Palestinian Armed Groups Join to Denounce Internal Fighting

Hamas members, abducted by Palestinians 'in response to disregard for law and order' released unharmed in Bethlehem.

Rival Palestinian militant groups put up a united front on Saturday to denounce inter-factional kidnappings and violence that have undermined calls by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for law and order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"We announce all of the military wings are united in their position and faith and that we consider any attack on any one of us as an attack on us all," eight factions,including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said in a statement.

"Any action aimed at spreading chaos or internal strife ... will be considered treason," said the statement, issued at a Gaza news conference attended by gunmen, some of them masked. "Our response will be unified and swift."

Abbas has called on militant groups, which have spearheaded anti-Israeli violence over the past five years, to end what he describes as armed chaos and stop carrying their weapons in public.

Palestinians release abducted Hamas militants unharmedThree Hamas members who were abducted by Palestinians were released Friday night unharmed in Bethlehem.

One of the Hamas members said that his captors were Fatah members, and that they warned him that Hamas would suffer if it acted in the West Bank the same way it did in Gaza.

Palestinian security officials confirmed the kidnappings of local Hamas leaders Bassem Abeido in Hebron, Hassan Safi in Bethlehem and Professor Riad Abdel Karim al-Raz in Tul Karem. The three men were abducted by gunmen late Thursday.

A group calling itself the Omar bin al-Khatab Brigades claimed responsibility for the abductions.

"This is a response to Hamas' violations and disregard for law and order and their attacks on security institutions and Palestinian leaders," the group said in a leaflet. "We warn Hamas and ask them to stop their policy and learn their lessons. This is our first response."

Al-Raz, a prominent university professor, was released early Friday, hours after he was snatched from his West Bank home.

The professor, who heads the engineering department at A-Najah University, was freed with a torn shirt and black eye. He said he had no idea who kidnapped him or what they wanted.

"People came and took me by force. They didn't treat me well, and then they apologized and told he I would be taken home," he said.

Asked whether he thought the kidnappers were affiliated with Fatah, which is competing with Hamas in upcoming parliamentary elections, al-Raz said: "I'm not sure myself who they are."

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group affiliated with Fatah, denied involvement.

According to al-Raz's wife, gunmen firing in the air pounded on the door of their home in the West Bank city of Tul Karm late Thursday, then escaped with him.

Kidnappings among rival Palestinian groups have been on the increase in recent months, as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to restore law and order have achieved only partial success.

Earlier, a senior member of the Palestinian general intelligence service was abducted and shot by unknown gunmen in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said Friday.

According to the sources, Sami Ajour, who is also a Fatah member, was snatched Thursday and later dumped in the street in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya with serious gunshot wounds.

In the worst internal fighting in a decade, three people were killed in Gaza last Sunday in firefights between Hamas gunmen and Palestinian police, and 50 people were wounded when militants later tried to storm a police station.

Palestinian police launch major West Bank crackdownPalestinian police went door-to-door early Friday in the West Bank town of Yatta, arresting 30 suspected criminals in one of the biggest moves toward restoring law and order in the chaos-ridden Palestinian territories.

More than 200 policemen participated in Friday's arrest raid, searching for drug and arms dealers and other wanted criminals, said Ahmed Rabai, the Hebron-area police chief. Village residents said they could not recall such a heavy crackdown by Palestinian police.

Police raided the village before dawn, surrounded homes and called on suspects to surrender. Homes were searched and illegal weapons were confiscated.

"This campaign was ordered by political leaders to enforce law and order and to bring justice to normal Palestinians and make the Palestinian people feel safe," Rabai said. "This campaign will continue not only in Yatta town, but also in other villages and in the city of Hebron itself."