[R-G] U.S. Backing for Fatah Stirs New Conflict
fentona at shaw.ca
Sat Feb 3 11:44:05 MST 2007
U.S. Backing for Fatah Stirs New Conflict
Jon Elmer and Nora Barrows-Friedman
GAZA CITY, Feb 2 (IPS) - Explosions, fierce gunfights and ambulance
sirens ripped through the Gaza strip again Thursday, only two days
after a ceasefire ended a bloody week of factional fighting that left
more than 30 Palestinians dead.
As night fell on Gaza, the death toll was at six, with more than 60
wounded. Fighters loyal to the elected Hamas government -- the
Interior Ministry's Executive Force and the Islamist Movement's
militia, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades -- battled the Fatah security
forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The fighting began in the afternoon when four truckloads of supplies
entering from Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing were intercepted by
Hamas fighters, who claimed that they had commandeered an arms
shipment to the Presidential Guard, a U.S.-backed security force
loyal to Abbas.
Fatah officially denied it was an arms shipment. Spokesman Tawfiq Abu
Khoussa said the convoy contained only tents, generators and medical
In late December, an Israeli-approved arms shipment of 2,000 rifles,
20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition from Egypt
passed through the same Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza strip.
The resumption of violence comes as Washington announced plans to
deliver a further 86.4 million dollars to back President Abbas.
Hamas officials have denounced Washington's involvement in training
and financing Fatah security forces. Spokesman Ismayil Radwan said in
a public speech that it was Washington's intention to "fuel a civil
war in the Palestinian arena."
Mouin Rabbani, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group,
said that the United States is seeking to build Abbas's Presidential
Guard into the leading Palestinian security force.
"It was developed to take on the Executive Force of Hamas," he told
IPS. Rabbani said that the United States is preparing for the long
haul, rather than trying to spark the clashes that Gaza is
"This is not a direct instigation by the Americans, because they are
not yet convinced that Fatah are ready to take on Hamas," Rabbani
said. "But they are beginning to pump significant amounts of weapons,
training and funds in the hope that Fatah will prevail in the
For its part, Washington has acknowledged that it is training Abbas's
Presidential Guard in urban warfare tactics in the West Bank city
Jericho under the guidance of Lt. General Keith Dayton, the U.S.
security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In an interview in December, Dayton told the Israeli daily Yehidot
Ahronot, "We are involved in building up the Presidential Guard,
instructing it, assisting it to build itself up, and giving them
ideas." Dayton denied the Force was being groomed to confront Hamas.
In December 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Palestinian Anti-
Terrorism Act, which explicitly denounced the elected Hamas
leadership. The Act seeks to bolster the Palestinian National
Authority under Fatah's partnership.
Under the law, Hamas is sanctioned by the United States until "the
Hamas-controlled PA (Palestinian Authority) has made demonstrable
progress toward purging from its security services individuals with
ties to terrorism, dismantling all terrorist infrastructure, and
cooperating with Israel's security services, halting anti-American
and anti-Israel incitement, and ensuring democracy and financial
The Islamist movement Hamas ended Fatah's 40-year rule of the
Palestinian political scene when it won parliamentary elections in
January 2006. A strict U.S.-led sanctions regime was imposed when
Hamas formed a government in March.
This is, according to the United Nations, the first sanctions regime
of its kind imposed on an occupied population. The sanctions regime
has worsened the situation in Gaza that was already being described
as a humanitarian crisis by UN agencies such as the World Food
At least three-quarters of Gaza's 1.5 million people live in poverty,
and are threatened with food insecurity. Additionally, more than
220,000 people are absolutely dependent on WFP food assistance.
Yet, according to polls, one thing that the sanctions have apparently
failed to do is noticeably erode Hamas's popularity.
For Palestinians, the internal struggle is a crisis added to that
already imposed by Israel's 40 year-long occupation. "I took my
daughter to kindergarten this morning and couldn't pass because of
the roadblocks. All the shops are closed and the streets are empty.
Every house in Gaza is listening only to the news reports and the
gunfire," Nabil Diab, a public relations official at the Palestinian
Red Crescent Society told IPS in Gaza City.
"The kids used to play 'Palestinians versus Israelis'; now they play
'Fatah versus Hamas'," said the father of two young children.
The Al-Mezen Centre for Human Rights in Gaza documented the killing
of 63 Palestinians and the wounding of more than 300 in internal
fighting that erupted between Hamas and Fatah in December.
The fighting, which takes place on the streets of one of the most
densely-populated areas in the world, has claimed scores of civilian
casualties as well, including eight children killed and more than 30
wounded last month alone.
The people of Gaza have experienced seven years of grinding war with
the Israelis and 60 years of displacement. But one Palestinian mother
was unequivocal about what this internal violence means to the
Palestinian struggle. As she rushed home with her groceries, Um
Mustafa breathlessly told IPS, "If this fighting continues, we will
destroy ourselves." (END/2007)
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