Palestinian clashes cast gloom on reconciliation efforts
Hamas has vowed revenge on Fatah after a shootout between the two factions in the West Bank that left six dead.
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Strained relations between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah came to a head on Sunday when Palestinian Authority forces got into a shoot-out with Hamas members in the West Bank that left six dead. Sunday's eight-hour battle was the worst fighting between Palestinians since Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah two years ago. It has also raised new questions about Palestinians' ability to restart the peace process with Israel without a unity government.
During a patrol in Qalqilya, a northern West Bank town with a strong Hamas following, Palestinian police spotted armed members of Hamas. The patrol followed them to a house where a standoff ensued, according to media reports. When it ended, two senior Hamas operatives, three Palestinian police officers, and the owner of the house were dead.
The incident was followed by major protests in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip where demonstrators accused Fatah, which controls the West Bank, of collaborating with Israel. Hamas officials say that Fatah should be prepared for reprisal attacks.
A Hamas spokesperson in Damascus has called upon Palestinians to fight against the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority forces as intensely as if they were resisting the Israeli occupation, reports Haaretz, a center-left Israeli newspaper. In Gaza, a top Hamas official made similar remarks, ordering Hamas militants in the West Bank not to surrender to PA forces.
The Hamas call for internecine violence was unusual, and presumably includes the use of suicide bombings, since that is among the methods the group has sanctioned in its terror war on Israel.
Israeli security sources said the deaths of the two Hamas operatives seriously damaged one of the group's most dangerous cells in the West Bank. Israel has pressured the Palestinian forces to crack down on the Hamas cell as a way of keeping the Israel Defense Forces out of Qalqilyah.
Last Thursday, Israeli forces killed a top Hamas militant, Abed al-Majid Dudin, in an exchange of gunfire after surrounding his West Bank home. An Israeli military spokesman said he was responsible for two fatal bus bombings in Israel a decade ago.