Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Gaza Gets Worse

Hard to believe, isn't it?

According to the BBC, Fatah leader Abbas warns that the violence in Gaza "is taking the region to the point of collapse":
Armed members from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions have been battling in Gaza for control of key security posts.

Five Palestinians were killed in an explosion in a tunnel under a security headquarters in Khan Younis.

The fighting has spilled over into the West Bank with a gun battle breaking out in the northern town of Nablus.

At least 17 people have been reported killed in fighting on Wednesday with more than 60 people confirmed to have died in the last week.

Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, called the violence in Gaza "madness" and called on all parties to stop.

"Without a ceasefire and stopping of the fighting I think the situation will collapse in Gaza," he warned from Ramallah in the West Bank.

No doubt many Palestinians will wonder why Abbas is speaking so loudly about the violence in Gaza, when he's safely holed up in Ramallah. Then again, with Gaza looking increasingly like a free-for-all, who can blame him?

Supporters of Mr Abbas blamed Hamas militants for the blast in the southern city of Khan Younis that destroyed much of a building used by the Fatah-linked Preventive Security force.

Heavy gunfire broke out after the explosion and witnesses said several people were trapped in the rubble.

Two workers from the UN relief agency were among those who died on Wednesday. One man was apparently killed in crossfire in Khan Younis, the UNRWA said; the other died from wounds sustained on Tuesday.

The UN said it would temporarily scale back its operations in Gaza.

About time. As any Israeli could tell you, the first letter in UN stands for "useless"... and never has this been more apparent than among the Palestinians, who have been hurt by UN "help" more than anyone else.

Frightened civilians have been forced to stay in their homes in the densely populated seaside territory.

Children have been kept indoors for safety, although important school exams were meant to take place this week.

Several hundred civilian protesters briefly turned out in Gaza City to call for a ceasefire, but they scattered when confronted by masked Hamas gunmen firing their weapons.

One protester was killed and there are reports 14 others were injured by the gunfire.

In short, it's open warfare between Hamas and Fatah for control of the Palestinian Authority, with both sides indifferent to the Palestinian noncombatants caught in the middle.

Does it matter who wins? Not really. A decisive victory for Hamas would speed the descent of the Palestinian areas into a theocratic dictatorship, even worse than we've been seeing for the past eighteen months. And a Fatah victory would return us to the status quo ante, of unbelievably corrupt bureaucrats encouraging an entire generation of children to kill Israelis by blowing themselves up.

(It's fashionable to think of Fatah as the "moderates" and Hamas as the "hardliners". Well, everything's relative, as they say. Both groups are terrorist organizations, pure and simple; Abbas is the undisputed heir of Yasser Arafat, and there's a reason why Israeli newspapers still refer to Abbas by his nom de terror, Abu Mazen. If there's a significant difference between Fatah and Hamas, it's that Fatah is willing to pretend to negotiate with Israel (in English), while still calling openly for Israel's destruction in Arabic; Hamas has little patience for that, and calls for Israel's destruction regardless of who's listening.)

And it looks as though Hamas is gaining the upper hand, or at least thinks it is. According to The Guardian:
Earlier today, Hamas issued Fatah forces in Gaza with an ultimatum to surrender their weapons within hours. [...]

A statement issued by the armed wing of Hamas today called on members of the Palestinian security services and other Fatah loyalists to "voluntarily hand over weapons" by 7pm local time (1700 BST). "Those who refuse will be considered wanted," it said.
We'll see how well that works. I'll admit that I'm not optimistic.

In the meantime, people are taking notice:
The AFP news agency said seven people died in the fighting, while a boy was gunned down in crossfire elsewhere in the city.

Terrified civilians spent another day sheltering in their homes, and UN officials said it had been impossible to distribute supplies to the one-third of Gaza residents relying on international food aid. [...]

The violence has become increasingly brutal, with reports of fighting around hospitals and people being shot in the streets or thrown from rooftops.

Human Rights Watch today accused both sides of committing war crimes. "These attacks by both Hamas and Fatah constitute brutal assaults on the most fundamental humanitarian principles," Sarah Leah Whitson, of the US-based organisation, said.

"The murder of civilians not engaged in hostilities and the wilful killing of captives are war crimes, pure and simple."
I agree. (I wish they'd also be considered such when the victims are Israelis, but the principle applies.)

The EU, UN, and others are calling for a cease-fire. However, as the Guardian points out: "[W]ith Hamas forces having seized the coastal strip's main north-south road, putting themselves in a position to prevent Fatah reinforcements reaching cut-off positions, no imminent ceasefire appeared likely."

