3 August 2006 Edition

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UDA 'show of strength' amid feud fears

Amid fears of another round of blood letting within the UDA up to 800 members and supporters of the unionist paramilitary group staged a 'show of strength' on the Shankill Road in Belfast on Saturday 30 July.

The demonstration, organised by the UDA leadership, was designed to send out a clear message to the Shoukri brothers and their supporters that their control of the UDA's North Belfast Brigade is over.

The Shoukri brothers, Andre and Ihab, both of whom are in Maghaberry Prison, were expelled from the UDA in June but refused to relinquish their control or accept their dismissal.

Since then there has been growing tension within loyalist areas of North Belfast. These tensions erupted in violence on Monday 24 July when a UDA gang attacked the home of Andre Shoukri in Clare Heights in the Ballysillan area of North Belfast.

Then on Friday 28 July, as the UDA in North Belfast released a statement claiming to have deposed the Shoukri brothers and elected a new leadership loyal to the 'Inner Council', a stand-off developed.

Rival factions confronted each other in the Westland area of North Belfast, the Shoukris' stronghold, as well as in the Tyndale and Ballysillan areas. And with reports circulating that fighting broke out and shots had been fired at the home of one of the newly elected UDA leaders in Tyndale, a heavy PSNI force moved into the areas.

It has since been claimed that the UDA tried to kill the Shoukri brothers in Maghaberry. A caller to The Irish News, using a recognised codeword, claimed the UDA tried to poison the pair on Thursday 27 July.

Saturday's rally on the Shankill Road was organised within 24 hours of the UDA's 'Inner Council' releasing a statement saying that it accepted the newly installed North Belfast leadership.

At the rally a statement on behalf of the UDA leadership and referring to the Shoukris warned those members "who used their position to achieve personal gain through drug trafficking and drug sales" that the organisation, "will not stand by and allow its community to be attacked".

Sinn Féin assembly member for North Belfast, Kathy Stanton has called on nationalists to be vigilant in light of these loyalist tensions. "Internal unionist paramilitary feuding usually ends up with attacks on Catholics at interface areas like North Belfast", she stated.

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