Hamas & Fatah back to square one again

01/08/08

A horrific beach bombing takes Hamas and Fatah back to the
edge of open strife, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank

The enduring strife between Hamas and Fatah took a turn for
the worse this week when an explosive device went off
beneath a car parked at a Gaza beach, killing five Hamas
military personnel as well as a six-year-old girl. The
incident occurred Friday 25 July, as thousands of Gazans
flocked to the sea, fleeing the unusually severe heat of
summer.

The victims, who were also vacationing at the beach,
included prominent figures in Hamas’s military wing, the
Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, including the son-in-law of
Khalil Al-Hayya, a key Hamas leader. Hamas held “the
treasonous trend” within Fatah — an allusion to the
US-backed group led by former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan
— responsible for the bombing, vowing to capture the
perpetrators and punish them severely.

Dahlan and his forces fled Gaza last year after Hamas
carried out a pre-emptive coup to foil a planned US-backed
coup by Fatah security forces that Hamas says was aimed at
eradicating the legitimate Hamas government in the Gaza
Strip.

Fatah, which initially displayed signs of satisfaction,
denied any involvement in the incident. But in a clear
provocation to Hamas, Fatah as well as the Fatah-dominated
Palestinian Authority (PA) suggested that the bombing was
an internal Hamas matter, which independent Palestinian
observers dismiss as a remote possibility.

Seeking to identify and arrest the perpetrators, Hamas
security forces in Gaza carried out a widespread campaign
of arrests targeting Fatah activists. According to human
rights groups, as many as 150 Fatah activists were
arrested, many of them released a few hours after their
detention.

In the West Bank, the PA, which functions in coordination
with the Israeli army, launched a vitriolic wave of
incitement against Hamas, accusing the Islamist movement of
waging a witchhunt campaign against Fatah. Fatah and PA
leaders were careful to deny involvement in the murder of
the five Ezzeddin Al-Qassam officers, accusing Hamas of
using the incident to justify its crackdown on Fatah.

Seeking to spite Hamas, Fatah’s mukhabarat (general
intelligence) raided the homes of suspected opposition
figures in the northern West Bank, arresting as many as 100
people. The detainees included elected officials of the
Nablus municipal council, judges, professors, students,
civic and religious leaders, many of whom unaffiliated with
Hamas.

One of the detainees is professor Abdul-Sattar Qassem, a
former presidential candidate and outspoken critic of the
PA who has nothing to do with Hamas. Qassem, who was
released Tuesday night, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he didn’t
know why he was arrested.

“They were generally polite with me, but one officer
briefly questioned me about articles I write which he
considered strongly-worded.” Qassem said he would propose
to both Hamas and Fatah to “authorise independent,
nationalist Palestinian intellectuals to look into the
internal Palestinian crisis and try to find a solution.”

The Weekly sought to ask Nablus Governor Jamal Muhesen why
he allowed the arrests despite their being groundless.
Muhesen refused to speak, but his personal secretary said:
“The arrests were carried out without the governor’s
knowledge. The decision came from Ramallah, The governor
has nothing to do with it.”

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had described
the Gaza bombing and Hamas’s subsequent crackdown on Fatah
as “regrettable”, spoke of an impending Egyptian- mediated
effort to restart national reconciliation talks between
Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas rejected Abbas’s remarks, calling them an “exposed
attempt to divert attention from the Gaza beach bombing.”
Moussa Abu Marzouq, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political
bureau dismissed Abbas’s call for dialogue as “meaningless
and not serious in light of what his security apparatuses
are doing in the West Bank.”

Abu Marzouq described the arrest of Hamas’s cadres in the
West Bank as “rabid”, accusing the PA of colluding with
Israel in targeting Hamas. He also refuted claims that the
arrest of Hamas supporters in the West Bank were in
response to the arrests of Fatah activists in the Gaza
Strip.

“The arrest of some Fatah elements in Gaza took place in
the context of an investigation into a murderous crime that
killed six innocent people. But Fatah’s arrests of Hamas
supporters and other Palestinian citizens were politically
motivated and meant to serve the interests of the Israeli
occupation.”

The extent of the repercussions of the Gaza bombing on the
prospects of Palestinian reconciliation is not clear. What
is clear is that the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is
assuming an increasingly tribal nature.

On Tuesday, a high-ranking Hamas delegation left for Cairo
for talks with Egyptian officials, including General
Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, on strengthening the
tahdia, or ceasefire, with Israel. According to Hamas
officials, the delegation will press Egypt to reopen the
Rafah border crossing in honour of earlier Egyptian
undertakings in this regard.

The arrival of Hamas delegation in Cairo coincides with the
arrival in the Egyptian capital of an Israeli official in
charge of the so-called “Shalit file” — the case of an
Israeli soldier captured by resistance fighters two years
ago. Israeli media Tuesday reported that beleaguered
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed to relax
criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an
exchange deal.

According to Israeli press sources, the “flexibility”
Israel is showing would have to be reciprocated by Hamas.
Yet in this context the Israeli occupation army continues
to indiscriminately torment and savage Palestinian society.
On Monday, the Israeli army burned down a furniture factory
in downtown Nablus, causing losses estimated at more than
$3 million.

This ostensibly deliberate crime comes at a time when
Western donors are trying desperately to revive the
Palestinian economy in order to enhance prospects of peace
between Israel and the Palestinians. Sabri Hindiyyeh, a
proprietor of Qaser Hindiyyeh Furniture, told Maan, “the
Israeli army fired light and smoke bombs into the store at
2am on Tuesday turning everything in the shop to ashes.”

Earlier, the Israeli army destroyed a multi- storey
building in Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem under the pretext
that the building had been built without a valid licence.

Caption: Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of killed
Hamas militants through the streets of Gaza Saturday after
an overnight bomb blast killed five senior Palestinian
militants and a five-year-old girl; Palestinian President
Abbas speaks to the press after meeting with President
Mubarak in Cairo Sunday; Palestinians inspect the destroyed
house of Hamas member Shihab Al-Natche, 25, following an
Israeli army operation in the occupied West Bank city of
Hebron Sunday. Israeli soldiers arrested three other men in
the raid

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