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Israel to transfer Fatah fugitives to West Bank

JERUSALEM, August 4 – said on Monday it will transfer to the West Bank some 150 Fatah members who had fled Gaza amid concern that those who had returned to the Hamas-ruled territory were in mortal danger.

The announcement reverses a previous decision that the 180 or so members of President Mahmud Abbas’s party who had fled Gaza into on Saturday should be returned to Gaza and not transferred to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Fatah members had fled the Gaza Strip following a day of deadly clashes with their bitter Hamas rivals.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak held talks with Palestinian officials on Sunday "in order to convince them to allow the refugees entry" to the West Bank city of Ramallah, his ministry said in a joint statement with the army.

More than 20 fugitives, including Ahmed Helis, the head of a powerful pro-Fatah clan in Gaza City, who were hospitalised for wounds inflicted in the fighting, will remain in until they recover.

Others were being held and questioned by the Israeli army, a spokesman said.

Around 35 Fatah members were transferred to Gaza on Sunday where they were immediately detained for questioning by Hamas-run security forces.

"Israeli authorities halted the process; however, as they received information that they were being arrested by Hamas and that their lives were in immediate danger.

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Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that those accused of breaking the law "will be investigated and if found to be guilty they will be brought to justice."

"Those who are proved innocent will be released," Abu Zuhri told AFP on Sunday.

Abbas on Saturday asked that the Palestinians be allowed to cross into after 11 people, mainly Fatah members, were killed in clashes with Hamas forces seeking to arrest suspects in a July 25 bombing.

The Islamist group claimed Fatah was behind a beachside bombing that killed five senior Hamas militants and a little girl.

‘s about-turn also follows an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court by ‘s Human Rights Association which said the Fatah members would be at mortal risk if returned to Gaza.

"Following meetings held throughout the day by the Israel Defence Forces (army) and the security establishment, the IDF is preparing to transfer the rescued Fatah operatives to the Ramallah area," the statement said.

"Israel and the IDF, both of whom operate according to humanitarian values in order to save lives, took action both on Sunday and again today (Monday), when a danger to the men’s lives became apparent."

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