Gaza violence prompts call for outside help
Fighting between Fatah and Hamas escalated Tuesday, leading some to consider the deployment of a multinational force to police the volatile territory.
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
Palestinian factional fighting lurched dangerously closer to all-out civil war Tuesday as militants in Gaza linked to the opposing ideological camps, Fatah and Hamas, attacked one another's headquarters and drove internecine violence to unprecedented levels.Skip to next paragraph
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Following days of never-before-seen warfare between the two main Palestinian political spheres, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called for a truce and said he was working with Egyptian mediators on a lasting cease-fire.
But truce after truce has been shot down in the months since the two sides reached the Mecca Accord, a power-sharing agreement brokered in Saudi Arabia in February that led to the first-ever Palestinian unity government.
The failure thus far to strike a peaceable deal between Fatah and Hamas is stirring fears that the situation is likely to deteriorate further and that international intervention may be Gaza's last hope for calm.
As the fighting escalates and innocent civilians seek to escape from the cross fire, Palestinians are holding fast to deeply divergent theories about what and who is fueling the conflict.
Tuesday was one of the worst days of the fighting, with at least 17 Palestinians killed in 24 hours. Militants associated with Fatah attacked the home of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh for the second time in two days, while fighters loyal to Hamas seized several positions from their rivals, Fatah. Witnesses in Gaza said that Hamas forces had taken over parts of northern and central Gaza and declared them a closed military zone.
Roots of discord
Painted in broad brush strokes, Fatah is a movement built on secular nationalist principles. Its leadership began a peace process with Israel in 1993 that was meant to lead to a two-state solution to the conflict. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement that catapulted to power in January 2006 elections, remains firmly opposed to a peace deal with Israel on religious grounds.
And although many in the two camps hoped that these two dissimilar outlooks could be brought under one umbrella for the greater Palestinian good, that goal is being subsumed by ongoing struggle for military hegemony.
"From the beginning, this Mecca agreement did not satisfy everybody, and there were Hamas people who weren't happy with it, and to a certain extent this created two different views within Hamas," says Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank and a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority.
"Those who are involved in the government are relatively satisfied, and those who are in the fighting and the brigades are quite unhappy," says Dr. Khatib. "They started to feel that some kind of co-opting is happening within Hamas." In short, the willingness of Hamas politicians to work with Fatah and the office of Mr. Abbas, who is in turn cooperating with Israel and the US, is unacceptable to the armed groups affiliated with Hamas.
On the ground, that has translated into turf wars all over Gaza, made more complex by large, armed clans who have staked out certain fiefdoms. The Daghmash clan, the family holding BBC reporter Alan Johnston, exemplifies this issue.
Every move that Abbas and his Gazan security czar, Mohammed Dahlan, make to try to "reform" the security forces in Gaza is read by Hamas groups as an attempt to snatch a patch of what Hamas sees as its rightful turf, says Khatib.
"The activity of Abbas and Dahlan, the new training they're giving their forces – that all seems to be aimed at the Hamas brigades," Khatib adds. "Hamas had a sense of controlling the streets. They think that what Abbas and Dahlan are doing is undermining the Hamas plan."
In the eyes of Hamas officials, however, the implosion is a result of an "assault" on Hamas.
"Those who are allied under the command of Mr. Dahlan are committing a lot of crimes against our people, our soldiers, and our institutions, and this has really turned things upside down," says Atef Adwan, a Hamas member of the Palestinian legislative council, in a phone interview from his home in Gaza.
"They did not respect any truce we've reached so far, and so we're left with the conclusion that they're intending to topple the government," says Mr. Adwan. "Things have nearly reached an end by those who actually wanted to sabotage things. Those people will not respect any treaty, any truce, any law."