Public display of weapons upheld


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Dozens of gunmen fired wildly into the air as a Gaza Strip strongman on Saturday rejected calls for an end to public displays of weapons, raising the risk of new factional violence.

Samir Masharawi, a senior member of the Fatah Party in Gaza, spoke a day after four people were killed and 36 wounded in unrest sparked by the killing of a top, Hamas-linked militant in a car bombing. The militant’s followers accused the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Service and top Fatah officials in Gaza, including Masharawi, of involvement.

Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, appealed for calm Saturday and pledged to remove rogue gunmen from the streets of Gaza.

But Masharawi, one of the most powerful figures in Gaza, rejected the call. Returning to Gaza from Egypt in a heavily armed convoy, Masharawi told reporters that he was offended by the “baseless” allegations against security forces and Fatah leaders. He also said he would not be able to persuade his followers to hide their arms.

“It seems that the brothers in Hamas forget that they are in power and represent a Palestinian government and are responsible for defending security institutions,” he said.

As he spoke, dozens of bodyguards fired repeatedly in the air.

Gaza has been plagued by lawlessness in recent months, with gunmen roaming the streets with impunity. Many have ties to Fatah.

Hamas is the only armed Palestinian group still honoring a year-old cease-fire with Israel, but it appears willing to tolerate attacks on Israel by other groups.