Oh, and one mildly positive development:
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has warned of serious "regional consequences" if Hamas becomes more radicalised, but stressed that his country would not get drawn into the violence.
Best news I've heard all day.

My heart goes out to Palestinians caught in the crossfire between their current leaders and their former leaders. But this is a Palestinian problem now. They can't blame Israel for this, or anyone else; nor would they let anyone come in and impose a solution on them. It was nobody's idea but theirs to teach their children to want to grow up to be bombs; it was nobody's idea but theirs to think that only violence, and only terrorist violence at that, would solve their problems. Now they must face the consequences they have brought upon themselves.

It's tragic that they may need to batter one another to a standstill before the fighting can stop. But perhaps Palestinians will then be willing, as the trite saying goes, to "give peace a chance".

Golda Meir used to say that we'd see peace in the Middle East when Arabs love their children more than they hate Israelis. Unfortunately, we're not there yet... and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Khaled abu Toameh, writing for the Jerusalem Post, doesn't mince words:
Jamal Abu Jadian, a top Fatah commander, fled his home in the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday evening dressed as a woman to avoid dozens of Hamas militiamen who had attacked it. He and several members of his family and bodyguards were lightly wounded.

But when Abu Jadian arrived at a hospital a few hundred meters away from his house, he was discovered by a group of Hamas gunmen, who took turns shooting him in the head with automatic rifles.

"They literally blew his head off with more than 40 bullets," said a doctor at Kamal Udwan Hospital.

Abu Jadian, a close ally of Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan and a sworn enemy of Hamas, was the third top Fatah commander to be killed by Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip in the past few weeks. The other two were Muhammad Ghraib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Service, and Baha Abu Jarad, a leading member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing.

All three were killed after dozens of Hamas militiamen surrounded their homes for hours, firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive charges.

Hamas targeted them because it believed they were heads of a Fatah group that has been targeting Hamas officials and activists over the past year. This group, Hamas officials claim, is headed by Dahlan and other senior Fatah leaders who, with the help of the US and Israel, are part of a "plot" to remove Hamas from power.
Bullets, not ballots! Fatah, having lost the election, is believed to be quietly targeting Hamas leaders; Hamas responds by targeting Fatah leaders in return (and not quietly, either).

Abbas claims that this is a "military coup" by Hamas to control Gaza completely. Except for the fact that Hamas was already the ruling power there -- and that I wouldn't dignify their actions by calling them "military" -- I must admit that Abbas makes some sense; this does feel like a coup.

For the record: the Jerusalem Post provides this photo for context:

A Hamas gunman stands guard on a rooftop in Gaza City

See what I mean? Soldiers expect, and are expected, to be accountable for their actions. It is the terrorists, not the soldiers, who make a point of hiding their faces.

Mr. Toameh claims that we may see Gaza controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank controlled by Fatah -- a Palestinian version of the India-Pakistan partition of 1947:
Whatever decision Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants take, it will be hard to change the new reality that has been created on the ground, especially in the Gaza Strip. As of today, the Palestinians can boast that they have two entities - one in the Gaza Strip run by Muslim fundamentalists and another one in the West Bank under the control of secular Fatah leaders.

"The two-state solution has finally worked," a Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip commented sarcastically. "Today, all our enemies have good reason to celebrate."
(hat tip: Powerline.)

UPDATE II: The battle rages on, with Hamas looking more and more as if it will control the entire Gaza Strip. And Fatah, which still has its strongholds in the West Bank, is paying attention to the savage treatment of its people by Gaza's Hamas... and is responding in kind to Hamas people in the West Bank:
Palestinian security forces allied with Fatah arrested three dozen Hamas activists in the West Bank on Thursday, as the Islamic group neared a military takeover of Gaza. [. . .]

Arrests of Hamas activists were reported in the West Bank towns of Jenin, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem, security forces wore ski masks, to avoid being identified, as they seized Hamas activists in their homes and businesses, witnesses said.

In Nablus, masked security agents and Fatah gunmen rode together in cars, searching for Hamas members, and broke into several homes of Hamas activists. In one area, a brief firefight erupted.

Also Thursday, Fatah gunmen seized a Hamas preacher from a West Bank village and shot him in the legs, security officials said. Later, Fatah activists kidnapped three more Hamas activists from a building in downtown Ramallah. [. . .]

In Nablus, dozens of gunmen set fire to the third-floor office of several Hamas members of parliament and threw furniture into the street.

It seems clear that, with tit-for-tat ruling the day, the Palestinian Civil War has no end in sight.


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