Dramatic escalation in the violent confrontations between Hamas and Fatah.1 Hamas has taken over extensive areas of the Gaza Strip as the collapse of Fatah and the security forces accelerates.
Left: Hamas/Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades operatives laying siege to a National Security Service building in Gaza. Right: Fatah/ Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades operatives ready to confront Hamas. (www.palissue.com, June 13, 2007)
1. The frail ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah which went into effect at the end of the last round of confrontations (May 13-19) collapsed completely after the talks in Cairo failed. Behind the new round of confrontations, the seventh since Hamas came to power, are Hamas' refusal to accept Abu Mazen's initiative (the ten-point plan), the abiding mutual hatred and loss of faith between the sides inflamed by virulent propaganda.
Armed men in the streets of Gaza City (Al-Aqsa TV, June 12).
2. The confrontations, which began on June 7, are more extensive and deadlier than the previous ones. They have been characterized by bitter, hard-fought battles have taken place in many hot spots throughout the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been gained the upper hand . Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and Executive Force have taken over vast areas in the northern and southern Gaza Strip, and in Gaza City . On the other hand, there has been an accelerated deterioration of Fatah and of Palestinian security forces , which are demoralized and militarily inferior and have no effective leadership (Muhammad Dahlan is in Egypt , recovering from an operation). During the past few days the violence has begun to seep into Judea and Samaria has begun, where Fatah and its security forces have the advantage over Hamas .
A member of Hamas' Executive Force, the force operating as Hamas' military wing during the recent confrontations (www.palissue.com, June 13, 2007).
3. Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen continues to demonstrate his irrelevance to the events taking place in the Gaza Strip. He blamed Hamas for attempting a violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and for planning a military coup. However, he did not take the initiative and put an end to the battles. Fatah's central committee decided to delay the movement's participation in the government as long as the confrontations continued in the Gaza Strip, but has so far avoided withdrawing from the national unity government.
4. A new peak has been reached in the military- political confrontation between Hamas and Fatah, which has continued since Hamas came to power. The confrontation, characterized by spurts of violence which end in shaky ceasefires, is motivated by the aspirations of both sides to attain positions of power in the PA, with the final objective of taking it over and forcing its ideology and agenda on the rival side and on the entire Palestinian population. The significance of the current escalation is the following:
The latest round of Hamas-Fatah confrontations
A. The acceleration of the Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, turning it into "Hamastan:" Hamas' successes in the confrontations in the Gaza Strip have put a significant amount of territory (where Fatah and its security forces are weak) under Hamas control. That increases the practical and political gulf between the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria , where Fatah so far has managed to retain its advantage over Hamas.
B. The paralysis of the Palestinian national unity government and the PA: The current escalation indicates that the formulas and compromises achieved by the Mecca summit are not working on the ground. That is the result of the deep differences between Hamas and Fatah and their inability to function in a common political framework based on an agenda agreed upon by both sides. Thus Abu Mazen and Fatah may consider carrying out their threats to dissolve the national unity government, and it can be expected that louder voices will be raised to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
C. Hamas (or Fatah and other terrorist organizations) may make another attempt to end the internal confrontation by turning it against Israel : That will be done by increasing the amount of rocket fire or by carrying out grandiose terrorist attacks, such as the one at the Kissufim Crossing. Such an attempt was made by during the round of attacks in May, and was successful in Hamas eyes, although it was short lived.
5. The current round of confrontations has taken place in many hot spots in the northern and southern Gaza Strip and in Gaza City . They focused on attacks against political and military leaders and field operatives on both sides, and on Hamas' attempts to take over headquarters and bases belonging to the Palestinian security forces and Fatah, especially in the northern Gaza Strip.
6. According to reports from Hamas' media, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and Executive Force operatives have taken over most of the Fatah and Palestinian security force headquarters and bases in the northern Gaza Strip, the southern Gaza Strip (mainly in Khan Yunis) and Gaza City. Hamas even announced that the northern Gaza Strip had been declared a closed military area (Palestine-info Website, June 12).
