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8 die as Hamas declares war on collaborators

JERUSALEM - Fears are growing that a spate of Palestinian collaborator killings this week in the Gaza Strip may be the start of a new and bloody drive by militant Palestinian factions to punish those they charge with aiding Israel, writes Sarah Helm.

In the anarchy that prevails on the streets of Gaza, as Palestinians wait to hear whether the Israeli withdrawal is to proceed, there is every opportunity for the gunmen to set themselves up as judge and jury.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, declared an amnesty on collaborators in November, saying suspects could have two months to confess and renounce ties with the Israeli intelligence services. Attacks have resumed since the deadline on 20 January.

On Wednesday, Hamas said it killed two collaborators, whose bodies were found on the Gaza streets. Fatah, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, claimed responsibility for killing a further one. The bodies of three more suspected collaborators were found the same day, but their killers were unknown. Yesterday another two Palestinians were added to the death-toll - with Hamas again claiming responsibility.

Palestinians, who blame collaborators for turning over militants to the Israelis, have killed more than 500 of their own community as suspected informers during the six-year uprising against Israeli rule.

In Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli undercover soldiers shot and killed Salim Muwafi, 24, a member of the mainstream Fatah 'Hawks' group.

The renewed violence comes as latest hopes of agreement on Israeli withdrawal have been dashed. The latest round of peace talks ended in Washington on Wednesday without any breakthrough, Israel said yesterday. However, a meeting between the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres, Israel's Foreign Minister, scheduled for Cairo on Sunday, will now take place, despite earlier doubts.

Palestinians received their first tangible dividend of peace with Israel yesterday when the US signed an agreement to give dollars 25m ( pounds 16.6m) to housing projects in Gaza, Reuter reports.