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Hamas-Fatah Tension Builds with New Fighting

Few periods in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict have seen as much turbulence short of open regional warfare as recent weeks. This week is no exception as Israeli Prime Minister Olmert visits Washington while new Hamas forces face off against Fatah-dominated police forces in Gaza gun battles in the streets.

Olmert is expected to confer with President Bush regarding his Israeli plan to disengage from the West bank, a position that the Bush Administration opposes. The Administration is hinting that any disengagement and drawing of permanent Israeli borders would, in their view, require Palestinian agreement to those borders. That, however, is likely a self-defeating proposition as the battling Hamas and Fatah factions are no more likely to both agree to a common set of boundaries to propose to Israel any sooner than they agree to where to draw the lines between their own internal power structures. Though both have indicated a common set, the pre-1968 boundaries, when push comes to shove, it may be difficult for powerful personalities on both Palestinian powers to agree to surrounding details.

Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said, “If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire [hudna] for many years. Our government is prepared to maintain a long-term cease-fire with Israel.” The regularly renewed ‘hudna’, while recognized potentially by Hamas officially, will have little sway over other Palestinian terrorist groups. Furthermore, with Hamas currently employing surrogate terrorist groups to carry out attacks against Israel, many Israelis do not accept such an offer at face value.

Earlier today, Israeli forces surrounded a Ramallah apartment barely 200 yards from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and captured captured top Hamas terror commander Ibrahim Hamed, wanted by Israel for eight years. Threatening to destroy the apartment with Hamed inside before he surrendered, Israel has linked the Hamas terrorist to attacks that have killed 78 Israelis.

In Gaza, even though the IDF is currently drilling for a Gaza incursion, Fatah and Hamas armed factions have seen their time more occupied by fighting each other. Exacerbating the situation, Monday’ Gaza City gun battles saw a Jordanian embassy worker killed in the Palestinian crossfire. Ismail Haniyeh has publicly called for calm in Gaza saying, “I tell our people not to be worried, our people are united despite these painful incidents. There is a real danger ahead of us and that is the (Israeli) occupation.”

But while Hamas and Haniyeh may hope to deflect blame and ultimate responsibility to the Israelis, the undeniable truth that underlines the situation on the ground in Gaza is that the new Hamas force in Gaza was created expressly to directly confront, challenge and battle Abbas’ Fatah-dominated security forces. These forces include the police in a spar for control of the political and armed power strings within the Palestinian Territories.

There is indeed “real danger ahead” of the Palestinian people, but that danger comes less in the form of Israeli tanks and airstrikes than it comes from angry clashes between Fatah and Hamas factions in the streets and neighborhoods throughout Gaza and, potentially soon, the West Bank as well.