Palestinian Rift In The West Bank Intensifies Increasing tensions between rival Palestinian factions in the West Bank have turned violent. Fatah leaders say Hamas is plotting to take over the West Bank by force — similar to what happened in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas fighters overwhelmed Fatah forces. Recent gunfights have left nine dead.
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Palestinian Rift In The West Bank Intensifies

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Palestinian Rift In The West Bank Intensifies

Palestinian Rift In The West Bank Intensifies

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. More trouble is brewing in the occupied West Bank. The long-standing acrimony between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas has turned violent. Fatah leaders say Hamas is plotting to take over the West Bank by force, just as it did in the Gaza Strip two years ago. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed Shreen sits in lush garden in the West Bank city of Qalqilya. While the setting couldn't be more idyllic - birds flit from tree to tree, a light breeze blows - the Fatah representative here says darkly that Hamas militants are stockpiling weapons in the city.

Mr. AHMED SHREEN (Fatah): (Through translator) The Hamas leadership wants to take over the West Bank, and the proof is that we have discovered large weapons caches right here in Qalqilya in Hamas areas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 2007, bloody clashes broke out between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, ending in a major defeat for Fatah. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, while Fatah retained control in the West Bank.

The two groups have fundamentally different views on how to deal with the Israeli occupation. Hamas — which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries — refuses to recognize Israel and insists on armed resistance. Fatah, which heads the Palestinian Authority, has acknowledged Israel's right to exist and has engaged in almost two decades of peace negotiations.

Currently, the two factions have held several rounds of talks in Cairo aimed at forming a unity government, but Fatah's Ahmed Shreen says a deal with Hamas is unlikely.

Mr. SHREEN: (Through translator) The possibility of a solution is very remote, even though we've put all our efforts into dialogue with Hamas. What I'm worried about is that while we are talking in Cairo, Hamas will be planning the coup in the West Bank.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For now though, it's the Fatah-dominated security forces that have been cracking down on Hamas fighters in the West Bank. Over the past few weeks, Palestinian Authority security forces have fought two gun battles with Hamas militants in Qalqilya. In total, nine people have been killed, including four Hamas fighters and four Palestinian Authority policemen.

Qalqilya Mayor Wajia Qawais is a member of Hamas. One of his nephews was among the Hamas members killed in the battle here.

Mayor WAJIA QAWAIS (Qalqilya): (Through translator) Qalqilya is going through a very tense period, which has brought pain to our citizens. There are big and crucial differences between the different factions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Ihab Al-Ghussain alleges that Fatah is doing the bidding of the Israeli occupiers.

Mr. IHAB AL-GHUSSAIN (Hamas): (Through translator) They're continuously arresting our men in the West Bank. They committed an awful crime against a group who were fighting the Israelis for more than six years. The Israelis couldn't capture them, so the Palestinian security forces did the Israelis' dirty work and assassinated them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Obama administration has called on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants and enforce the rule of law. Some analysts say that the renewed raids on Hamas fighters are an attempt by the P.A. to show that it is heeding that call, in advance of the possible resumption of peace talks with the Israelis.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the streets of Qalqilya, there is fear. Few people wanted to talk publicly about the clashes. Residents say privately that they are worried that all-out war could break out between the two sides. One resident who consented to speak, Abu Ahmed, says that's a real concern here.

Mr. ABU AHMED: (Through translator) People are very angry about what happened. People do not want resistance fighters like those Hamas men to be killed. At the same time, people do not want chaos; we want the rule of law. The Hamas fighters are from our families. The Fatah policemen are from our families too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says we want this power struggle to stop. The infighting, he says, only hurts the Palestinian people and helps the Israeli occupation.

At a nearby house, the mother of one of the slain Hamas fighters sits with other female relatives. Raba al-Qawais says her son was initially taught to be a fighter by members of Fatah.

Ms. RABA AL-QAWAIS: (Through translator) Fatah is the foundation of the resistance in Palestinian society. Now they have sold out and they have betrayed the young men who followed them. This is what happened to my son.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she thought he'd die in battle with the Israelis, not at the hands of fellow Palestinians.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Qalqilya.

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