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Sunday, August 3, 2008
Watchdog petitions Israeli court against return of Fatah refugees to Gaza per instructions of Abbas

Watchdog petitions court against return of Fatah refugees
Aug. 3, 2008

The Association for Civil Right in Israel petitioned the High Court of
Justice on Sunday to prevent the state from returning Fatah refugees to Gaza
after they fled the territory on Saturday.

The petitioners stated that forcing the Fatah loyalists to return to the
Strip could endanger their lives and called it a serious violation of human
rights and of Israeli law.

The court ordered the state to respond to the petition by Monday.

Earlier on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to grant West
Bank asylum to dozens of supporters who fled Hamas-ruled Gaza to Israel
under fire, during fierce factional fighting.

Abbas stood his ground, with aides explaining that he felt his embattled
Fatah group must maintain a presence in Gaza. The escape posed a dilemma for
Abbas. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza last summer, he had agreed to
resettle some 250 of his Gaza loyalists in the West Bank.

It's been a costly arrangement - the refugees each get $350 a month, in
addition to government salaries, and Abbas's cash-strapped government covers
rent for dozens of the most senior among them. The 2007 exodus also sent a
message that Fatah is abandoning Gaza to Hamas.

Abbas wanted to send a different message this time, aides said.

"Fatah officials in Gaza should stay in their posts and should not leave
Gaza to Hamas," Fahmi Zaghrir, a West Bank spokesman for Fatah, said Sunday.
An exception would be made for those wanted by Hamas, added Nimr Hamad, an
Abbas adviser.

However, there were concerns that the returnees could face mistreatment by

Hamas confirmed it detained the first group of 32 who were sent back to Gaza
on Sunday. The organization said it released all but five in that group.

Nine Palestinians were killed - including members of Hamas's security
forces - and more than 90 were wounded in Saturday's fighting in Gaza City.

The clashes began when hundreds of Hamas policemen raided homes belonging to
the Hilles clan in the city's Shajayieh neighborhood in a bid to arrest
suspects in the bombing that killed five Hamas men on July 25.

Hamas had accused members of the clan, which has long been affiliated with
Fatah, of being behind the explosion, which also killed a seven-year-old

Toward Saturday night, the 188 clan members approached the border fence with
Israel near the Nahal Oz fuel crossing, laid down their weapons and asked
soldiers to allow them to cross over.

Wary Israeli troops allowed them to cross the heavily guarded border,
stripping them first to make sure none were concealing weapons or wearing
explosives. Soldiers prepared stretchers, and ambulances rushed the badly
wounded to nearby hospitals. Mortar shells landed nearby as the Palestinians
crossed into Israel.

One of the wounded men, Shadi Hilles, was hospitalized Sunday morning in
Ashkelon. He said he was wounded when Hamas attacked the clan's compound
with shoulder-launched rockets and mortars, forcing him to crawl through
nearby fields to safety.

"We crawled to the border, that was our solution, and I think we stayed at
the border for two or three hours until the army let the injured enter," he

IDF sources said the group was allowed into Israel out of "humanitarian
concerns" that they would be slaughtered by Hamas.

Hamas policemen had surrounded the area where the clan lives for the past
five days, demanding that the suspects be handed over. However, the clan
refused to comply and instead chose to resist any attempt to enter their

At least 12 of those who were wounded in Saturday's fighting were under the
age of 15, said Khaled Radi, spokesman for the Hamas Health Ministry. Six of
them were being treated for serious wounds in the intensive care unit of
various hospitals, he added.

Ihab al-Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, said the massive
security operation came after the Hilles clan refused to hand over the
suspects wanted in connection with the fatal beachfront bombing.

He said the Hamas security forces seized large amounts of weapons, including
rocket-propelled grenades and dynamite, during the crackdown on the clan.

Ghissin added that at least 100 members of the clan were arrested for
questioning, while others managed to flee the scene.

Islam Shaheen, spokesman for the Hamas police force, said officers
discovered a weapons factory that had been run by members of the clan and
former Fatah security officers. He said the operation ended successfully
when the Hamas security forces managed to "liberate" the area that had
previously been under the clan's control.

Col. Ron Ashrov, commander of the Northern Gaza Regional Brigade, said
Saturday night that the fleeing Palestinians had been allowed into Israel,
including 22 wounded, most with light injuries.

He also said the Hamas attacks on the group constituted a breach of the Gaza
cease-fire reached in June.

AP contributed to this report

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