Hamas Calls Off Independence Day Declared by Arafat

Earlier in the week Fatah accused Hamas of preventing members from marking the anniversary Arafat's death.

Hamas authorities have called off annual Palestinian Independence Day celebrations in the Gaza Strip, ordering its schools and offices to remain open as usual when the holiday falls on Sunday, officials said on Friday.

The decision pointed up the tensions between Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement, still at odds two years after Hamas seized control of coastal Gaza.

Khaled Radi, a spokesman for Gaza's Education Ministry, said Sunday would be "a regular school day," with some lessons devoted to discussion of the holiday launched by the late Yasser Arafat, a Fatah founder, who symbolically declared Palestinian independence on November 15, 1988.

Hamas, founded a year before Arafat's declaration, rejects Fatah's vision of a two-state solution alongside Israel, does not recognize it and seeks to supplant Israel with an Islamist state, though some Hamas leaders have proposed an extended truce with Israel.

A senior Fatah official, Zeyad Abu Ein, accused Hamas of "canceling one of our greatest national holidays" and said the step would "remind the Palestinian people in Gaza of Israeli occupation and suppression of such celebrations."

Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005 but remains in control of the territory's land and sea frontiers.

Despite Hamas's decision, schools supervised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), attended by about half of Gaza's 450,000 students, would customarily not hold classes on Sunday, a spokesman said.

Gaza's banks would also stay shut for the day as they are supervised by the Palestinian Monteary Fund, based in the Fatah-dominated West Bank where the holiday was expected to be observed as usual.

On Tuesday Fatah accused Hamas of detaining dozens of its members on Tuesday to stop them marking the 5th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat.

Fatah officials said Hamas security forces carried out a wave of arrests the Gaza Strip that included senior Fatah figures Mohammed Al-Nahal and Jamal Abeid

Hamas does not want to give Fatah any chance of regrouping in Gaza, and aims to retaliate for the suppression it says is regularly inflicted on its members by Fatah in the West Bank.

One Fatah official said he believed the arrests would continue on into Wednesday, the anniversary day.

Ehab Al-Ghsain, a spokesman of the Hamas Interior Ministry, denied the allegations calling them the "usual Fatah charges to cover up on the continued arrest of Hamas men in the West Bank."