Feb 06 2007

Palestinians Say Clashes Hurt Their Cause

Published by at 2:10 am under Blogs

Palestinians Say Clashes Hurt Their Cause




JERUSALEM, Feb. 4 —  (NY Times) The fierce internal clashes between Palestinian factions have shocked many Palestinians and Arab governments, who fear that the continuing bloodshed is damaging the Palestinian image before the world, Palestinians say.


“This fighting affects everyone’s morale,” said Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian analyst who teaches at Al Quds University here. “We always felt we had this one big asset, our social unity as Palestinians, but to see it shredding, with lives being shed without much concern, is horrible. We’ve lost a lot of sensitivity to these deaths, to those killed by the Israelis and ourselves.”

Even as the Bush administration has moved in its second term to try for significant progress toward peace, Palestinians say their own infighting is making it too easy for Israel to argue that the time is not right to promote a Palestinian state.


Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have intensified efforts to stop the fighting, some of the worst internal Palestinian violence in years, and to push the warring Fatah and Hamas factions into a unity government of some type, no matter how fragile.


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called a meeting in the holy city of Mecca on Tuesday between the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, and senior Hamas figures in the hope of restoring at least a facade of Palestinian unity. “What is happening now is damaging our reputation and our standing with Arab public opinion and with Arab officials,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza. “My feeling is that Arab support for the Palestinians is beginning to evaporate. Arabs are looking at us as fighting ourselves now, not the Israeli occupation, and Arab officials are saying that we’re not very serious about establishing a state.”


Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a former adviser to Yasir Arafat and a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that “the Palestinian national enterprise is in danger now.”


Mr. Kuttab, of Al Quds University, said that since the Israelis pulled out of Gaza in the autumn of 2005, “there has been a lot of hopelessness and frustration and disappointment, with people thinking they can solve everything with a rifle.” The political and diplomatic impasse, he said, has fostered violence, and many people believe that Fatah and Hamas are not even sure why they are fighting each other.


“Unfortunately power and violence do produce results in this part of the world,” Mr. Kuttab said. “Talk of peace and nonviolence doesn’t get us very far, unfortunately.”


On Saturday evening in Ramallah, on the West Bank, a fierce argument broke out during a meeting of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah over how to deal with Hamas and the fighting in Gaza, participants said.


The West Bank intelligence chief, Tawfiq Tarawi, criticized some Fatah officials for trying to play “Red Cross” and mediate between Hamas and Fatah, said a security official who was there but did not want to be identified if he mentioned the names of the officials involved.


Mr. Tarawi criticized the former West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, in particular, for blaming Fatah as well as Hamas for the infighting.


During the argument, heated words were exchanged and shoes were thrown, a severe insult in the Arab world. “I have a message from the three Balousha kids,” Mr. Tarawi said, referring to three children killed in December on their way to school. Their father, Baha, is a prominent Fatah intelligence official in Gaza. Then he threw his shoes at Mr. Rajoub. The December attack is thought to have been carried out by Hamas supporters.


A consensus emerged from the meeting that Fatah must not bend to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the unidentified Fatah official said.


Another participant, Amin Makboul, told The Associated Press, “We all agreed that Hamas has been trying for some time to impose its control on the Gaza Strip, and Fatah needs to stand up to this policy of Hamas.” But he said there was disagreement over tactics.


The streets were calmer in Gaza on Sunday, as another effort at a cease-fire appeared to be taking hold, and some people ventured out in the morning to buy provisions. But there were clashes during the day, and gunmen from both sides remained on the streets.


Two members of Mr. Abbas’s presidential guard died of wounds suffered Friday, and the total of dead since Thursday rose to 28, including 4 children. More ominously, the nephew of Fatah’s most powerful figure in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, was kidnapped by Hamas on Saturday. Hamas considers Mr. Dahlan its main enemy in Gaza, and Mr. Dahlan is thought to be the unofficial commander of Fatah forces there.


His nephew, Sharaf Dahlan, 21, works for the Civil Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority but helps out in his uncle’s office. On his way to Gaza City on Saturday, his taxi was stopped at a Hamas checkpoint. He handed over his ID and was then taken away.


The news emerged Sunday when Hamas officials said he was providing them with “secrets” about Muhammad Dahlan, though aides to Mr. Dahlan say the young man knows very little.


In the fighting that began on Thursday, Hamas forces have taken most of northern Gaza and large areas of Gaza City. Hamas has destroyed or damaged Fatah security headquarters in the north and taken equipment, weapons and files. But Fatah has defended three of its major compounds in Gaza City: the main security headquarters, the Saraya; the headquarters of the preventive security force; and the presidential compound.


Palestinians are deeply upset that each side has gone after symbolic institutions that belong to the other, including the main Gaza universities and their libraries, which have been attacked by rockets and firebombs.


“Everything the Palestinians fought for in the 1980s and ’90s is being undermined in a second,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian and former aide to Mr. Dahlan and Mr. Abbas. “People were shot and killed to ensure universities stayed open. Now we’re blowing up our own universities, and UNRWA is threatening to pull out, and no one cares.” UNRWA is the agency that cares for and educates Palestinian refugees and their families.


What is more frustrating, Ms. Buttu said, was that “all the infighting diverts attention from the real issues, like the Israeli occupation and Jerusalem, and instead people are focusing on whether a national unity government emerges based on a political document no one cares about.”


In Israel on Sunday, the cabinet approved the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as the new military chief of staff, replacing Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who resigned over the war with Hezbollah.


Mr. Ashkenazi, 52, an infantryman and former deputy chief of staff, will be promoted to lieutenant general and will command in about 10 days. Some in the Israeli military argue that Israel should consider a major operation into the Gaza Strip to attack Hamas and seize weaponry, but such a move is considered unlikely now. The Israeli Shin Bet intelligence agency told the cabinet on Sunday that intra-Palestinian fighting was not likely to end soon.


Safwat al-Kahlout contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Ramallah.

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