Friday, February 02, 2007

Iranians seized in attack on Hamas enclave

Abraham Rabinovich - The Australian February 03, 2007 JERUSALEM: Seven Iranian weapons experts were seized yesterday in a raid by Fatah-affiliated security forces on the Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City. Amid an escalation in the confrontation between Hamas and Fatah Palestinian factions, an eighth Iranian was reported to have committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Sources close to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah said the Iranians included intelligence and chemical experts and a senior military officer. The Israeli news site Y-Net quoted a Palestinian source as saying the officer was a general. Although Hamas and Islamic Jihad are known to have sent agents to Iran for training, this is the first report of Iranian personnel in the Palestinian territories. The group that carried out the raid - the Palestine Security Force, which is loyal to Mr Abbas - has not released names or photographs of the Iranians, raising questions among Palestinian news organisations about the authenticity of the claim. Israel has long claimed members of the Iranian Republican Guard are posted in Lebanon to train Hezbollah fighters. Violence between Hamas and Fatah has claimed almost 70 lives and left hundreds wounded since last month. Violence that ended a shaky three-day ceasefire broke out on Thursday afternoon when Hamas gunmen ambushed a convoy of trucks entering the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian border. Hamas claimed the convoy was carrying weapons for Mr Abbas's Presidential Guard, but Fatah spokesmen insisted the trucks contained only non-lethal equipment. Five members of the Presidential Guard were killed in the attack, along with a sixth Palestinian, reportedly an infant. Hamas captured two of the trucks but has not yet revealed their contents. The ambush touched off a string of gunbattles. Hamas fighters attacked a military intelligence post with rockets, wounding 10 members of the security forces. Hamas unleashed mortars and small-arms fire at the surrounds of Mr Abbas's official Gaza residence - he was not there - and the nearby headquarters of the security forces. Residents fled in panic. Some drivers left cars idling while they took shelter. Although Hamas got the better of the fighting during the day, Fatah-affiliated forces struck back in force close to midnight when hundreds of fighters attacked the Islamic University, which Fatah forces have not assaulted before. In addition to the Iranian personnel, the attackers claim to have captured about 1400 Kalashnikov rifles, as well as anti-tank missiles and rockets. They also reported finding bodies in refrigerators, but it was unclear whose bodies they were. The raid on the university, which has become almost an armed camp for Hamas, was a morale booster for Fatah in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas enjoys greater popular support and has outperformed rival factions in street confrontations. There have been indications that Fatah is seeking to amass sufficient strength for a head-on confrontation with Hamas and other militant groups. Hamas claims the US and Israel are behind the arming of forces loyal to Mr Abbas.


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