Gunfire disrupts massive Fatah rally in Gaza

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GAZA, Nov 12 (Reuters) Hundreds of thousands of Fatah supporters turned out today at a memorial ceremony for Yasser Arafat, but gunfire scattered some of the crowd about an hour into the event closely monitored by Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Fatah officials accused Hamas forces of opening fire from the nearby Islamic University. Medical officials said several people were wounded. Hamas said its men came under fire from Fatah gunmen and shot back.

Some in the crowd fled as gunshots rang out, but others stood their ground.

A sea of yellow Fatah flags and waves of emotion filled the Gaza square for the biggest assembly Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular faction has held in the territory since Hamas Islamists violently routed its fighters last June.

Hamas has banned opposition rallies since its Gaza takeover but any move to prevent a remembrance ceremony for Arafat, the iconic leader who died on Nov 11, 2004, would have been widely unpopular among Palestinians.

In a separate incident near the scene of the rally, Fatah activists said a Hamas security man fired at a vehicle carrying people to the assembly, killing one passenger. Medical workers said a body with gunshot wounds arrived at Gaza's morgue.

Hamas said he might have been killed by Fatah fire.

''Today we all rise up and one day the Hamas aggressors will be gone,'' said a teenager at the rally who would give his name only as Khaled.

ARAFAT TRIBUTE Huge murals of Arafat in his trademark Arab headdress, and a smaller picture of Abbas, provided a backdrop for the event which organisers said was attended by more than 250,000 people.

Fatah nationalist songs blared from loudspeakers as many in the crowd voiced their longing for Arafat, regarded by Palestinians as a symbol of unity.

''Abu Mazen (Abbas) is not like Arafat but he is our president now and we respect him. We urge him to end the Hamas occupation,'' Khaled said.

Hamas erected at least 10 checkpoints on Gaza's main north-south road to inspect vehicles heading to the event, local residents said. Fatah officials said some buses were turned back and passengers then set out on foot, but Hamas denied this.

WAFA news agency, run by Abbas's office, accused Hamas of stealing dozens of pictures of Arafat and 30,000 headdresses symbolising the late leader that had come through an Israeli-run border crossing point earlier in the day.

A pro-Hamas Internet site quoted a Hamas security official as saying trucks carrying yellow Fatah flags and hats were seized ''at a time when the Gaza Strip is being deprived of basic goods and medicine''.

Israel has tightened border restrictions with Gaza since Hamas, which opposes Abbas's peace moves with the Jewish state, came to power in the territory but has pledged humanitarian aid can go through.

REUTERS PD BD1739

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