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Israel transfers Fatah-linked Gazans to WB.

Byline: Hisham Abu Taha

GAZA CITY/RAMALLAH: Israel transferred to the West Bank yesterday scores of Palestinian Fatah activists who fled internecine fighting in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, overturning a decision to send them back to the salient where they could face arrest.

However, the activists are being transferred to Jericho, and not to Ramallah, as originally planned. The decision to transfer them follows consultations between Israeli officials and the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Israeli media sources reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided late Sunday to allow a group of Fatah activists who fled the Gaza Strip over the weekend to be transferred to the West Bank.

The new decision came after the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on Sunday petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the Defense Ministry to halt the deportation of Fatah activists who fled the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

Some 188 Fatah members fled to Israel, but at Abbas' request 35 of them were returned to the Gaza Strip, where they were immediately arrested by the Hamas administration which rules the enclave.

The Israeli military protested that sending the men back to the Strip would endanger their lives, prompting Israel to contact Abbas once again and the new arrangement to be worked out.

A statement yesterday morning by the Israeli Defense Ministry said the repatriation to the Gaza Strip was being halted after information had been received that the returnees were being arrested "and their lives are in immediate danger."

Some 23 Palestinians who fled the salient and who were wounded in the fighting are currently being treated in Israeli hospitals.

The latest Fatah-Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip was sparked by a car bomb on July 25, which killed five Hamas fighters and a small girl. Hamas blamed Fatah for the blast and launched a crackdown, which in turn led to the latest violence between the two rival groups.

The current clashes are the worst internecine fighting since June 2007, when Hamas fighters routed forces loyal to Abbas and seized security control of the salient. Abbas reacted to the Hamas takeover by dissolving a Fatah-Hamas unity government and firing Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh from his post as premier.

Haniyeh rejected his dismissal and continues to call himself prime minister. Abbas, however appointed a new premier, independent economist Salam Fayyad, but his government failed to win ratification from the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council.

Many of those who fled Gaza belong to the Helles clan, which has ties to Fatah, and, according to Jerusalem Post analyst Khaled Abu Toameh, ran a training base in the Strip and also set up small factories to manufacture various types of weapons.

A Palestinian teenager, who was critically injured in the West Bank village of Nilin about a week ago, died of his wounds at a Ramallah hospital yesterday morning. Palestinian medical sources said that 18-year-old Yousef Ahmed Amira, who was shot by Israeli Border Guard forces during clashes in the village, had been in a state of brain death in the past few days. He was wounded a day after 11-year-old Ahmed Mussa was killed by an Israeli Border Guard policeman in Nilin.

- With input from Mohammed Mar'i

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Aug 6, 2008
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