In Gaza, rise of Hamas military wing complicates reconciliation with Fatah
The rising clout of Al Qassam in Gaza dims prospects for mending the Hamas-Fatah rift. Reconciliation talks are slated to start Nov. 9.
Gaza City, Gaza
Abu Khaled has been a member of Hamas's military wing for 11 years and he looks the part. His thick beard, black clothes, and serious face bear witness to his rise through the ranks to become one of the leaders of the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, near Israel's border.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But at this moment, as he softly sings along with popular Arabic pop singer Elissa in a deserted Gaza restaurant, it's hard to believe he fought in the fierce 2007 battle that expelled Fatah, Hamas's secular rival, from Gaza.
When asked about reconciliation with Fatah, however, he snaps back into the role of tough militant leader.
"There is no reconciliation," he says sharply. "How can I reconcile with someone who killed my brother?"
Most Gazans are not optimistic that Hamas – considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel – will end the divide with Fatah, which dominates the internationally backed Palestinian Authority (PA) in charge of the West Bank.
But they want such reconciliation, because it would not only improve their standard of living and pave the way for overdue elections, but also enable Palestinians to present a united front in negotiations with Israel on a future Palestinian state.
Al Qassam members don't see reconciliation as an option
But reconciliation is not an option for Al Qassam members, who make up a large part of Hamas security forces. Their bitterness toward Fatah still runs deep over the 2007 battle, and their victory brought a sense of ownership for Hamas power in Gaza that they will not easily give up.
"Al Qassam led the battle against Fatah and gave the victory to Hamas," says Abu Khaled. "The Hamas government was weak until Al Qassam took the power and handed it to Hamas. Without us, there wouldn't be a Hamas government."
That is part of the reason that Hamas is not likely to sign, much less implement, the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation agreement that would restructure the security apparatus, giving Fatah a hand in Gaza security.
"[Al Qassam fighters] are the ones who kicked Fatah out of the Gaza Strip; they are the ones being hunted and tortured in the West Bank," says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza. "Qassam is against reconciliation and they will stand against [it] even if it means a big split within Hamas."