Hamas militants have attacked the main compound of the Fatah organization in the Gaza Strip. At least 20 people were reported killed Wednesday, bringing to more than 80 the number of people killed since fighting between the two factions began six days ago. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem bureau.
Hamas militants tightened their grip on Gaza, raising their flags over the headquarters of the Preventive Security Force, the Fatah-militia that has long dominated the Gaza Strip. According to witnesses, Hamas gunmen summarily executed a number of the Fatah defenders of the facility, after they surrendered.
The move follows a general collapse of Fatah authority in Gaza during the past few days. Reporter Mohammed Dawass in Gaza, says Unlike Hamas, Fatah was unprepared for an all-out conflict.
"They (Fatah) were not really preparing themselves like Hamas did. Hamas has been preparing itself for a long time," he noted. "Especially after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, they (Hamas) managed to get weapons from across the borders. Fatah did not really expect this to happen, actually."
Aides to Mr. Abbas, who is in the West Bank, say he will make an announcement soon, possibly pulling Fatah out of the Palestinian unity government, or declaring a state of emergency that would give him sweeping powers.
The deputy head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Abed Raboo, a close ally of Mr. Abbas, warned that if Hamas does consolidate its power in Gaza, Palestinian democracy will suffer.
"What they are doing now is they are trying to solidify their grip over Gaza by all means, including military means," he said. "They do not believe in the democratic process where you can change the government every four years. They believe it is a divine mission granted to them by and they should seize the opportunity."
The two factions have been locked in a bitter power struggle since Hamas won legislative elections last year. Hamas leaders say their security forces in Gaza are dominant and should be integrated into the Palestinian police - a move rejected by Mr. Abbas. They also say Fatah forces are behind a crime wave of kidnappings and violence.
If Hamas takes control of the Gaza Strip the Palestinian territories will be effectively split, between Hamas and Fatah, which largely controls the West Bank. That would mean the end of a unified Palestinian governing authority and a probable end to any attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.