Fatah protest in Gaza against Hamas turns violent

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas security men opened fire after protesters hurled rocks at them in the Gaza Strip on Friday in the biggest demonstration against the Islamist group since it seized control of the territory in June.

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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 bitter rivalry between the two movements.

“Jihad, jihad! (Holy war),” demonstrators chanted 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.

Hamas security men briefly detained three journalists, including a photographer from French news agency Agence France-Presse, witnesses said. They also smashed a journalist’s television camera and roughed up and threatened a Reuters photographer.

“They were beating me from behind, not heavily,” said Reuters photographer Abed-Rabbo Shana, adding that a Hamas gunmen pointed his rifle at his legs and threatened to fire.

“Journalists intervened and also Fatah youth ... giving me a way to escape,” he said.

Shahwan declined to comment.

Ehab al-Ghsain, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip that oversees the Executive Force, said: “Anyone proven to have been involved in assaults against journalists will be punished.”