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Gazan exiles dubious about Palestinian unity

Fatah partisans driven from the Gaza Strip by Hamas reject Palestinian reconciliation.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 10, 2008

Driven out:Thayer Hamdan was injured in the Hamas coup in Gaza last June.

Adam Reynolds/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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Beit Jala, West Bank

A year ago, Thayer Hamdan was on duty as an officer in the Palestinian Authority's national security service in Gaza. Standing 6 feet, 4 inches, he seemed built for imposing law and order.

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Now, at 22, he is a double-amputee, following the violent struggle in Gaza last June, in which Hamas seized control of all the military and political posts of the Palestinian Authority (PA), then controlled by Fatah.

Mr. Hamdan is one of dozens of men seriously injured in the virtual civil war who are now stuck in the West Bank, afraid to go back to their families in Gaza for fear of their lives.

"There isn't one among them who doesn't want to go back and be with his family – it's the only way to have their morale boosted," says Midhat Taha, who escaped from Gaza last June because he is an assistant to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Now, Dr. Taha is charged with helping the worst cases.

"Some of them could go back, but when they return they are brought in for interrogation and this is very difficult. [Hamas] arrests these people who try to go home, to get information about the situation in the West Bank, about [Fatah] offices."

Close to the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding, Palestinians are deeply divided – geographically between the West Bank and Gaza, and ideologically between Islamic Hamas and secular Fatah. National reconciliation seems far off, and to some, increasingly less achievable or even desirable. As if to drive home the point, an agreement reached in Yemen late last month to launch a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation dialogue has been met with doubt, pessimism, and even outright rejection.

"I don't think this Sanaa agreement, or even a dialogue following it, will make a difference for anyone," says Taha, who misses his wife and five children, still in Gaza.

For Hamdan, the Yemeni effort is "demoralizing and discouraging."

"Hamas assassinated so many of us. How can they close our files without making those who attacked us accountable for their deeds?" asks Hamdan, as he sits in a rehabilitative hospital here, waiting to be fitted for two prosthetic limbs.

He was one of dozens of Fatah-affiliated security personnel captured by Hamas militants and shot at point-blank range. In Hamdan's case, he says he was one of six men who were handcuffed, beaten, lined up on the ground, and shot multiple times in both legs. "He shot me in the knees. And then four more times into my legs."

"Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahhar should also be punished for the coup," he says, blaming the top Hamas officials, who still claim to hold their offices as president and foreign minister, respectively. Mr. Abbas dismissed them after the coup.

But Ahmed Yousef, senior adviser to Mr. Haniyeh, says both sides are to blame. "People ... will tell you stories about their legs being cut, but they don't tell you how many Palestinians from [Hamas] have been killed.... We had people on our side, more than 120, killed, just because they had a beard or looked like Islamists."

Fifty-one other men in the West Bank are in a situation similar to Hamdan's, injured in Gaza and transferred or smuggled here. Dozens of others are in Israel, Egypt, or Jordan. Seventy were taken for medical treatment in Turkey, a PA official says.

"The only way for me to go back to Gaza is if there is a real reconciliation, and I can't see it now," says Hamdan, despite an Egyptian plan to invite the rival Palestinian factions to a meeting in the coming days. "I've spoken a lot about what happened to us, so I know that Hamas would certainly like to get a hold of me if they could."

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