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Hamas frees Fatah men in unity gesture Militants trying to promote reconciliation

GAZA, Jan 9, (RTRS): The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip freed seven imprisoned members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday, saying it was trying to promote reconciliation with its West Bank-based rival. Hamas, which seized Gaza from Western-backed Fatah in 2007, made the unity gesture at a time when the Islamist movement is grappling with a rift with neighbouring Egypt’s military-backed government that has damaged and isolated the enclave’s economy. Relatives of the seven released prisoners welcomed them with kisses outside a Gaza jail, where they had been serving terms of up to two years for what Hamas described as security offences. Fatah said they were jailed for political reasons.

Both Hamas and Fatah have been accused by human rights groups of carrying out wide-scale arrests of each other’s members and abusing them while in detention. Hamas and Fatah both number their jailed members in the dozens and demand their freedom. Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, called the release an effort “to reinforce national reconciliation” — a goal that has proved elusive.

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