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Jihadists gone wild -worshippers attack each other -Hamas leader Khalid Maschaal flees angry mob from mosque in Damascus

May 20, 2007

Preachers jump into the Hamas-Fatah fray

Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 21, 2007

As the fighting between Hamas and Fatah appears to have subsided following the latest cease-fire that was declared over the weekend, the two parties have now taken the battle to the mosques in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Authority security officials said Hamas and Fatah militiamen observed the cease-fire and no major incidents were reported on Sunday.

Representatives of the two parties met in the Egyptian Embassy in Gaza City on Sunday to discuss ways of consolidating the cease-fire and preventing a resumption of the violence.

Hamas announced that 22 of its members and supporters had been killed and 80 wounded in the fighting in the Gaza Strip over the past week. The movement said most of the casualties had been killed execution-style after being kidnapped by Fatah gunmen and members of various PA security forces.

Although the cease-fire that was achieved under the auspices of the Egyptians calls on Fatah and Hamas to halt incitement against each other, supporters of the two parties continued to trade accusations over who was responsible for the latest round of fighting.

According to sources close to the two parties, several mosques in the West Bank and Gaza Strip witnessed fistfights and screaming matches over the past few days between Hamas and Fatah supporters.

The same preachers who until recently were attacking Israel, the Jews and the "Crusaders" in the US and Europe, have now shifted their anger toward PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction.

According to PA security sources, some of the Hamas-affiliated preachers exploited Friday prayers to call for the killing of Fatah political leaders and security commanders. In many cases, worshipers walked out of the mosques in protest against what they described as "incitement." The sources claimed that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was kicked out of a mosque near Damascus after worshipers held him responsible for the internecine fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah spokesmen accused Hamas of exploiting the mosques to launch a wave of incitement against their leaders.

"This is not the first time Hamas has used the mosques to call for killing Palestinians," said Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah representative in the West Bank. "We must put an end to the incitement in the mosques."

Fatah officials are particularly enraged by the harsh rhetoric that many preachers have begun using when referring to the Hamas-Fatah clashes. These preachers are calling the PA security forces the "Lahad Army," a reference to the former pro-Israel South Lebanon Army headed by Gen. Antoine Lahad.

The preachers have also been denouncing Abbas and his top aides in Fatah as a bunch of corrupt infidels who are conspiring with the US and Israel against Islam.

The tension reached its peak on Friday, when thousands of worshipers stormed out of mosques after the preachers launched scathing attacks on Fatah.

In the town of Deir el-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, preacher Maher Huli was forced to run away from a local mosque after being attacked by dozens of worshipers.

Huli enraged many mosque-goers after declaring that all the PA and Fatah members who were killed in the clashes with Hamas would "end up in hell." He also claimed that Fatah and Israel had been jointly bombing the Hamas-controlled Islamic University in Gaza City.

Hamas militiamen who rushed to the scene assaulted a number of worshipers and fired into the air to disperse the angry crowd.

A similar incident occurred in another mosque in the town, where preacher Ahmed Nakla was also forced to flee the mosque after being attacked by worshipers. In his sermon, Nakla had called for killing members of the PA security forces under the pretext that they were implementing a "Zionist-American plot to eliminate Hamas."

The worst incident took place in the Beersheva Mosque in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, where at least five people were wounded in a melee that erupted after the preacher accused Fatah leaders of high treason.

Witnesses quoted the Hamas preacher as saying that some of the Fatah leaders were "not even fit to serve as shoe shiners." The remarks were directed especially against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Azzam and PA National Security Adviser Muhammad Dahlan.

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