Hamas seizes control in Gaza, ousting Fatah


Verified Military
Sep 7, 2006

GAZA: On its first day in full control in Gaza, Hamas on Friday both mocked and reached out to its defeated Fatah rivals, offering them amnesty but also rifling through President Mahmoud Abbas's bedroom, stripping a former Gaza strongman's home down to the flowerpots and throwing a Fatah gunman off a rooftop.

Safe in the West Bank, the moderate Abbas moved quickly to cement his rule there, after losing control in Gaza in a swift five-day Hamas assault on his forces. He replaced the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, with Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and a new moderate government was to be formed later in the day.

Hamas, overwhelmingly elected in a 2006 Parliament vote, denounced Abbas's decisions as a coup. But the sparring made little difference on the ground: The Palestinian territories, on either side of Israel, are now separate entities with two different governments - one run by Hamas and backed by radical Islamic states and the other controlled by the Western-supported Fatah.

Abbas received immediate pledges of support from Israel, the United States, Egypt, Jordan, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel told the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, by phone that he would take steps to bolster Abbas. Officials in Olmert's office said he will consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax funds, frozen after Hamas came to power.

Palestinians in both territories were struggling to adjust to the new reality, which crushed their longstanding hopes of a Palestinian state. With Hamas largely neutralized in the West Bank, some expected renewed Western aid there, after a yearlong embargo had crippled their economy. Many Gazans feared they would be driven even deeper into isolation and poverty.

In a West Bank hotel, several Fatah loyalists who had fled Gaza sat in the lobby, chain-smoking, and worked the phones to set up their new lives, and heard from family back in Gaza that their homes had been searched. In Gaza City, Hani, a former security officer who had run the operations room in the main police compound called his old office, now controlled by Hamas, and pleaded with the new rulers to take care of his computer equipment.

Several thousand Hamas supporters in Gaza cheered as a small armored personnel carrier - seized from Abbas's forces - rolled into the Palestinian legislature building, where a victory march was held. The jubilant crowd chanted slogans and waved green Hamas flags as gunmen fired in the air. Excited children climbed over the vehicle, and bearded gunmen strutted around the parliamentary building, grinning from ear to ear.

Hamas was both cocky and conciliatory Friday.

It released nine senior Fatah leaders and many lower-ranking activists, saying it was granting amnesty to its rivals. A Hamas spokesman, Abu Obeideh, also promised to get the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, held since March, released quickly, and a mediator said the kidnappers, believed to have ties to Hamas, pledged to free him within a day.

Yet Hamas gunmen also entered the seaside compound of Abbas, rifling through the president's belongings in his bedroom, adjacent to his office. They lifted the mattress and searched drawers. One gunman sat down at the Fatah leader's desk, picked up the phone and pretended to be calling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"Hello, Rice?" the gunman said. "Here we are in Abu Mazen's office. Say hello to Abu Mazen for me."

Gaza's streets, deserted in the past week of fighting, were crowded with cars, pedestrians and triumphant Hamas fighters, some driving in jeeps and firing in the air.

Crowds converged on former Fatah strongholds and looted them.

The house of Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan was overrun, and looters stripped it of everything from windows and doors to flowerpots. "This was the house of the murderer Dahlan that was cleansed by the holy warriors," read graffiti sprayed on the wall. Donkey carts outside the house waited to take on more loot. Dahlan had been in Egypt when the fighting erupted, and arrived in the West Bank on Thursday.

Gaza City's main Shifa Hospital was still grappling with the aftermath of battle. More than 90 people were killed in five days of fighting, and dozens wounded. The morgue was overflowing, with four bodies lined up on the floor, and some of the wounded were sleeping on cardboard on the floor, instead of mattresses or beds.

Two men were killed in revenge slaying, including a Fatah gunman thrown from a roof, in what Hamas described as a family grievance. The gunman had previously killed a member of that Hamas-allied family. Another Fatah loyalist was shot dead in southern Gaza. Since Hamas's victory late Thursday, about a dozen Fatah gunmen were killed in gangland-style executions, Fatah said.

Before word came of the amnesty, 97 Fatah officials fled in a fishing boat to Egypt. Others reached Israel via the Erez crossing, and were heading to the West Bank.

An Egyptian security delegation left Gaza after failing in its mediation efforts between the warring Palestinian factions.

Hamas's military takeover of Gaza, after five days of battle, formalized the separation between Gaza and the West Bank.

It was a major setback to dreams of Palestinian statehood because it divided the two territories, but could also restore the flow of foreign aid to the Fatah-run West Bank. With a larger middle class, more foreign-passport holders and more contact with the outside world, many West Bank residents have long felt they have little in common with Gaza.

"I expect to have economic development here and poverty there in Gaza," Salah Haniyeh, a government employee, said Friday, as he watched masked Fatah gunmen parading through the streets of Ramallah in pickup trucks.

Across the West Bank, Fatah gunmen backed by Abbas-allied security force expanded an anti-Hamas sweep. Dozens of Hamas supporters were seized by gunmen or arrested by police since Thursday.
The Palestinians are their own worst enemy. Just like most of the ME countryies and most of the world, they cant handle a Democratic govt.:2c:

I firmly believe that some TotalitarianDictatorships are still necessary in certain parts of the world. Unfortunately.
The Palestinians are their own worst enemy. Just like most of the ME countryies and most of the world, they cant handle a Democratic govt.:2c:

I firmly believe that some TotalitarianDictatorships are still necessary in certain parts of the world. Unfortunately.

