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In West Bank, Palestinian Accord Faces Challenges
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In West Bank, Palestinian Accord Faces Challenges

Middle East

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to the Middle East, where the peace deal between two major Palestinian factions is unraveling. The deal was between Fatah, which rules the West Bank, and the militant group Hamas, which holds power in Gaza. The two factions were supposed to announce the make up of a unity government in Cairo this week, but they could not agree on who should be prime minister. NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro traveled to the West Bank city of Hebron and files this report on how the reconciliation looks from the ground.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: It's election day here, and the voting room is crammed with doctors scribbling names on pink pieces of paper and then depositing them into a plastic ballot box. For the first time in 16 years, the largest medical association in Hebron is electing a new board. And even though this is a private association, this election has political heft. Out of the 14 people running, seven are backed by the West Bank's ruling party, Fatah.

Just outside where people are voting are two huge banners list the Fatah candidates. What's glaringly missing here is Hamas. Despite a reconciliation agreement signed by the rival groups which is supposed to pave the way for parliamentary elections next year, there's not a single candidate running under the Hamas banner. Hamas members say it's a sign that the reconciliation that's being touted is less than real.

At his office, Hamas Palestinian parliament member Mohammad Mitlaq says he's frustrated. He says Fatah is taking advantage of the situation to pack their people into key institutions in elections like the one at the hospital.

Mr. MOHAMMAD MITLAG (Parliament Member, Hamas): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he complains that the pace of reconciliation is slow on the ground. The city of Hebron is the most populous in the West Bank, and it's been one of the key battlegrounds between Hamas and Fatah these many years. It's considered a Hamas stronghold, but after the fighting in Gaza in 2007, the Fatah-dominated security forces targeted Hamas supporters and officials here, he says.

His colleague, Sameera al-Halayqa, is also a member of the suspended Palestinian Legislative Council. Since 2007, her husband and son have been arrested multiple times by the Palestinian security forces simply, she says, because of their affiliation to Hamas.

There are hundreds of other similar cases throughout the West Bank, according to human rights groups. Some similar arrests have taken place in Gaza against Fatah supporters. As part of this reconciliation agreement, some political detainees are now being let go. Still, Sameera says she'll never trust the other side.

Ms. SAMEERA AL-HALAYGA (Palestinian Legislative Council): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I might be able to forgive, but I cannot forget what happened to me as a mother and as a wife, she says.

Kifah al-Awiwi is the secretary general for Fatah in Hebron.

Mr. KIFAH AL-AWIWI (Secretary General, Fatah): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He denies that Fatah is making things difficult. He says reconciliation is working. For example, he says, Hamas supporters can now gather publically and hold demonstrations in Hebron, which used to be prohibited. He says the Fatah leadership is committed to making this deal work. While that may be true, Israel is far from happy. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization responsible for multiple attacks on the Jewish state.

In recent weeks, many of the Hamas members released by the Palestinian Authority have been re-arrested by the Israel Defense forces.

Yigal Palmor is Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Mr. YIGAL PALMOR (Spokesman, Foreign Ministry): As long as Hamas remains loyal, so to speak, to its old charter of, you know, fighting Israelis and Jews wherever they find them, there is no reason for optimism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palmor says, at best, the unity agreement is a cosmetic one, prompted by a Palestinian desire to present a unified front at the UN this September. Palestinians are hoping to gain recognition there of an independent state. At worst, he says, the deal could see Israel put sanctions against any new Palestinian government.

Unidentified Child: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back in Hebron at a youth camp, ordinary Palestinians say they're worried about the future.

Anas Sarabta is a 25-year-old counselor here. He says while the arrests of Hamas supporters have grabbed all the headlines, dozens of people affiliated with Hamas have lost their jobs in state-run schools and hospitals over the past few years. It's a quieter, but no less effective form of purging Hamas support in the West Bank, he says. He says he fears that this reconciliation is no reconciliation at all.

Mr. ANAS SARABTA (Counselor): We should see something on the ground. We should see changes in Hebron. We should see changes in Gaza. Did we see such a change? I don't think so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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