Fatah says activists in Gaza shot, put under house arrest by rival Hamas

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Gaza's ruling Hamas placed dozens of activists from the rival Fatah movement under house arrest during the Gaza war and shot several in the legs for not staying indoors, Fatah officials said Monday.

One of the shooting victims told The Associated Press that masked gunmen shot him in both legs in the yard outside his Gaza City home in late July, and that it will take him several months to recover from multiple fractures.

The Fatah allegations marked the first concrete sign of a Hamas crackdown on potential domestic dissent during the Israel-Hamas fighting that began July 8.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied the group put Fatah activists under house arrest as a policy, suggesting some Hamas activists might have acted on their own. Barhoum did not address the shooting allegations.

The Fatah allegations come despite a power-sharing deal between the Islamic militant Hamas and Fatah's leader, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, earlier this year. Hamas and Fatah representatives are also part of a joint Palestinian delegation negotiating the terms of a cease-fire in Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, but in April -- squeezed by a mounting financial crisis -- agreed to hand over some authority in Gaza to an Abbas-led government of experts. The new government had not yet begun operations when the Gaza war broke out July 8. Hamas remains the sole ruler in Gaza.

Since the start of the war, Hamas gunmen have ordered dozens of Fatah activists to stay in their homes for the duration of the fighting, said two spokesmen, Ahmed Assaf in the West Bank and Hassan Ahmed in Gaza.

Assaf said some of those who Hamas believed had ignored those orders were shot in the legs. He said he did not have an exact number of shooting victims, but said several were being treated in hospitals in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. He said they did not want their names released because of fears of Hamas retribution upon their return to Gaza.

One wounded Fatah activist, Sami Abu Lasheen, spoke by phone from the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he was undergoing treatment.

Abu Lasheen, 40, said Hamas activists ordered him at the beginning of the war to stay in his home. He said that after that initial order, he sat outside his house from time to time.

"On Monday, July 28, masked gunmen came while I was sitting in the yard of my house," he said. "They told me to stand up and they shot me in the legs."

He said the first bullet went through his left leg, causing little damage, but that two more rounds fired at his right leg caused multiple fractures. He said he was treated in Gaza City before being transferred to Amman.

"I had three operations and I am fine now, but it will take time to recover and stand up again, maybe three to six months," he said.

Despite the attack, Abu Lasheen called for unity. "Our guns must be used only against the occupation (Israel)," he said. "What happened will not change my belief in unity."

Despite the unity deal, the shootings illustrate the lingering tensions between the rival movements. Such differences are likely to emerge in the coming months with Abbas expected to take on a leading role in the reconstruction of post-war Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his movement cracked down on Fatah, suggesting that some Hamas activists might have acted on their own. "We reject any acts by individuals if in fact they took place," he said.

"We are working with Fatah and we have high-level channels of communication," he said, adding that Fatah "did not approach us about this issue."

Assaf, the Fatah spokesman, said the issue has been raised repeatedly, including with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo. He said Hamas either didn't respond or dismissed the house arrest and shootings as acts of individuals that did not have the blessing of Hamas.

Hamas and Fatah have a bloody history, including mutual crackdowns on supporters and deadly street battles in the months leading up the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.