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2006-12-15

Palestinian PM Haniyeh Comes Under Attack; Clashes Break Out Between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, West Bank

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Gunfights broke out today between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza City and Ramallah. The clashes come one day after Hamas accused Fatah gunmen of attempting to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. We go to Gaza to speak with journalist Laila El Haddad and to Jerusalem to speak with Mouin Rabbani of the International Crisis Group. [includes rush transcript]

Fears of a civil war between Palestinian factions inside Gaza and the West Bank are escalating. Gun fights broke out today between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza City and Ramallah. This comes one day after Hamas accused Fatah gunmen of attempting to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh’s convoy was attacked shortly after it had crossed into Gaza from Egypt after a stand-off at the border.

One of Haniyeh’s bodyguards died after being shot in the head. Haniyeh’s son was injured in the shooting. Hamas officials have accused key Fatah legislator Mahmoud Dahlan of orchestrating the attack.

The fighting on Thursday began when Israel shut down the border crossing in order to prevent Haniyeh from re-entering Gaza after a fundraising tour. He was holding tens of millions of dollars in donations collected to help ease the economic crisis in Gaza. After a seven-hour standoff, border control guards linked to Fatah allowed Haniyeh to enter Gaza but without the money.

Tensions have been high all week between the rival Palestinian factions. On Monday three young boys were murdered on their way to school in Gaza–they were the sons of a senior intelligence official linked to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. On Sunday, gunmen believed to be linked to Fatah attacked the convoy of Interior Minister of the Hamas government.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian journalist Laila El Haddad joins us now on the phone from Gaza. She runs the blog titled "Raising Youssef: Diary of a Mother Under Occupation." We’re also joined from Jerusalem by Mouin Rabbani, the senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group and a contributing editor to the Middle East Report. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Laila El Haddad, let’s begin with you. Describe what it’s like on the ground right now.

LAILA EL HADDAD: Well, the tension in Gaza is really palpable in the air, Amy. I mean, you can feel it outside and maybe cut it with a knife. And stores are generally keeping closed, and people are keeping inside their homes. But I wouldn’t call — I mean, I would still refer to the situation — I mean incidents, as being relatively isolated in terms of the clashes, at least in Gaza, you know, to the border and maybe one or two locations in Gaza City that have all but died down. So things are threatening certainly to spill over any moment, but for right now very calm, and there’s a large demonstration of a few tens of thousands of Hamas supporters, men and women, right now, celebrating Hamas’s 19th anniversary of its creation. And Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh just made an appearance, and he’s due to give a talk in just a few minutes, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is that?

LAILA EL HADDAD: That’s in the Yarmouk Stadium in Central Gaza City.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response to the attack on him at the border?

LAILA EL HADDAD: Well, I was just talking to people, just sort of ordinary people on the street, and many people, in general, just seem disgusted with the situation as a whole, not specifically that, but the incidents of the past week in general, beginning with the attack on the children and then the assassination of a Hamas judge in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, Bassam al-Fara, who was killed a few days ago, the second judge to be killed in one week in Gaza. And so, people are generally fed up, and they’re really fearing for their lives, and they don’t know who to trust anymore and who’s in control. And many just say they really want to see progress made. They’re still holding out hope that a unity government can be formed.

AMY GOODMAN: Mouin Rabbani, your evaluation of what is going on right now on the attack on the prime minister, the killing of the three young brothers?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I would agree with Laila that the situation is explosive, but it would be very premature to speak of the beginning of a Palestinian civil war or anything on that scale. I think what we’re seeing now also has to be seen in the context of two developments. The first is the decision by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to terminate or at least suspend coalition talks with Hamas about ten or fourteen days ago. And the second is that Abbas will be giving a major address at noon tomorrow, in which he’s expected to respond to the recommendation of the PLO Executive committee that he set a schedule for early elections. It’s unclear whether he will announce a date for early elections. Most people think he won’t, but simply by raising the idea less than a year after Hamas achieved power in free and fair elections, it’s seen by the Islamists as an attempt, as they put it, to launch a coup against their democratic victory, and that’s certainly increasing tensions very much between these two movements.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hamas accusing Fatah of the attack, particularly naming the legislator Dahlan?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, that’s a significant escalation. I mean, he’s never been well-liked by Hamas, but until today, apart from a few personal denunciations of Mahmoud Abbas by Khaled Mashaal, the leader of the Hamas politbureau in Damascus, they have not specifically singled out a Fatah politician or warlord as being responsible for specific incidents. Now, by doing so, I think they’ve significantly upped the ante.

AMY GOODMAN: Laila El Haddad, the Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Efraim Sneh, told Israel’s Army Radio, government officials made the right decision in not allowing Haniyeh to bring the, I think it was, about $35 million back into the Occupied Territories. Your response?

LAILA EL HADDAD: Well, I mean, it’s not the first time that obviously Israel has tried to block the entry of Hamas officials carrying aid in cash to Gaza, which, of course, they’ve been forced to do because of the total ban on the economic blockade on Gaza, and including bank wires and so forth. And so, I mean, many people obviously see the action as absolutely criminal. Others say the undeclared cash needs to go to a reliable source, and so I think they’ve deposited it in the Arab Bank. But in general, it’s just again reinforcing the view, especially in Gaza, most ordinary Palestinians, that the Israelis have continued to and always have continued to control the Rafah crossing, which is, of course, the only inlet and outlet, the only passage for Palestinians in and out of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Laila, talk about that crossing. How long did you spend there with your son trying to get into Gaza?

LAILA EL HADDAD: Yeah. The lines going in and out — I can barely hear you. But I spent nearly a month in Egypt waiting for the crossing to open, and two-and-a-half weeks of that month near the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing waiting for it to open, about six kilometers away in a town, El-Arish. And on two particular days, we heard the crossing might open. It was actually — one of the days was the day that Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar was going into Gaza, also carrying about $20 million in cash. And similarly, the Israelis had tried to block his entry.

And so, we had gone to the border hearing that, of its imminent opening. The border has only been opened for about 22, 23 days since late June, actually a day or two prior to the capture, the Palestinian capture of an Israeli soldier, and it’s been effectively closed since opening sporadically, like I said, for a few days only. And again, this is the only way people can get in and out of Gaza. And so, on those two days we went, and I went with about 5,000 or so others, including the sick, people who had gone to get treatment that’s not available in Gaza in Egypt, on their way back to Gaza, students and family members wanting to reunite, and just ordinary people who really wanted to go about their lives. And just being able to do that has become a chore, of course. Basic routine matters has become a task.

AMY GOODMAN: Mouin Rabbani, I wanted to ask you very quickly, the effect of this international aid freeze on stoking the tensions between Hamas and Fatah?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think there’s a very clear connection between the two. I mean, the fundamental issue here is that Hamas is being prevented from the right to govern in accordance with its democratic political mandate. At the same time, I think, the siege and so on has done much to raise the tensions between the two movements, particularly if one takes into consideration the view of Hamas that Fatah, or at least key elements in Fatah, are actively collaborating with the Quartet to impose a siege, and the perspective of Fatah that Hamas is responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian people by not capitulating to the Quartet.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group, contributing editor at the Middle East Report; also on the line with us from Gaza, Laila El Haddad, the Palestinian journalist and mother who lives in Gaza, writes for aljazeera.net and other publications and keeps her own blog, "Raising Youssef: Diary of a Mother Under Occupation."

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