Mixed homecoming for released Gaza prisoner

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BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza, Oct 2 (Reuters) The Gaza homecoming today of Fatah loyalist Abdel-Hadi Hassanein after seven years in an Israeli jail was an upbeat affair -- until members of Hamas's paramilitary Executive Force showed up.

''They smashed the chairs and peppered my house with bullets,'' Hassanein, among a group of 29 Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel, told Reuters.

Most of the released men belong to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, whose fighters were routed by Hamas Islamists who took over the Gaza Strip in June. Israel hopes to bolster Abbas as a Middle East conference expected in November approaches.

Hundreds of Fatah supporters turned out to welcome Hassanein back to his northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. Convicted of shooting attacks against Israeli soldiers, he had served half of his 14-year sentence.

Defying a Hamas ban on public demonstrations and celebratory gunfire, several activists shot in the air.

''I am the happiest person on earth. My son is in my arms,'' said Hassanein's mother, Umm Abed, as other women ululated.

But violence erupted after Executive Force members marched past Hassanein's home during a funeral procession for one of their men, killed by Israeli forces yesterday.

''It seems they have been angered because we sang songs honouring Samih al-Madhoun,'' Hassanein said. Madhoun was an arch-foe of Hamas executed by its fighters in June.

An Executive Force spokesman said Fatah supporters threw stones at the funeral procession as it passed Hassanein's house.

The spokesman denied the force fired into the dwelling.

Reuters RS GC2049

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