Sometimes I agree. You have to deal with people on a level that they understand. Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes some people only understand violence.
On West Bank, a show of force by Fatah

RAMALLAH, West Bank: The preacher at the main mosque here in the Palestinian Authority's administrative capital in the West Bank called for reconciliation during Friday Prayer, a day after Hamas violently seized control of Gaza.

A few blocks away, dozens of armed and uniformed members of the various security forces loyal to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, gathered in the city's central Manara Square in an obvious show of force. Every so often they piled into their jeeps and sped off in convoys, screeching through the narrow side streets around the square. Sometimes they stopped and posed for the cameras.

Their point was that while Hamas may have taken the Gaza Strip, the West Bank still belongs to Fatah. Many of them donned menacing black masks. Reconciliation did not appear high on their agenda, and local supporters of Hamas lay low.

Overnight, the two territories that were supposed to make up a future Palestinian state have come to resemble enemy countries where opposing ideological powers hold sway.

Ziad Abu Ein, a leader of Fatah's young guard in Ramallah, called the Hamas takeover of Gaza "a coup against the Palestinian Authority."

will call today or tomorrow for an uprising in Gaza against this fascist military group from Hamas," he said.

One member of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security apparatus, his blue eyes visible through round peepholes in his mask, said, "We are here to impose law and order in the streets, and implement the state of emergency declared by the president." He said his face was covered so that he couldn't be photographed or identified by "suspicious" elements, meaning Hamas.

The Palestinians have long been distinguished by their social divides, split between the West Bank and Gaza, insiders of those territories and outsiders in exile, refugees and nonrefugees, village and town. But with the conquest of Gaza by the Islamist Hamas complete and the nationalist, secularist Fatah determined to maintain its stronghold in the West Bank, the Palestinian people seem more ruptured than ever.

"Like there is North Korea and South Korea," another security force member said. "That's what it will be like between Gaza and the West Bank."

The West Bank and Gaza have always been distinct geographic areas divided by Israeli territory, and the distance between them has been growing for years. Citing security reasons, Israel started restricting Palestinian travel between the two in the 1990s. A "safe passage" arrangement in the Oslo peace accords functioned in a limited manner for a short period before the second Intifada broke out in 2000.

Since then, Palestinian movement between Gaza and the West Bank has been strictly limited. Israeli security officials explain the restrictions as necessary to stop weapons and explosives, which they say have poured into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border, from reaching the West Bank.

"Let's admit it, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were already separate to a very large degree," said Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in past Palestinian governments and now vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank. "They were no longer one market or one social unit. It is no longer the same society. So these latest developments come to complete and consolidate the process that Israel started."

The last semblance of cooperation between Fatah and Hamas, and the West Bank and Gaza, collapsed when President Abbas dissolved the three-month-old unity government on Thursday night. Now an emergency government appointed by Abbas will rule in the West Bank, headed by Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected technocrat and political independent who served as finance minister in the previous government. In Gaza, a Hamas-led government could emerge, and neither one will recognize the other, Palestinian analysts say.

For Palestinians in the West Bank with family in Gaza, the distance can be agonizing. One man in Manara Square, who is originally from Gaza, was holding a picture of his cousin, Samih Madhoun, a senior Fatah leader who was captured and executed by Hamas on Thursday night. Wide-eyed with fright, the man said that two of his brothers were also in the hands of Hamas, and he had no idea if they were still alive. He asked not to be identified, fearing for his relatives' safety.

Muhammad Tawfiq, a Preventive Security officer from Nablus and the head of a Fatah militia there, said that Hamas had treated fellow Palestinians "the way that Hitler dealt with the Jews."

Most of the stores in central Ramallah were shuttered on Friday and the market was unusually quiet. People were unsure whether Fatah would carry out revenge attacks against Hamas in the West Bank, where the group has a much weaker presence than in Gaza.

One local Hamas leader was killed in Nablus by gunmen of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade on Thursday night. But Tawfiq said that was just "a reaction" to the killing of Madhoun in Gaza. "Our people couldn't control their emotions," he said.

There were reports of Hamas offices being burned around the West Bank, and Palestinian security forces arrested dozens of Hamas members in a number of cities on Thursday and Friday.

Still, there was a desire on the Fatah leadership's part to prevent factional violence spreading from Gaza to the West Bank. "We are calling for no reaction by individuals against Hamas in the West Bank," said Abu Ein, of Fatah. "We want to keep everything under Palestinian Authority control."

Not taking any chances, prominent Hamas figures in the West Bank have gone into hiding; at least those who are not already sitting in Israeli jails. Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but still retains overall control of the West Bank.

One senior Preventive Security officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said that some Hamas leaders in the West Bank "may be interested in waking dormant cells."

But many Palestinians in Ramallah said they were confident that Hamas would not be able to seize control here. One reason, they said, is that despite the Palestinian Authority's show of force, Israel remains the real power in the West Bank.