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Gaza Militants Demand Arafat Free Detainees : Mideast: In third day of protests, Hamas threatens bloodshed unless all activists are released.

October 18, 1994| From Times Wire Services

GAZA CITY — In a growing challenge to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, thousands of Islamic militants rioted outside the central jail here Monday, demanding freedom for arrested fundamentalists.

"No to the police state! No to prison!" shouted protesters who gathered in pouring rain, some shooting bullets into the air.

Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of the fundamentalist Hamas movement, threatened bloodshed unless all 210 activists detained last week after the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier are released.

Palestinian officials persuaded the crowd, estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 people, to disperse after three hours. The officials released 60 detainees and promised the rest will be home within days.

But a Palestinian commander said the police will soon begin confiscating unregistered weapons in the Gaza Strip, signaling a possible crackdown on Izzidin al-Qassam, Hamas' armed wing.

It was the third day of anti-Arafat protests in Gaza, where a fragile coexistence between the 5-month-old autonomy government and its fundamentalist opposition appears to have been thrown off balance by the kidnaping last week of an Israeli soldier.

Cpl. Nachshon Waxman's captors killed him Friday as Israeli commandos stormed their hide-out north of Jerusalem. An Israeli commando and three kidnapers also died.

Monday's protest began at the house of one of the dead kidnapers. Two PLO police cars tried to get to the head of the march to the jail, but more than 100 Hamas supporters forced the cars off the road.

When they reached the jail, angry protesters surged against a fence, surrounding it and shouting "Hamas will shake the land" and "We'll burn Gaza" at hundreds of armed and helmeted Palestine Liberation Organization police. Dozens of the protesters tried to scale the fence.

"Down with Nasser Yusuf," the crowd also chanted, calling for the dismissal of the Palestinian police chief, Maj. Gen. Nasser Yusuf.

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