Middle East

Political Violence in Gaza Sparks Fears of Civil War

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5427260/5427261" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Escalating violence in Gaza has many Palestinians fearful of an all-out civil war. The fight is between the Palestinian party that previously held power in the government, Fatah, and the party that is now in power, Hamas.


Money isn't the only problem facing Palestinians. Some also fear that fighting between two factions could generate open civil war. It's a conflict between Fatah, the party of President Mahmoud Abbas, which used to run the government; and Hamas, which controls it now.


Over the weekend, NPR's Eric Westervelt witnessed the violence in the Gaza Strip.


Angry Fatah loyalists burning tires, shouting, yelling. And now more police are arriving. Looks like Fatah men.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

INSKEEP: That was the sound last weekend. Eric is back with us today. And has there been more trouble today, Eric?

WESTERVELT: There has. Hamas sources say gunmen from one branch of Fatah kidnapped, pistol-whipped, and then shot three Hamas militants - killing one of them. The three were abducted as they left a mosque this morning, after prayers. And their badly injured bodies were dumped at a gas station. Two of them are expected to survive.

This is just the latest, Steve, in a series of violent confrontations between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, over the last six days. We've seen running gun battles, as we've just heard. There've been at least two assassination attempts on senior Fatah officials. So, despite some high-level people on both sides saying that they're in contact and working to calm tensions, gunmen on the street you talk to, and many local residents, are certainly on edge. And violence can seem to flare up at any time.

INSKEEP: Would you describe the landscape please? Is this all happening in crowded residential areas?

WESTERVELT: It is, especially in Gaza City. This is a tightly packed urban area. Cement apartment buildings are mixed in with small shops, and some government buildings and schools. I mean, the shootout at the Palestinian Parliament Building, on Monday, had a lot of school children, you know, walking back from class. And it's just amazing more weren't injured, given the amount of gunfire that was going on, over about two-and-a-half, three hours.

INSKEEP: Is this just a conflict about which security forces control the streets?

WESTERVELT: That's been the flashpoint, Steve. But it runs a lot deeper. Fatah, you know, is a more secular group. Its leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, advocate peace talks with Israel, and they recognize the Jewish state's right to exist. But the Islamists of Hamas want to put their religious imprint on the political, legal, and social life of many Palestinians. Hamas doesn't recognize Israel, as we know, and continues to advocate violence for what it calls Islamic resistance to Israel.

Although we should note, Hamas hasn't carried out any suicide bombings in more than a year. Adding to the tension, Steve, Fatah is now a pretty divided movement. And many factions, so far, have been unwilling to relinquish power in key ministries in Gaza and the West Bank since the January elections, in which they lost.

INSKEEP: These factions have a meeting coming up over the next couple of days, and I suppose it's worth wondering whether they'll be talking about a settlement with Israel or some kind of settlement with each other.

WESTERVELT: Well, that's right. They were called National Unity Dialogue Talks, and they were expected to focus on the conflict with Israel and the isolation of the new Hamas-led government. But with violent, near-daily street clashes in Gaza, you know, basic issues of power sharing are sure to be a major focus.

INSKEEP: Okay, Eric. Thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from