Square one again
Khalid Amayreh

A Palestinian policeman is seen in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. (Mouid Ashqar, Maan Images)
A Palestinian policeman is seen in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. (Mouid Ashqar, Maan Images)

The enduring strife between Hamas and Fatah took a turn for the worse this week when an explosive device went off beneath a car parked at a Gaza beach, killing five Hamas military personnel as well as a six-year-old girl. The incident occurred Friday 25 July, as thousands of Gazans flocked to the sea, fleeing the unusually severe heat of summer.

The victims, who were also vacationing at the beach, included prominent figures in Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, including the son-in-law of Khalil Al-Hayya, a key Hamas leader. Hamas held “the treasonous trend” within Fatah – an allusion to the US-backed group led by former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan – responsible for the bombing, vowing to capture the perpetrators and punish them severely.

Dahlan and his forces fled Gaza last year after Hamas carried out a pre-emptive coup to foil a planned US-backed coup by Fatah security forces that Hamas says was aimed at eradicating the legitimate Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah, which initially displayed signs of satisfaction, denied any involvement in the incident. But in a clear provocation to Hamas, Fatah as well as the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) suggested that the bombing was an internal Hamas matter, which independent Palestinian observers dismiss as a remote possibility.

Seeking to identify and arrest the perpetrators, Hamas security forces in Gaza carried out a widespread campaign of arrests targeting Fatah activists. According to human rights groups, as many as 150 Fatah activists were arrested, many of them released a few hours after their detention.

In the West Bank, the PA, which functions in coordination with the Israeli army, launched a vitriolic wave of incitement against Hamas, accusing the Islamist movement of waging a witchhunt campaign against Fatah. Fatah and PA leaders were careful to deny involvement in the murder of the five Ezzeddin Al-Qassam officers, accusing Hamas of using the incident to justify its crackdown on Fatah.

Seeking to spite Hamas, Fatah’s mukhabarat (general intelligence) raided the homes of suspected opposition figures in the northern West Bank, arresting as many as 100 people. The detainees included elected officials of the Nablus municipal council, judges, professors, students, civic and religious leaders, many of whom unaffiliated with Hamas.

One of the detainees is professor Abdul-Sattar Qassem, a former presidential candidate and outspoken critic of the PA who has nothing to do with Hamas. Qassem, who was released Tuesday night, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he didn’t know why he was arrested.

“They were generally polite with me, but one officer briefly questioned me about articles I write which he considered strongly-worded.” Qassem said he would propose to both Hamas and Fatah to “authorise independent, nationalist Palestinian intellectuals to look into the internal Palestinian crisis and try to find a solution.”

The Weekly sought to ask Nablus Governor Jamal Muhesen why he allowed the arrests despite their being groundless. Muhesen refused to speak, but his personal secretary said: “The arrests were carried out without the governor’s knowledge. The decision came from Ramallah, The governor has nothing to do with it.”

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had described the Gaza bombing and Hamas’s subsequent crackdown on Fatah as “regrettable”, spoke of an impending Egyptian- mediated effort to restart national reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas rejected Abbas’s remarks, calling them an “exposed attempt to divert attention from the Gaza beach bombing.” Moussa Abu Marzouq, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau dismissed Abbas’s call for dialogue as “meaningless and not serious in light of what his security apparatuses are doing in the West Bank.”

Abu Marzouq described the arrest of Hamas’s cadres in the West Bank as “rabid”, accusing the PA of colluding with Israel in targeting Hamas. He also refuted claims that the arrest of Hamas supporters in the West Bank were in response to the arrests of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip.

“The arrest of some Fatah elements in Gaza took place in the context of an investigation into a murderous crime that killed six innocent people. But Fatah’s arrests of Hamas supporters and other Palestinian citizens were politically motivated and meant to serve the interests of the Israeli occupation.”

The extent of the repercussions of the Gaza bombing on the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation is not clear. What is clear is that the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is assuming an increasingly tribal nature.

On Tuesday, a high-ranking Hamas delegation left for Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials, including General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, on strengthening the tahdia, or ceasefire, with Israel. According to Hamas officials, the delegation will press Egypt to reopen the Rafah border crossing in honour of earlier Egyptian undertakings in this regard.

The arrival of Hamas delegation in Cairo coincides with the arrival in the Egyptian capital of an Israeli official in charge of the so-called “Shalit file” – the case of an Israeli soldier captured by resistance fighters two years ago. Israeli media Tuesday reported that beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed to relax criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an exchange deal.

According to Israeli press sources, the “flexibility” Israel is showing would have to be reciprocated by Hamas. Yet in this context the Israeli occupation army continues to indiscriminately torment and savage Palestinian society. On Monday, the Israeli army burned down a furniture factory in downtown Nablus, causing losses estimated at more than $3 million.

This ostensibly deliberate crime comes at a time when Western donors are trying desperately to revive the Palestinian economy in order to enhance prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Sabri Hindiyyeh, a proprietor of Qaser Hindiyyeh Furniture, told [Palestinian news agency] Maan, “the Israeli army fired light and smoke bombs into the store at 2am on Tuesday turning everything in the shop to ashes.”

Earlier, the Israeli army destroyed a multi-story building in Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem under the pretext that the building had been built without a valid licence.

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