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Fear and loathing mar Fatah-Hamas ties in Gaza

AFP , Monday 8 Sep 2014
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) arrives for an Arab League Foreign Ministers emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Leaving home for the first time in weeks, Abu Jihad was hit by a hail of bullets. His crime? Breaking the house arrest order imposed on him by Hamas.

Abu Jihad is a 27-year-old member of Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist movement headed by president Mahmud Abbas whose power base is in the West Bank.

But he lives in the Gaza Strip which is under the de facto control of Hamas, Fatah's Islamist rival.

After nine bullets raked his leg, Abu Jihad was transferred for medical treatment to the West Bank and it was from his hospital bed there that he told his story, using a pseudonym to conceal his identity.

"Never in my life did I think I would be attacked by Hamas or by any other Palestinian group," he said.

"I never thought I would be attacked just because I belong to Fatah."

Back in Gaza, where Hamas seized control in 2007 after forcibly ousting its Fatah rivals in days of bloody battles, he and others would never have dared to speak out.

From people on the streets to senior officials, no one allied with Fatah will agree to speak on the record, fearing the consequences after 300 of their number were placed under house arrest by Hamas.

Dozens who failed to respect the order were shot and wounded, among them Abu Jihad.

Another Fatah member, a student who gave the name Ibrahim, says there is no support for those living in Gaza, not even from the Fatah leadership in the West Bank.

"At best, they send us a message for a quick recovery but they don't dare confront Hamas," he said.

Such is the fear that many Fatah members have even sought to protect themselves by signing up to become members of Islamic Jihad, Hamas's smaller, armed rival.

"To avoid being attacked by Hamas, a large number of party members have joined Islamic Jihad," said a man calling himself Abu Iyyad, explaining that Hamas would never attack an Islamic Jihad member.

On July 9, the second day of the 50-day war with Israel, four armed men dressed in black, their faces masked, turned up at Ibrahim's house.

"My 12-year-old daughter was terrified. She wet herself because she was so panicked when the fighters came in," he recalled, visibly upset.

Refusing to identify themselves, the men handed over a paper bearing the official emblem of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, on which was written: "For your own security, you are asked not to leave your home for the duration of the war."

There was no other allegation or explanation.

"Our only crime is belonging to Fatah," he snapped.

Abu Ahmed, 23, also believes he was targeted because of his membership of Fatah.

He was shot 19 times in the legs.

"They held me up against a wall, started shooting and shouted: 'This is our present to Fatah'," he told AFP from his hospital bed in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

For Abu Jihad, the physical attack on him and others by Hamas gunmen was a move to literally cripple any future resistance from Fatah.

"They are doing the same thing as they did during the coup in 2007," he told AFP, referring to the wave of fighting when Hamas forced Fatah loyalists out of the coastal enclave.

"Back then, they shot hundreds of Fatah members in the knees and legs to cripple them so that they couldn't physically stand up to Hamas," he said.

"If Hamas has any doubts about us, why don't they just execute us like they recently did with 18 people accused of collaborating with Israel?" he asked.

"Why not put us on trial and hold an investigation?"

But the threats have gone beyond individuals, creating a culture of fear which has affected entire families living in the Gaza Strip.

"In our society where reputation counts for everything, entire families are now living in fear," said a senior Fatah official in Gaza who also refused to use his real name.

"Hamas is undermining the dignity and the patriotism of our activists, some of whom were involved in the fighting, and lost family members in the war," he said, clearly furious.

Questioned by AFP, Hamas insisted the house arrest orders had "no political significance", saying they were legal procedures aimed at certain people, "some of whom happened to belong to Fatah".

Fatah has set up a committee to examine its relations with Hamas.

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