7. Approximately 70 Fatah operatives, Hamas operatives and members of the security forces were killed in the fighting, and close to 200 wounded. Among them were also civilians who were caught in the crossfire, or relatives of Fatah and Hamas operatives who were deliberately killed in mutual assassination attempts.
8. The battles were particularly brutal: operatives were thrown from high buildings; detainees and abductees were murdered in cold blood; operatives families were targeted; buildings were set on fire with people inside; clerics were attacks and shots were fired near mosques; and firefights took place in Gaza Strip hospitals, turning them into Hamas-Fatah battlefields.2
9. The media reported there were snipers roaming hospital corridors and firing from windows, and that armed men had barricaded themselves in the corridors and on the roofs (Ynet, June 13). Hit hard was the government hospital in Beit Hanoun, where battles were fought between Hamas and Fatah. The Fatah-affiliated Palpress Website reported the hospital director, Dr. Nasser Radwan, as saying that "the Executive Force and [Izzedine] al-Qassam Brigades operatives are laying siege to the hospital and shooting at doctors. They came inside and are firing at doctors and patients. They are shooting in the operating rooms and wards Many people have been killed and wounded inside the hospital" (June 11). In the end the hospital was occupied by Hamas and the staff and patients were evacuated (Dunia al-Watan Website, June 11).
10. Prominent among the mutual attacks and assassinations were the following:
A. RPGs were fired at the house of Ismail Haniya and the Shati refugee camp (June 12).
Damage inflicted by RPGs on Ismail Haniya's house (Al-Aqsa TV, June 12).
B. Fatah and Force 17 operatives were thrown off high buildings in Gaza City (June 10 and 11).
C. The house of the mayor of Beit Lahia was attacked and burned (June 12).
D. Mortars were fired at the house of Rashid Abu Shbaq (June 12).
E. Hamas operatives broke into the house of Samih al-Madhoun, a senior Fatah operative, in Beit Lahia (June 12).
F. Jamal Abu Jidian, Fatah general secretary in the northern Gaza Strip, was assassinated in Beit Lahia (June 11).
G. The house of Maher Miqdad, Fatah spokesman in the Gaza Strip, was attacked (June 12).
H. Muhammad al-Dahduh, Executive Force operative, was abducted and murdered (June 11).
I. Mazen Sa'adi Ajour, Hamas operational commander, was executed (June 11).
J. Muslim clerics were abducted and murdered, among them sheikh Muhammad al-Rifati, the imam of the Al-Abbas mosque in Gaza City (Filisteen Mubasher, June 11).
K. An attempt was made on the life of Bassem Na'im, youth and sports minister, by members of Fatah's Force 17 (June 11).
11. Prominent among attacks on bases, facilities, institutions and symbols of power were the following:
A. Hamas attacked the headquarters of the national security forces in the Jabaliya refugee camp, and a bitter battle ensued (June 12).
B. Fatah operatives attacked a building in Gaza City from which Hamas's satellite channel, Al-Aqsa, broadcast. There were problems with transmission in the afternoon hours (June 12).
C. Mortar shells were fired at the presidential headquarters in Gaza City (June 12).
D. Hamas fired mortar shells at the Technology and Science College in Khan Yunis (June 12).
E. Hamas fired mortar shells at a national security force base in the town of Dir Balah (June 12)
F. Hamas operatives broke into the house of Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure, in the region of Al-Sudaniya in the northern Gaza Strip. They shot a bodyguard and vandalized the house (June 12).
G. Armed Fatah operatives raided the Abu Hasira mosque near the Gaza port. They reportedly damaged volumes of the Qur'an and vandalized the mosque (Radio Al-Aqsa, June 11).
12. Two additional items related to the current round of confrontations:
A. So far no significant attempt has been made to mediate or calm the situation, neither by the Egyptians (who seem to be frustrated by the situation and in despair) nor by the Fatah and Hamas leadership. The militant announcements broadcast by the Hamas media, calling for the destruction and killing of Fatah and the PA security forces, give the impression that Hamas is looking for military gains and for the time being is not interested in another ceasefire or a political solution.
