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Hamas loyalists show defiance

Mon., Feb. 25, 2008

KOBAR, West Bank – Thousands of angry Hamas loyalists marched Sunday at the funeral of a Muslim preacher who died in Palestinian custody, turning the ceremony into a rare show of defiance against President Mahmoud Abbas.

The demonstration was an unusual sight in the West Bank, where Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has become increasingly autocratic since his Hamas rivals seized power in the Gaza Strip in June. Since then, police there have cracked down on protests perceived to challenge the rule of Abbas, who heads Fatah.

Some 3,000 Hamas loyalists crowded the village of Kobar, carrying the body of Majed Barghouti, who died Friday in a lockup run by intelligence officials.

Mourners waved the green flags of the militant Muslim group as they carried Barghouti’s body, boldly chanting in support of Hamas and its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, a group banned in the West Bank.

At a separate march for women, mourners wrapped green Hamas bandannas around their headscarves and loudly condemned Abbas’ intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi, whom they blame for Barghouti’s death.

“Tirawi, you are a coward, you are the Americans’ deputy,” the women chanted. “We will crush your head, collaborator,” they said.

Tirawi did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

A protest planned by Hamas loyalists in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Abbas’ government is headquartered, was quickly dispersed by club-swinging Palestinian police.

But the noisy funeral showed that the Islamic militant Hamas is a force in the West Bank, though Abbas is in control and his regime is indirectly bolstered by Israeli forces who regularly operate against Hamas and other militant groups.

Today, an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza killed two Hamas militants and wounded three, according to Hamas and Palestinian medical officials. The Israeli military said an aircraft targeted a group of gunmen spotted in the area.

Hours later, a second airstrike killed a third Hamas gunman and wounded two others, Hamas said. The military confirmed the attack.


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