GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas security forces killed an activist of a rival Islamist militant group in a shoot-out at his Gaza home on Tuesday, drawing strong condemnation from the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Despite formally reconciling last year with the secular Fatah faction of the U.S.-backed president under a technocrat cabinet, Hamas retains de-facto control in the coastal Gaza Strip penned in by Israel and Egypt.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza said Hamas forces shot Younis al-Honnor dead after he resisted arrest at his home, where he had illegally stockpiled munitions. Witnesses said there was a shoot-out at the site.
Witnesses said Honnor, an activist with a Salafist group, was buried in the black flag with religious inscriptions that is the standard of Islamic State insurgents who have swept other parts of the Middle East.
Hamas, which promotes political Islam, has mounted occasional crackdowns on more radical groups that chafe at its engagement with Abbas and truces with Israel. Such groups support the broader struggle led by Islamic State and al Qaeda.
From its seat in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Palestinian cabinet deplored what it called Honnor’s “execution”.
“Hamas must respect the law and civil rights,” said the cabinet statement, published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa. “It must not mess with the souls of people. It must cease abolishing security and order and stop trespassing on the authorities of the government and the judiciary.”
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza said Honnor was a criminal who had booby-trapped his house and that “explosive belts, explosive devices and rifle-propelled grenades were found inside”.
A statement posted on a pro-Salafist website disputed the ministry’s account. “The Hamas leadership bears responsibility for this deplorable crime,” the statement said.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights questioned whether Hamas forces were justified in killing Honnor and urged a public investigation.
That call was echoed by the Palestinian cabinet, which said its attorney general would launch an probe. How that might effected remained unclear, given continues disputes between Hamas and Abbas over jurisdictions.
Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Tom Heneghan