B. The other Palestinian terrorist organizations, especially the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have not participated significantly in the fighting. They make do with their daily quota of rocket fire into Israel to show they are still in the front line of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
The Hamas-Fatah violence begins seeping into Judea and Samaria
13. The current round of confrontations has focused on the Gaza Strip, where Hamas enjoys the advantage, and Fatah has not yet moved the fight into Judea and Samaria . However, Fatah has threatened to attack senior Hamas figures if its own activists in the Gaza Strip are harmed. In view of the threats, it was reported that Hamas announced it had put its commanders and operatives in the West Bank on alert ( Ma'an News Agency, June 12).
14. There were a number of incidents in Judea and Samaria , prominent among which were the following:
The propaganda and mudslinging war
A. Several armed men, apparently belonging to the Presidential Guard, broke into Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV offices in the Pal-media building in Ramallah near the Muqataa. They confiscated equipment and computers and detained four employees (June 12).
B. Armed Fatah operatives abducted the Hamas- affiliated deputy transportation minister from his office in Ramallah (June 12).
C. Armed men shot at the Nablus city hall and at the vehicles of a number of city council members while a council meeting was in session inside (June 11).
15. While the fighting was raging in the streets, the current Hamas-Fatah mudslinging was reached new heights. Here as well Hamas enjoys superiority over Fatah because of its vast media infrastructure, which includes television, radio, newspapers and Websites. An important role is played by its satellite channel, Al-Aqsa TV.
16. The Hamas media have a number of epithets for Fatah and its security forces: "criminal murderers," "the group that went astray," "the Oslo gang," "the wicked group," "mercenaries," "little Satans," "cold-blooded murderous dogs," "the group that sold itself to the Jews and the American," "filth that can only be found in a garbage dump," "the Lahad army" (for example, Al-Aqsa TV, June 10).
17. The mudslinging and name-calling are intended to justify the killing of members of Fatah and the security forces. In certain instances Hamas activists explicitly called for the execution of their opponents. For example, the statement openly made by Yunis al-Astal, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, to kill "the dogs" and to get rid of "the murderers" carrying out the decisions of the Jews (Pal-media Website, June 11); or the call of sheikh Abu Bilal Nizar Riyan at the Hamas forum to kill "the murderers," "the infidels" and "the Lahad agent army [of Israel]" ("agents of Lahad is one of the negative epithets hurled at Fatah and the security forces) (paldf.net forum of the Center for Palestinian Information, June 12).
"Lahad's army, an agent [of Israel]" i.e., collaborating with Israel , one of Hamas' epithets for Fatah. It appeared as the title of an anti-Fatah song broadcast by Al-Aqsa TV (June 12).
18. Hamas' propaganda machine attacked PA chairman Abu Mazen, called by Al-Aqsa TV an agent of Lahad's army (June 12). Senior Hamas activist Sami Abu Zuhri called Abu Mazen "a dictatorial president," "a traitorous agent" who "signed a treaty with the Jews and the Americans" (Palestine-info, June 12). Muhammad Dahlan received special treatment, being referred to as "the biggest Satan of them all." He was awarded propaganda video clips of his own on Al-Aqsa TV as has not been seen since the Mecca Accord. Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council representative Yehia Musa said that "Dahlan represents the worst treason of the Palestinian people and its rights ever seen There will be no peace and quiet as long as there are people, Muhammad Dahlan foremost among them, whose agenda is that of Israel and America " (Filastin al-An Website, June 11).
Anti-Dahlan poster: Muhammad Dahlan as Hulagu, the Mongolian ruler who conquered much of Western Asia in the 13 th century. His acts of cruelty are etched into the memory of Muslim Arabs to this day (Filastin al-An Website, June 12).
1. As of noon, June 13, 2007.
2. The American-based organization, Human Rights Watch, blamed Palestinian terrorist-operatives for committing war crimes against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. "The murder of civilians not engaged in hostilities and the willful killing of captives are war crimes, pure and simple," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, in an announcement from New York (Ynet, June 13 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3412052,00.html).
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