Hamas Seizes Control of Gaza

Hamas has taken control of the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared a state of emergency.

What impact do these developments have on life in the region? Charles Levinson of London's The Daily Telegraph says Friday has been relatively quiet. He says there are concerns the area could become more conservative, but others hope law and order will be restored after months of anarchy. Palestinians are glad the fighting has stopped and hope calm returns.

Levinson talks to Madeleine Brand.

With Hamas Controlling Gaza, Abbas Seeks Support

Map of Hamas- and Fatah-controlled areas. i i
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Map of Hamas- and Fatah-controlled areas.
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Masked members of the military wing of Hamas take files from an office after they captured the headq i i

hide captionMasked members of the military wing of Hamas take files from an office after they captured the headquarters of the Preventative Security Force, loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Masked members of the military wing of Hamas take files from an office after they captured the headq

Masked members of the military wing of Hamas take files from an office after they captured the headquarters of the Preventative Security Force, loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza.

Abid Katib/Getty Images

In the Gaza Strip, looters ransacked buildings and supporters of the Islamist group Hamas celebrated in the streets after its gunmen routed fighters of the Fatah movement after six days of bloody fighting that left more than 100 Palestinians dead.

Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began forming an emergency government in the West Bank, appointing officials and courting the West's support.

Friday, the quartet of Middle East peacemakers, the United States, Russia the European Union and the United Nations, voiced support for Fatah's leader, Palestinian President Abbas, in his effort to create an emergency government after he dissolved the unity government with Hamas Thursday night.

Abbas has appointed Salam Fayad, a pro-Western independent, to be the new prime minister. But Abbas' emergency cabinet will have little or no power in Gaza.

Hamas leaders are calling Abbas' moves hollow and worthless. Hamas gunmen at a captured Fatah compound Friday said that their prime minister remains Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

But in Gaza, Hamas dismissed Abbas's moves as meaningless.

After Friday prayers, some 5,000 Hamas supporters crowded into Omar Muktar street in the courtyard of the parliament building in downtown Gaza City.

They were celebrating what many called a "cleansing" of corrupt "collaborators" from Fatah, the movement that has dominated Gaza for more than three decades.

Zacharia Sharnewbee was knocking down and trashing yellow Fatah flags with a long wooden stick.

"I'm doing this because Fatah is crap" Sharnewbee said, "and they collaborate with the Jews."

Other Hamas supporters celebrated their victory over Fatah forces with celebratory gunfire and the systematic looting of Fatah compounds, including the beachside presidential office complex which fell to Hamas forces last night, without a fight.

Hamas gunmen today carted off chairs, TVs and computers — even a few Fatah cars, including a van and a Mercedes-Benz.

A Hamas gunman, who gave his name as Abu Suhayb, called Hamas's victory an Islamic "liberation" of Gaza.

"By the will of God, this will bring us much closer," the man said — "not to a Palestinian state but to the Islamic state here."

Hamas captured large caches of weapons and equipment from Fatah, including heavy machine guns, ammunition and several old yet still functioning armored personnel carriers. Abu Suhayb stood next to the metal frame of an anti-aircraft gun, sunk into the sand next to the president's offices.

"It means for me a great pride for my Islam which is spreading over Gaza," Suhayb said. The anti-aircraft gun, he said, "will only be targeting the Israeli helicopters and airplanes" — not Palestinian fighters.

Across town at the Gaza home of controversial Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, looters were busily and happily stripping his luxurious villa of all it contained: marble flooring, ceramic roof shingles, wiring and more.

In Mohammed Dahlan's garden Friday afternoon, a young man studiously sought to take down a palm tree. Missing windows and pieces of wood, the house was still smoldering and burning.

Dahlan led a major crackdown against Hamas in the mid 1990s; he has long been backed by the United States. One looter lashed out at the Fatah leader — who is now in the West Bank — calling Dahlan a "collaborator" who is getting what he deserves.

"All the people are hungry and he is living in a paradise here," the man said in Arabic.

Elsewhere, Hamas gunmen were protecting, not looting, the Gaza residence of President Mahmoud Abbas. Abu Mahmoud, 21, a member of Hamas' paramilitary executive force, stood guard outside Abbas' house holding his AK 47, a hand grenade clipped to his jacket. Behind him, a green Hamas flag flew over the driveway.

"This flag is reflecting the fact that Hamas did put an end to these collaborators inside our society," Mahmoud said.

The factional violence in Gaza started more than a year ago, not long after Hamas swept parliamentary elections. But in the last week, the violence grew particularly vicious, with both factions committing atrocities: Enemies were tied up and thrown off buildings; Hamas executed several captured fighters in the street; and numerous Fatah loyalists were arrested in the last day's fighting.

Today, scores of vanquished Fatah men are angry and bitter.

In what was intended as a goodwill gesture, the leaders of Hamas' main armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, have announced a general amnesty for captured Fatah gunmen and security officials.

"Let today, Friday, be the day for mercy and forgiveness," said Abu Obeideh, the militant group's spokesman. He said the Brigades' Islamic principles played into its decision.

The Qassam Brigades also warned kidnappers to immediately release Alan Johnston, the BBC News correspondent who has been held captive by a Gaza clan for more than three months.

Hamas fighters say that this week, they took accomplished with weapons what they thought they had done in their election win a year and a half ago.

Gaza's streets were calm and began return to normal today. But the spasm of internal violence has left many residents shaken and worried.

That was the case for Amani, a secular woman who didn't want her full name used.

"First of all, as a woman, maybe you will think that they will force women to wear the veil," Amani said.

Amani, the mother of three teenage girls, works for a non-governmental agency. Gaza has long been more culturally conservative than the West Bank. But Amani says she wonders if Hamas, emboldened by its military win, will now slowly start to impose broader social and cultural restrictions.

Amani looked out at the thousands celebrating near her home with alarm

"I'm not comfortable at all, I'm really shocked," she said. "I don't feel that it's victory, or a kind of liberation. How stupid they are, they are happy for this kind of victory — and in a few days, they'll realize that they are going to the hell, it will not be a victory."

It is now clear that the divide between the West Bank and Gaza is complete. Fatah still dominates the West Bank, which is home to most of the Palestinian population. But the idea of the Palestinian Territories appears to be headed for a turbulent and uncertain future.

In the West Bank, Fatah – fearful that Hamas' momentum could spread there — went on the offensive. It rounded up three dozen Hamas fighters. Angry militants threw office furniture out a third-story window of the Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah and then set fire to the office of three Hamas lawmakers.

The extreme tactics of Hamas could further choke off the region from international aid. And closed borders could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

Israel, meanwhile, said it had no desire to respond militarily to the takeover of the Gaza Strip by the Islamic fighters of Hamas.

"There is no intention to re-enter that swamp, Gaza, in this situation," Israeli Housing Minister Meir Sheerit told Israel Radio.

Hours after Gaza fell to Hamas, 97 senior members of Fatah's security and administrative apparatus arrived in the Egyptian port of El-Arish, an Egyptian security official in El-Arish said. The retreating Fatah members, who fled aboard a fishing boat, were transferred to camps affiliated with Egypt's security forces, a police official in Cairo confirmed.

Hamas said it plans to take control of Gaza's crossing with Egypt. The crossing has been closed since the outbreak of fighting earlier this week. Under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, it was monitored by European observers.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.

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