inquiry its own forces may have committed war crimes.
Hamas officials said on Friday that any expression of regret did not mark an abandonment of suicide bombing as a tactic, even if such attacks have been in abeyance in recent years.
Clearly sensitive to the effect any conciliatory words for Israel could have on its support among Palestinian hardliners, Hamas was at pains on Saturday to play down the language, saying there was no "apology" to Israel and stressing that the report had blamed Israeli aggression for any deaths.
"We regret any harm that may have befallen any Israeli civilian," the Hamas-appointed investigative committee said in the report, which was handed to U.N. officials on Wednesday. "We hope the Israeli civilians understand that their government’s continued attacks on us were the key issue and the cause."
Mohammed-Faraj al-Ghoul, justice minister in the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip and the chairman of the committee which drafted the report, said on Saturday: "Some words or phrases were taken out of context. The report held the (Israeli) occupation fully responsible and it did not include apologies."
Hamas, which formed a Palestinian government in 2006 after winning a parliamentary election, said it seized full control of the Gaza Strip the following year to pre-empt what it feared was a move by Abbas, with U.S. help, to oust it from government.
Dozens were killed in days of civil war in Gaza, on which Israel has tightened a blockade. The division of the Palestinian territories between the two rival parties has hamstrung efforts to negotiate the establishment of a state alongside Israel. (Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem; editing by Andrew Roche) (For blogs and links on Israeli politics and other Israeli and Palestinian news, go to http:/blogs.reuters.com/axismundi)