Palestinian civil strife deepens divide

Palestinian civil strife deepens divide

August 4, 2008 - 12:00AM

This is from the Age. This internal strife makes it difficult to forge a peace agreement and makes the Palestinians even weaker in their negotiations with Israel. Israel would no doubt like to obtain a weak agreement with Abbas and Fatah and leave Hamas out completely.

Bitter weekend fighting between rival Palestinian factions left nine people dead and about 100 wounded. There were fears the death toll would rise as rescue workers began sifting through the rubble of a three-storey apartment block detonated by Hamas on Saturday.

It is believed that Hamas militants fired 300 mortar shells and dozens of rocket-propelled grenades into the Sajaiya neighbourhood in Gaza City.

The area is a stronghold of the Hilles clan, which is aligned to Fatah, the secular party that controls the West Bank.

Hamas marksmen also positioned themselves on the minarets of several mosques and fired at anyone who came out into the street.

So fierce was Hamas' pursuit of the Hilles clan that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak allowed 190 clan members fleeing Hamas militants to cross into Israel.

Mr Barak made the decision on humanitarian grounds after receiving a phone call from Palestinian President — and Fatah leader — Mahmoud Abbas appealing for help.

"Yesterday evening Abu Mazen (Abbas) and (Palestinian Prime Minister Salam) Fayyad made a request for Israel to allow them to cross into Israel and then to hospitals and the West Bank," a senior Israeli official said yesterday.

"Shortly afterwards Barak was contacted again by Abbas who asked him to allow all of them to return to Gaza," the official said.

Among those who escaped were 30 wounded people, at least six in a serious condition.

Israeli security officials began transferring the 190 Palestinians to the West Bank late yesterday.

The violence was part of Hamas' response to a series of bombings in Gaza 10 days ago that killed five Hamas operatives and a six-year-old girl.

Hamas blames Fatah for the bombings. Hamas encircled the Sajaiya neighbourhood yesterday and said that it would conduct house-to-house searches to find those suspected of involvement in the bombings.

"We got hit hard," one Fatah official was quoted as saying yesterday. "Those battles were meant to erase our presence in the Gaza Strip. This is political cleansing."

Residents of Gaza described the battles in Sajaiya as the fiercest yet in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammad Darawshe, co-director of the Abraham Fund, an organisation aimed at advancing co-existence and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, said the weekend fighting was another dark page in Palestinian history.

"When you have Palestinians being forced to flee their own territory by other Palestinians, it is a tragedy," Mr Darawshe said.

"Hamas might win the battle, but this behaviour makes it so much harder to win international support to create an independent state. This is the behaviour of a brutal dictatorship, not a political party working towards advancing the interests of its people."

Hebrew University professor of philosophy Gabriel Motzkin, who heads a discussion forum that promotes efforts to increase reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, said the faint hopes for the current round of peace talks being sponsored by the US had been all but extinguished.

"It is beyond doubt that there are now two separate Palestinian territories, so who does Israel deal with?" he asked. "Mahmoud Abbas does not speak for Palestinians in Gaza. And Hamas is not interested in any negotiations with Israel at all. This civil war makes a permanent solution impossible to negotiate."

With AFP

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