Hamas burns drugs after Gaza operation

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas Islamists burned sacks of confiscated marijuana and cocaine in Gaza on Sunday and said they had arrested dozens of dealers in a drugs crackdown.

Police in Hamas-run Gaza said they had netted drugs -- including hashish and cocaine, heroine and ecstasy -- worth some $4 million and arrested 115 dealers.

Hamas said security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction allowed drug abuse to flourish before the Islamist group violently seized the coastal enclave in June.

Senior West Bank-based Fatah official Ziad Abu Ain rebuffed the accusation, blaming Hamas for drug use in Gaza and saying the Islamist group controlled tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt which are used for smuggling.

Police displayed the drugs at a news conference then made a bonfire and set fire to them. Most of the drugs were smuggled into Gaza from Egypt although some marijuana was grown locally.

Ehab al-Ghsain, a spokesman at the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said drug dealers could get a life sentence or even the death penalty under Palestinian law.

After its fighters routed Fatah forces in June, Hamas, shunned by the West for refusing to renounce violence and considered an “enemy entity” by Israel, vowed to crack down on crime in the impoverished territory.

Abbas has mounted his own security drive in the larger West Bank, where he holds sway, to impose order as the Palestinians start formal statehood talks with Israel.

Alcohol, banned under Islam, is virtually impossible to get in Gaza but some young men use drugs, even though it is frowned upon in the highly conservative society.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi