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EXP-MIDEAST-NYT 06-20 dk

11. Gaza Strip

Hamas leader warns Fatah

Mahmoud Zahar, perhaps the most influential Hamas leader in Gaza, warned Wednesday that Fatah’s effort to repress Hamas in the West Bank could lead to Fatah’s downfall there as well.

In an interview in Gaza City, Zahar, the former Palestinian foreign minister, said Hamas would not sit idle if its political rival, Fatah, dominant in the occupied West Bank and backed by the United States and Israel, continued to attack Hamas institutions and politicians.

"If they continue to dismantle the local elections in the West Bank and punish Hamas there, the United States and Israel will face another surprise there," Zahar said. Asked how, he said, "The way we defend ourselves against Israel and this occupation." Pressed if that meant attacks and suicide bombings, he smiled and replied: "You said that."

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Then he added: "We are ending the reign of the spies and collaborators in Fatah."

In recent days, Fatah gunmen have been attacking and burning Hamas institutions in the West Bank, and its forces have arrested a number of elected Hamas officials there as well. Zahar, a physician singled out in the past by Israeli forces who killed one of his sons and his son-in-law, spoke on a day when Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, the Palestinian president, said he would not negotiate with Hamas. In a televised speech, he said that "there is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists" and added: "Our main goal is to prevent sedition from spreading to the West Bank."

Also on Wednesday, at least six Palestinian militants were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank, and the Israeli Air Force attacked two rocket launchers in northern Gaza after they had fired two rockets into Israel. It was the first time the Israeli military had responded to rocket fire or clashed with Palestinians in Gaza since Hamas seized power there last week.

Some nine Qassam rockets were launched into Israel from Gaza, with one Israeli lightly wounded. Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Fatah, claimed responsibility.

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