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Hamas airs "confessions of pro-Abbas plotters"

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas screened purported confessions on Saturday that it said proved Palestinian rivals had plotted to kill the Islamists’ leader in the Gaza Strip.

But aides to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the allegations as lies produced under torture.

“I was told that if I blew myself up against ... Haniyeh, they would take care of my family,” a young man named as Ahmed al-Dbaki and described as a would-be suicide bomber said in a film clip shown at a televised Hamas news conference in Gaza.

Among nine others whose edited video statements were screened to journalists by Hamas’s security chief, one described as a senior security officer for Abbas’s secular Fatah faction spoke fluently for several minutes of how he oversaw a plot to kill Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

“I was ordered to form an armed cell to strike the Hamas movement,” the man, named as Hassan al-Zant, said. “I was instructed to find a martyr to carry out the task.”

Other detainees were younger and appeared pale and hesitant.

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No independent assessment was available of allegations first made last month when Hamas announced a number of arrests.

The conflicting accounts and bitterness in the opposing camps underlined the depth of the split among Palestinian leaders since Hamas defeated Abbas’s Western-backed forces in Gaza in June, leaving Abbas’s rule limited to the West Bank.

Abbas, who last year accused Hamas officials of trying to blow him up, has opened U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations with Israel while Hamas, shunned by the West for refusing to give up violence, is in open conflict with the Jewish state.

Saeed Seyam, a former interior minister who now runs security forces in Gaza, accused senior presidential aide Tayeb Abdel-Rahim and Abbas’s intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi.

“This dirty crime was plotted at the highest level of leadership within the Palestinian Authority,” Seyam said.

“It proved they did not want dialogue and wanted civil war when they planned to kill an official like Ismail Haniyeh.”

A senior Abbas spokesman, in a statement issued in the West Bank, dismissed Seyam’s news briefing as “comedy theatre”:

“Hamas is known for making up lies and using any method to make themselves look real, including torture,” he said. “These lies will persuade no one. Quite the reverse -- these lies will strengthen the belief that Hamas is ... beyond the law.”

Seyam denied the detainees, who were not presented in person to reporters, were abused. “They were not subject to any torture or psychological pressure,” he said.

Several of those whose edited segments of testimony were shown said the plan was to place suicide bombers in a mosque where Haniyeh, once Abbas’s prime minister, often prayed or at an event last month when he welcomed pilgrims home from Mecca.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Alastair Macdonald in Gaza; editing by Robert Woodward