Hamas-run security forces stormed across Gaza on Saturday, clashing with rival Palestinian gunmen and arresting dozens of people after a bomb killed five of its senior militants and a little girl.
The explosion late on Friday near a beach outside Gaza City was the deadliest incident in weeks in the impoverished Palestinian territory which has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement for more than a year.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known but Hamas blamed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s rival Fatah movement, accusing it of collaborating with Israel to undermine the Islamist movement.
“The Fatah movement is behind this reprehensible crime,” senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya told a crowd of thousands of supporters and other senior leaders at a funeral for those killed.
“Those who carried out this crime are making war on God, on the security of Gaza, and on the resistance,” he said. “They will not be released after six months but will be hanged from the gallows and shot.”
Thousands of supporters marched through the streets on their way to the funeral, carrying the bodies on stretchers draped with green Hamas flags, firing guns into the air and vowing revenge.
“It is up to Fatah to determine their position straight away, if they are with these criminals, or if they are with the ranks of the Palestinian street in confronting the enemy (Israel),” senior Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahar said.
“We will not permit this scene to repeat itself,” he told reporters at the cemetery, adding that police had information on who was behind the attack.
In the hours after the explosion Hamas-run security forces arrested dozens of people across the territory and exchanged gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades with a clan in Gaza’s Tel al-Hawa district.
At least 160 people have been arrested since the blast, most of them Fatah supporters, according to the independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
The rights group said Hamas-run security forces had raided more than 40 offices, sporting clubs, charities and other organisations, most of them linked to Fatah, and seized control of government offices across Gaza.
Most of Abbas’s loyalists were driven from Gaza in June 2007 when the rival Hamas movement seized power following a week of bloody street battles.
In a statement released by Abbas’s office, Fatah denied any involvement in the “mysterious explosion” and accused elements within the armed wing of Hamas of planting the explosives as part of an internal conflict.
Abbas himself was due to visit Egypt for talks on Sunday on the situation in the territories and national reconciliation efforts.
The bombing in which a five-year-old girl was among the dead made Friday the deadliest day in Gaza since an Egyptian-brokered truce was agreed between Hamas and Israel in June that halted what had been near-daily clashes.
The five men killed were all veteran fighters in Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Another 22 Palestinians were wounded in the blast, which security officials said was caused by a bomb placed outside a car.
Gaza City was rocked by two separate blasts earlier Friday, one outside a cafe in which the attacker was killed and four people wounded, and another outside the house of a senior Hamas leader, which did not cause casualties.
Hamas said it arrested two Fatah members linked to the second attack, but it was not clear whether the three bombings were connected.
Hamas confirmed that several suspects had been arrested in Gaza, without giving further details. Among those seized was a cameraman for German television ARD, Sawah Abu Safeh, Palestinian officials said.
Palestinian factions have rarely clashed since Hamas seized power in the crowded territory of 1.5 million people despite an Israeli blockade aimed at undermining the Islamist movement which is pledged to Israel’s destruction.