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Hamas critic gunned down in Gaza

Sermon against group had just been delivered

Palestinians gathered yesterday around the charred remains of vehicles burned in an attack outside the home of Colonel Mohammed Ghayeb, a top Fatah official. Ghayeb and eight others, including a Hamas gunman, were slain in the Thursday attack. (Hatem Moussa/Associated Press)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Assailants gunned down a Muslim preacher known for his anti-Hamas views yesterday, witnesses said, moments after he exited a mosque where he delivered a sermon criticizing the Islamic group's role in a wave of Palestinian violence.

The slaying came as thousands of mourners marched through Gaza City carrying the bodies of seven Fatah men killed in a standoff with Hamas. Thursday's gunfight was the bloodiest single battle in weeks of factional fighting, and Fatah said it was suspending talks with Hamas until the assailants are brought to justice.

There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday's shooting of Adel Nasar, a mosque preacher who was shot as he got into a car in the Mughazi refugee camp in central Gaza. But Fatah accused Hamas.

"Sheik Nasar was killed after he came out of the mosque where he criticized Hamas after the crime committed by some of its gunmen yesterday," the group said in a statement.

Salem Salama, a lawmaker and top Hamas official in central Gaza, said his group was not involved. "Hamas condemns this cowardly assassination," he said. "We will work with all the honorable people here to find the killers and bring them to justice."

Witnesses said Nasar's assailants pulled up to him in a white car and sped away after the shooting.

Nasar, 50, was not openly affiliated with any political party, but he was a well-known figure in the refugee camp and often preached against Hamas. Shortly before the shooting, witnesses said, Nasar had criticized Thursday's deadly attack on the home of Colonel Mohammed Ghayeb, a top Fatah official in northern Gaza.

In his sermon, Nasar warned that God would punish the killers of Ghayeb and his bodyguards. He also said God would punish Palestinian rulers for not preventing the attack, said Jibril Awwar, a friend of the preacher who was slightly wounded in yesterday's shooting.

Nasar did not mention Hamas by name, but Awwar said the preacher's message was aimed at the group, which controls most of the Palestinian government.

Political tensions have been high since Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections a year ago. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, favors peace talks with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, despite international sanctions against its government.

The political tensions erupted into violence last month after three young sons of a Fatah security commander were killed in a drive-by shooting. In all, more than two dozen people have died in the infighting.

The violence prompted an urgent meeting early yesterday between Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Though the two sides agreed to pull back their forces, the meeting failed to cool raging tensions.

In Jebaliya in northern Gaza, thousands of people carried the bodies of Ghayeb and six bodyguards killed with him in a funeral procession held in pouring rain.

Dozens of Fatah gunmen joined the march, firing in the air, and calling for vengeance against Hamas. Several charred cars remained outside Ghayeb's home, which was pocked with bullet holes, blacked by smoke, and heavily damaged inside by grenade fire.

Echoing the mood on the streets, a Fatah statement accused Interior Minister Said Siyam's special security service of being behind Thursday's assault and called for attacks on the killers. As interior minister, Siyam oversees Hamas's official militia.

Another bodyguard of Ghayeb died of his wounds yesterday, officials said, raising the total death toll from the gunfight to nine, including a Hamas gunman.

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