Abbas Dissolves Palestinian Government
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Hamas today is in control of the Gaza Strip. In a week of bitter clashes, fighters of the Islamist militant group routed forces belonging to Fatah - the secular organization that's led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has declared a state of emergency and disbanded the Fatah-Hamas unity government formed just three months ago. Across Gaza today, jubilant Hamas gunmen fired into the air and raised the green Hamas flag in buildings once under Fatah control.
We go now to NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's been out on the streets of Gaza City. Good morning.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What is the situation there today? We can hear commotion behind you right now.
WESTERVELT: Well, some Hamas supporters have taken to the street. They're firing their guns off in celebration. I've just come from the presidential compound. Fatah supporters had braced for a strong defense of this presidential compound, but Hamas fighters we talked to this morning say they captured the area last night without firing a shot, that when they got there, Fatah gunmen had simply fled.
Right now, Hamas men were busy carting away chairs, tables, computers - looting the place. The compounds, the sprawling network of buildings are completely trashed. Hamas is carting away just about everything they can get. They're also now in control of the few armored personnel carriers that Fatah had as of last night and several of the weapons there as well.
I also went by President Mahmoud Abbas' residency. And Hamas gunmen are protecting that home from any looters, but the green Hamas flag is flying from the rooftop.
MONTAGNE: And Eric, I gather earlier you visited the compound belonging to the Gaza leader of Fatah.
WESTERVELT: Well, he's a deputy leader of Fatah, Mohammed Dahlan. He's an important figure here. And he's equally liked and despised by many. And I was just at his house, and looters were tearing off the roof tiles, tearing up his marble floors, taking the wiring, digging up even trees in his garden - big palm trees and carting them off on donkey carts. People were angry - they'd set fire to the part of the house as well. One looter I talked to said Dahlan lives like a king and we're starving. This collaborator is getting what he deserves.
MONTAGNE: And we've been getting reports of revenge killings of the defeated Fatah fighters - actually, Hamas, hunting them down in a way. What can you tell us about that?
WESTERVELT: Well, yesterday, there were several incidents of that, including al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and Dahlan associate, Sami al-Mathun(ph), who was hunted down, dragged into the street, shot several times.
MONTAGNE: Okay, so we're waking up this morning to Hamas in control of Gaza, Fatah in control of the West Bank. Are we seeing two Palestinian governments?
WESTERVELT: Well, Hamas officials say no - that they're still committed, they say, to try to work with President Mahmoud Abbas to create one Palestinian government. But the fact is, on the ground, Hamas is in complete control of Gaza. Fatah men have run. They no longer have power here. And we are seeing a split, and it looks increasing like there will be a Fatah-led government in the West Bank, headed by President Abbas. And Ismail Haniya of Hamas will run things down here in Gaza.
MONTAGNE: And so far, Israel has followed something of a hands-off policy.
WESTERVELT: Israeli officials have called this an internal Palestinian dispute during this last week of fighting, but Israeli officials you talked to are deeply concerned about the security conditions down here and what it means for the state of Israel.
Militants have been launching rockets on a near daily basis into southern Israeli towns. There's concern that Hamas has complete control of Gaza, that they'll be even more rockets, that there could be even bigger security concerns.
Israeli officials are saying we can still work with President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank to try to create some kind of dialogue on a peace process. But the fact is, when it comes to Gaza, Abbas has no control anymore, and that's a deep concern to Israel.
MONTAGNE: Is anyone there in Gaza looking ahead to the future and wondering how this takeover helps or hurts the Palestinian drive for statehood?
WESTERVELT: Yes, we've asked people about that this morning, and there's a deep split. Some people are saying this sets us back. This hurts our cause for statehood. Others, especially Hamas supporters, are saying, look, this is what the people want. This helps our cause.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Eric Westervelt in Gaza City, one day after militants of Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip.
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