Street battles and splits in Gaza

Submitted by Anon on 19 May, 2007 - 11:25

By Dan Katz

On Monday 14 May Palestinian Interior Minister Hani Qawasmi resigned putting the recently-formed “national unity” government under pressure. Gunmen fought street battles and two dozen fighters were killed.

The Islamist Hamas movement and the more secular, nationalist Fatah, announced a unity government in February after talks brokered by Saudi Arabia. The leaders of Hamas and Fatah agreed a list of ministers and called for a halt to factional fighting that had claimed over 100 lives in the Occupied Territories. It was claimed that the deal had averted a full-blown civil war, and President Mahmoud Abbas described the government’s formation as the start of a new era.

In fact all the agreement could ever do was postpone the crisis which is coming. The underlying problem — an unstable dual power set up after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections — will not be solved by such a superficial pact.

Hani al-Qawasmi, an “independent” academic chosen by Hamas, quit saying, “I told all parties I cannot accept being a minister without authority.”

He had failed to control Fatah’s fighters. Last week Fatah deployed 3,000 police in Gaza, despite objections by Hamas.

Most of the 80,000 members of the security services in the West Bank and Gaza are loyal to Fatah, while Hamas set up its own 6,000-strong militia last year. Hamas also has thousands of gunmen in its armed wing.

Aside from ideological differences the parties are also vying for the right to dish-out patronage. Each favours its own supporters — particularly important in an area where the general population is suffering immensely. In Gaza unemployment is running at 60%.

Israel quit Gaza in 2005, but continues tight control of borders. And after Hamas’s victory the Palestinian Authority was immediately subjected to sanctions by Israel and the West who demanded recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of previous peace deals from Hamas.

More recently Israel has begun to direct some funds through Abbas’s office, rather than via the Hamas-run government.