Palestinian Factions Turn on Each Other
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The latest fear in the Middle East is of a wider conflict between Palestinians and Palestinians.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports on a weekend of factional violence, attempted assassinations, and threats in Gaza.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
When the head of the Palestinian Intelligence Service, Tareq Abu Rajab, stepped out of an elevator inside his heavily protected Gaza Headquarters Saturday, an explosive device ripped into him and eight of his men. One bodyguard was killed.
Twenty-six-year-old Haitham Hammad(ph), a guard and driver, lies injured on a blood-stained bed at Gaza's main hospital, surrounded by family and armed guards. This Fatah loyalist pins the blame for the bombing squarely on the Islamists of Hamas and the new Interior Minister.
Mr. HAITHAM HAMMAD (Guard and Driver, Palestinian Intelligence Service): (Through translator) Hamas is behind this, and for me, the man responsible is the Interior Minister Said Siyam.
WESTERVELT: Hamas officials condemned the bombing, denied any involvement, and vowed to investigate. The previously masked members of Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigade, have now deployed openly on major intersections throughout the Gaza Strip, pledging to regain control of lawless streets. Fatah leaders call that deployment illegal.
Hammad vows to take revenge on these once secretive Hamas gunmen for what he calls a carefully planned assassination attempt.
Mr. HAMMAD: (Through translator) They are now easy targets in the street. We know their faces now. We will keep them down. They want to be the power. They will never be the authority. We are the authority.
WESTERVELT: The internal power struggle has made this seaside strip a powder keg. Any little scuffle can quickly descend into bloodshed.
(Soundbite of funeral attendees)
WESTERVELT: After the funeral of the Fatah bodyguard killed in the bombing, his supporters set up a makeshift roadblock near his house. When Hamas gunmen came to clear the road, it wasn't long before a full-blown firefight erupted. Angry Fatah loyalists, burning tires, shouting, yelling, and now more police are arriving. It looks like Fatah men.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
WESTERVELT: As residents and journalists took cover, a 14-year-old boy was shot in the neck. He's in critical condition. Two others were injured in the kind of shootout that's become all too familiar in Gaza in recent weeks.
On Sunday, a bomb was found and defused on the road near the office of another Fatah security leader, Rashid Abu Shbak(ph). Early today, in Hanunis, another Fatah-Hamas gun battle injured three people.
(Soundbite of crowd)
WESTERVELT: But while in one part of town Fatah-Hamas factions are trying to kill each other, just ten blocks away, Fatah men jointly guard an intersection - however cautiously - with Hamas gunmen such as Abu Shadeed(ph). With a Fatah gunman standing nearby, this 23-year-old Hamas militant blames the internal unrest on shadowy agitators.
Mr. ABU SHADEED (Hamas Militant): (Through translator) We are suspicious people. We are unknown. We have great relation with many leaders in Fatah. We are brothers. We are together, so there is no problem between Fatah and Hamas.
WESTERVELT: Gaza residents disagree. Those who can afford it are leaving the embattled area through Egypt. Others are afraid to leave their homes.
Mahir Megdad, a Fatah spokesman, says Gaza is on the verge of a wider civil conflict.
Mr. MAHIR MEGDAD (Fatah Spokesman): (Through translator) We are in a very worrying and frightening atmosphere, on the edge of being in a very critical situation.
WESTERVELT: A long-scheduled national dialogue meeting between Fatah and Hamas takes place later this week. The internal Palestinian fight may get equal billing with the conflict with Israel.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.
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