It was a bloody weekend of confrontation between Hamas and Fatah, in which 11 people were killed and more than 90 — including 12 children — were wounded in the Shujaiyyah neighbourhood, east of Gaza City, bringing back the scenes of horror thousands of Gazans are already used to experience. Except this time the blood couldn’t be blamed on Israelis.
Fear was in the air: shops were closed and few people dared to out and pass through the checkpoints Hamas security forces established around the region.
The escalation proves once again that the word “fracture” is not strong enough to describe the Palestinian political situation. In a dual-world Palestine divided between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, there are different problems, different priorities, different governments and a deep divergence on the latest crisis.
Despite Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority efforts to keep business as usual, officials and observers fear the Gaza clashes could quickly spread to the West Bank and expose the ruling party’s internal divisions.
In Gaza, however, some analysts believe the Hamas military operation is being inflated by the foreign media and the instability is not as bad as it seems.
It was bad enough for more than 180 Palestinians — presumably Fatah members — who escaped the Strip and fled to Israel, following a special request from Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas to allow them to enter Israeli territory.
They had good reason to want to flee. Anyone taken prisoner by Hamas can expect harsh hospitality and a severe violation of human rights — and it’s not much better in the West Bank for Hamas activists. Last week, two human rights groups found that both groups have tortured prisoners, and that three prisoners have died in detention in Gaza and one in the West Bank.
What made this weekend’s conflict different was that it transcended the level of politics into something resembling a mafia family struggle. The battle began on Saturday, when Hamas militants stormed Gaza City searching for members of the Hilles clan, one of the biggest and most influential of Gaza’s families, known for its traditional support for the secularists from Fatah.
According to Hamas sources, the family was behind the explosion of a car bomb that killed six militants last week near the beach. The Hilles claim they have no connection to the bombing and accuse the Islamists of using the incident to bring down their powerful and wealthy clan. The family patriarch, Ahmad Hilles, has already threatened that Hamas will pay for the blood spilt — which could lead to a newly-escalated conflict in the region.
Gaza journalist Sameh Akram Habeeb, who witnessed the weekend violence, told PJM that the clashes and the fleeing Fatah members represent the “grande finale” of the Hamas coup when it took power a year ago.
“The neighborhood is under siege and Hamas is still hunting for suspects, which makes the atmosphere really tense, despite the illusion of calm. Everything can change at any time. The Hilles were Fatah’s last bastion of support in Gaza and Hamas has been hunting them for a long time. They are not only a big family, but they have many affiliates in the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and other military organizations with arms, a lot of ammunition and close contacts to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Hamas claims that these people must be brought to justice, but many innocent civilians have paid the price of this confrontation with their lives.”