Palestinian Authority Infighting Escalates
In a recent RapidRecon entry, readers were directed to a closer look at the Popular Resistance Committees, whose head, Jamal Abu Samhadana, has been tasked with overseeing the formation of a new Hamas security force. Mahmoud Abbas ordered the Hamas security force disbanded, but those calls went unheeded in a direct challenge to the authority of the Fatah Palestinian president. The new Hamas security force is largely comprised of terrorists from the PRC, and it has now taken to the streets to challenge Abbas’ Fatah-dominated Palestinian Police, among other security forces under his control.
A gunfight outside a Gaza City police station erupted after the new Hamas force cut off streets leading to the headquarters. Said a policeman, “It began with the two sides shouting at each other and it developed into a gunfight.” The UK Independent reports that the Palestinian Police began to march outside in front of the Hamas force’s position chanting “We are the authority. We salute Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]” and “Jerusalem, the president, the homeland.”
A Hamas spokesman offered the explanation that the gun battle began only after unknown elements drove by in a car and opened fire on the police station. That explanation was immediately dismissed by Fatah members at the scene.
For over half an hour, sporadic exchanges of gunfire snapped the air, eventually claiming at least four wounded including two of the Palestinian police.
Hamas’ PA Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, referred to the PRC-led militia as a “back-up force” and refused to pull them from the streets, insisting that they were perfectly legal, saying, “This force will be according to the law and integrated into the security services. The force is not directed against anyone. As they were in the forefront of resistance, they are now protecting the land and security.”
That they were “in the forefront of resistance” is important and undeniable. The PRC is a relatively new organization, established in September of 2000 by Abu Samhadana. It has drawn its membership from terrorists from the militant wings of Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas. That they are not listed on the American or European list of terrorist organizations is puzzling. That status should be changed very soon. Their ideology is clearly Islamist and they are thought of in the same Islamist ideological arena as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Egypt is demanding that Hamas turn over a suspect in the recent Dahab bombings, and are accusing Hamas of harboring the attack’s plotter after he infiltrated Gaza escaping from Egyptian authorities. Egypt believes that senior PRC leaders are providing safe haven for the relative of an Egyptian with known ties to al-Qaeda who also participated in the Dahab bombings which killed twenty-four. A PRC spokesman denied the allegations.
In another development early today involving Egypt, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was arrested at the Rafah Crossing by Abbas’ police force and $817,000 in cash confiscated as he tried to smuggle the money to Hamas from Qatar via Egypt. The BBC reports that the money has been released to the PA Interior Ministry. This is perplexing, as the Minister of the Interior for the PA is Hamas’ Said Sayyam. It is possible that, with ‘dozens of armed security forces’ rushing to the scene, a deal may have been struck to avoid another bloody clash between Fatah and Hamas factions in the south of Gaza.
For some background, Reuters has a fairly good quick look at the various Palestinian forces in play.
Hamas is clearly enlisting the services and official partnership of affiliated terrorists in order to directly challenge Abbas for complete control of the Palestinian Authority. That challenge may now be coming to a head as armed forces are put to the street. The fear among Palestinians of complete submergence into a direct civil war is palpable and well founded.
Said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas, “I think the situation is a pressure-cooker situation. We don’t want anything that may endanger the situation or push it from bad to worse.”
But Abbas and his loyal Fatah forces are not in complete control of events that would “push it from bad to worse.” Hamas has an equal say in the matter, and the official formation of the new PRC-led forces and their deployment to the Gaza City police headquarters for direct confrontation are clear indicators that Hamas thinks quite differently.