Three days after Hamas policemen shot and killed at least seven civilians at a rally in Gaza, leading a number of Gazans to express shock and anger at Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and the leader of the rival faction Fatah, called for the ouster of Hamas from power in Gaza.
“We must topple this gang that took control of the Gaza Strip by force and that is exploiting the suffering and tragedies of our people,” Abbas said in a televised speech on Thursday, delivered from his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah to observe the anniversary of the symbolic November 1988 declaration of a Palestinian state.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing Fatah forces in a brief but bloody factional war. Abbas subsequently fired the Hamas-dominated unity government, in which Fatah had participated, and appointed a caretaker government of moderates in the West Bank. Its authority is not recognized by Hamas.
Abbas has called on Hamas to “reverse the effects of its coup” in Gaza before any national dialogue can resume, but this was the first time he had called for its overthrow.
In Gaza, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader, responded with a conciliatory speech. He expressed sorrow for the bereaved families, said an investigative committee would be formed and said he had asked for the scores of Fatah members arrested after Monday’s rally to be released.
Hamas “is not a bunch of gangs” or “a group that is thirsty for blood,” Haniya said. But many here were having second thoughts about life under Hamas’ rule.
Um Ahmed Awouli, 43, a fully veiled mother of five, described herself as a political independent but said she had voted for Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, which it won.
“Hamas is wrong,” Awouli said. “Why did they shoot toward the crowd?”
“My son could have been killed,” she added, referring to the rally, which marked the third anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, Fatah’s founder and the longtime Palestinian leader. “We voted for Hamas, but now we are angry.”
Some witnesses say that Fatah partly provoked the violence. Soma Abu Aisha, 40, a Fatah supporter who was at the rally, said that what first angered the police was the removal of a Hamas flag from the top of a mosque minaret and its replacement with four Fatah flags.