Fatah v. Hamas: Demonstrations Turn Bloody
Saturday saw Fatah police and security members demonstrating violently in the streets from Gaza City to Rafah, as they jammed intersections, marched in the streets firing their weapons in the air and forced some shops to close under threat. They were protesting wages that have gone unpaid since February, after Hamas won the majority control in the Palestinian parliament. Only one incident occurred between Fatah and Hamas members Saturday when a presumed Hamas member threw a hand grenade into a crowd of Fatah protesters blocking his way, injuring five in the blast.
That which motivated the violently vocal actions of the unpaid Fatah police and security is the same which motivated Hamas to not match violence with equal or greater violence within their stronghold Gaza: To do so would be to damage Hamas’ fragile perceived standing within the government. Fatah holds Hamas responsible for the evaporation of foreign assistance which once paid their salaries, a condition which is only exacerbated by Hamas’ recent open steadfast refusal once again to recognize Israel while a nascent ‘unity government’ was being drafted and negotiated (see previous).
The measured Hamas response would end Sunday, as all bets were off and Hamas gunmen stormed crowds of protesting Fatah members. Said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad, “The protest today was beyond acceptable legal norms and turned truly into lawlessness.” The Hamas armed response touched off pitched bloody street battles that included machinegun and rocket blasts as well as hand-to-hand fighting. As a result, riots ensued in Gaza and spilled quickly into the West Bank, with buildings and cars set ablaze amidst pockets of continued fighting. In retaliation for the Hamas attacks on the Fatah demonstrators, Fatah members stormed the Palestinian parliament building in the West Bank’s Ramallah. They ransacked it and set the second floor on fire.
This follows a similar event on June 12 when Fatah gunmen stormed the Hamas Cabinet Building and set the second and fourth floors afire in response to a Hamas attack on Fatah in Gaza. At the time, a Fatah member remarked, “Every time they touch one of ours in Gaza, we will get 10 of theirs in the West Bank.” Fatah holds majority support in the West Bank while Hamas holds the same within its Gaza Strip stronghold.
Between six and eight are reported killed in the clashes, with estimates of over 100 wounded. Hamas has withdrawn its forces from taken positions in Gaza at the order of both Fatah’s PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
One Palestinian civilian expressed frustration at the situation when he remarked to an Associated Press journalist, “It’s a shame on Hamas, who call themselves real Muslims, and a shame of Fatah as well. Why are they fighting and over what? We are victims because of both of them.”
All the while, calls from within Israel are increasing as Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz says that perhaps the only way to stop the continuing Qassam rocket attacks on Israel from within Gaza is a “military means” through a “deeper, more ongoing ground offensive.”