Hundreds of youths supporting the militant Hamas group clashed with backers of Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah party on Sunday, injuring at least nine people, during a Hamas campaign rally for student council elections.
The brawl erupted when several hundred Fatah supporters at Hebron University in the West Bank started shouting their own party’s slogans in the midst of a large Hamas rally. Harsh words erupted into a fight, sending photographers and cameramen at the scene running for cover.
Student supporters of the militant Islamic Jihad intervened, acting as a buffer and eventually ending the fight.
Hospital officials said at least nine people were injured, including an Agence France Press photographer who received five stitches in the head.
Hamas, the largest and most powerful Palestinian militant group, has emerged as a key player in Palestinian politics. A decision by the group to participate in upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections has Fatah supporters concerned the Islamic group could defeat them.
Hamas has carried out suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, but also provides welfare services in the poverty-stricken Palestinian areas.
Since the last parliamentary elections in 1996, Fatah has developed a reputation of corruption, ineffectiveness and thuggery.
“When Fatah felt that it was weak, and that it will lose the student elections tomorrow, they tried to ruin our parade,” said Mohammed Ali, a Hamas leader at Hebron University. “They came to our rally and they picked a fight.”