Teenager Killed in Hamas Protest at Rafah Crossing

Palestinian protestors hurt when Hamas militants fire bullets in air to keep crowd away from border.

Hamas gunmen opened fire at pro-Hamas protesters at a rally on the Gaza-Egypt border Saturday, killing a teenager, hospital officials said.

Tens of thousands of flag-waving Hamas supporters gathered at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to demand it be reopened. The border, Gaza's only gateway to Egypt, has been shut since Hamas' bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Hamas charges that the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas does not want the crossing opened because that would help the Islamic group hold on to power in Gaza.

Hamas gunmen fired in the air as hundreds of protesters tried to rush the border terminal and attempted to infiltrate into Egypt. Mohammed Qdaih, 17, was hit by a bullet, pronouned brain dead by doctors and died soon thereafter.

"This is a peaceful protest to voice our message that we are looking for freedom," said Issa Mashar, a top Hamas leader in Rafah. "We came to send a message from the people who are suffering."

But when hundreds of Hamas supporters tried to storm the crossing, Hamas militiamen staved them off by firing in the air.

Ashraf Abu Daya, one of the rally's organizers, appealed for calm from the crowd.

"There is no need to break into the crossing. The crossing is no longer under the occupation. The crossing is under the control of the Hamas Executive Committee," he said.

The Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June triggered the closure of the border crossing, which had been run by Palestinian security with European supervision and Israeli security in the background.

Ihab al-Ghusain, a Hamas security spokesman, said its forces tried to prevent a few of the demonstrators from approaching the border with Egypt.

"A child was injured and he is in critical condition. We are investigating the incident to determine where the shot came from," he said.

Hamas sets hefty bail for arrested Fatah activistsAlso on Saturday, Hamas authorities set a hefty bail for the release of the Fatah activists it arrested following a Gaza protest rally, in yet another crackdown against its vanquished rival.

The Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee said earlier in the day it would meet to discuss Friday's clashes between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, which left some 20 people wounded, Israel Radio reported.

According to the radio, Abbas' office said Saturday that Hamas had crossed all lines, after Hamas men sparked the clashes by forcefully dispersing a Fatah protest.

The Hamas men fired in the air and beat demonstrators and reporters in order to disperse the protest against the Islamist group's rule in the Strip.

Early Saturday, an explosion tore through a Hamas member's car, sources in the organization said.

Two French journalists and two children were among those wounded in Friday's clashes, according to doctors and witnesses.

Reporters covering the protest said they witnessed the beating of one journalist by Hamas men. He was not seriously hurt.

The violence began at the end of a Fatah prayer meeting held to protest against Hamas, which seized control of the coastal territory in June. A similar protest last Friday also ended in clashes and harassment of journalists.

Fatah had called its supporters to openly hold weekly Friday prayers throughout the Gaza Strip to protest against what they said was persecution of its members in Hamas-controlled mosques.

After hundreds of Fatah supporters finished prayers in Gaza City, a group of worshippers pelted Hamas-controlled buildings with stones and pipe bombs. Some shouted insults at Hamas officials, including Shiites, in reference to the group's links to Iran.

Hamas men began firing into the air to disperse the crowd. In a frenzy, Hamas security forces then began arresting protesters and taking them away in jeeps, chasing them in the streets and also beating several demonstrators. Associated Press television footage showed several uniformed Hamas men beating an unarmed protester with long sticks.

A similar protest in Rafah broke up when Hamas men fired in the air. Stun grenades also landed amid the crowd, injuring the two children.

A statement from Abbas' office in Ramallah said that the "crackdown on protesters aims to impose a blind dictatorship and an extremist culture that contradicts the values of our people and their heritage."

"The events in the Gaza Strip prove to everyone that the [Hamas] coup is nearing its end. Our heroic people in Gaza will not be terrorized by these mercenaries," the statement said.

Hamas men in civilian clothes had also joined the uniformed forces in dispersing the protest and beating protesters with sticks.

A small explosion from an unknown source injured two French journalists, one in his leg and the other on her hand. Neither injury was considered serious. A Hamas security spokesman said stun grenades and pipe bombs were used by the protesters.

Ihab al-Ghusain, the Hamas security spokesman, said "rioting is unacceptable in the law ... they had to be contained in anyway possible, according to the law."

After the clashes, heavily armed Hamas security agents entered the Associated Press offices in Gaza City and instructed staff not to film or photograph a nearby security building from the balcony without prior permission.

Saber Khalifa, a Hamas security spokesman, said his force was rounding up subverters. He didn't have a number of those arrested.

A Fatah official in Gaza said 25 men had been rounded up.