Ammar Awad for Reuters, August 4
Al-Arabiya TV, August 1
Al-Arabiya TV, August 1
IDF soldiers treating a wounded Fatah operative
Fatah operatives who escaped the Gaza Strip registering at an IDF checkpoint before their transfer to Jericho (Ammar Awad for Reuters, August 4 ).
1. Following a series of explosions in the Gaza Strip on July 24 and 25 targeting Hamas operatives, 1 the Hamas security forces detained a large number of Fatah-affiliated Gazans. Dozens were detained in Jabaliya, Rafah, Deir al-Balah and Beit Lahiya, and large quantities of weapons were confiscated (Ma’an News Agency, July 30).
2. The activity peaked on the morning of August 2, when a particularly violent confrontation broke out between the Hamas security forces and groups affiliated with Fatah in the Saja’iya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City . It began as detentions started, carried out, according to Hamas, because operatives suspected of involvement in the series of anti-Hamas blasts were hiding in the neighborhood.
3. Hamas claimed that the suspected operatives were being shielded by the Hilles clan, a large, influential local clan affiliated with Fatah. Clan members refused to surrender operatives, who, they claimed, were seeking asylum.
4. During the confrontations Hamas security force operatives fired RPGs and mortar shells at Hilles homes. By the end of the day there were nine dead, two of them Hamas operatives, and at least 90 wounded, among them 12 children (Ma’an News Agency, August 2). The Hamas police imposed a three-day closure on Saja’iya.
Hamas security forces carry out detentions and confiscate property (Al-Arabiya TV, August 1).
5. At the same time, the Palestinian media reported violent confrontations between Hamas and Army of Islam operatives in Saja’iya. The Army of Islam is a radical group affiliated with the global jihad 2 whose activities are directed by the Dughmush clan. Hamas also suspected Army of Islam operatives of detonating bombs, including one in a popular café (Wafa News Agency, PalPress website, August 2). The Army of Islam issued a statement to the effect that it was being unjustly attacked and had no ties to Fatah (PALDF Forum August 2).
6. In the afternoon dozens of Fatah operatives, some of them armed, began fleeing Saja’iya, arriving at the border crossing near Nahal Oz. In view of their situation the IDF, with governmental authorization, allowed at least 180 to cross into Israeli territory once they had been disarmed. Twenty-two of them were wounded, some seriously, and were taken to hospitals in Israel (IDF Spokesman’s website, August 3).
7. The next day, following requests made by Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen and prime minister Salam Fayyad, the IDF began returning the Fatah operatives to the Gaza Strip, with the exception of those in hospital. However, when it was learned that a number of Fatah operatives who returned had been detained by Hamas, Israeli security reassessed the situation and decided to transfer them to the PA instead. The PA agreed to accept them after the issue had been discussed by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Major General (Ret.) Amos Gilad (head of the Defense Ministry’s Security-Diplomatic Bureau) and Salam Fayyad (IDF Spokesman’s website, August 4). On the afternoon of August 4, 88 Fatah operatives were transferred to Jericho , where they will be lodged in a camp constructed for them by the PA.
IDF soldiers treating a wounded Fatah operative who fled from
the Gaza Strip (Photo courtesy of the IDF Spokesman, August 3).
8. Hamas leaders described the action as necessary to preserve order in the Gaza Strip and to prevent anarchy. Interior Minister Said Siyam justified the action, saying that the Hilles clan was involved in anti-Hamas activities. He added that during the confrontations many weapons had been seized and that explosives laboratories had been found "containing chemicals used to manufacture the bombs which exploded on July 25…” (Al-Aqsa TV, August 2). He also claimed that members of the Hilles clan had fled to the Nahal Oz crossing, even though they knew they might be detained by Israel , and that was additional proof of their involvement in the explosions. As far as the large quantities of weapons found in the Hilles clan’s possession (which had often been turned against Hamas) were concerned, he said that "the fact that Hamas is a resistance [i.e., terrorist] movement does not mean that everyone can stockpile as many weapons as they choose” (Al-Aqsa TV, August 2).
9. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel and the Palestinian Authority of involvement in the explosions. He said that had been proved by the fact that Israel had accepted the fleeing Fatah operatives and that the PA had coordinated their leaving the Gaza Strip with Israel (Palestine-info website, August 2).
10. However, harsh criticism was voiced by the Hamas monitoring committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council, which launched an unprecedented attack on the Haniya administration for its assault on Fatah institutions and charitable societies in the Gaza Strip (while Hamas complains of assaults on its institutions in Judea and Samaria). The committee issued a statement to the effect that only orderly legal procedures could close non-governmental societies and institutions, and called upon the Hamas administration’s interior minister to protect Fatah institutions and punish those responsible for closing them (Al-Quds al-Arabi, July 29).
Fatah and PA reactions
11. Fatah called for calm and an end to attacks on its members in the Gaza Strip. Abu Mazen contacted the Hilles clan to say that the campaign waged by Hamas damaged the call for a national dialogue (Wafa News Agency, August 2).
12. Fatah spokesman Fahmi al-Za’arir appealed to Hamas leaders in Judea and Samaria to publicly distance themselves from the Hamas activity in the Gaza Strip. He threatened that if they refused to do so, Fatah would be faced with two alternatives: to detain all Hamas operatives and leaders in the West Bank to ensure the release of Fatah members detained in the Gaza Strip, or to demand that the Palestinian justice system outlaw Hamas (Wafa News Agency, August 2).
13. The events in Saja’iya were a continuation of the violent confrontations between Hamas and Fatah. Apparently Hamas exploited the explosions occurring at the end of July to tighten its control of the Gaza Strip and settle accounts with Fatah networks which, it claims, continue to subvert its rule. The events were a sharp blow to the prestige of Hamas, which had recently boasted of its success in ending anarchy and restoring Gazans’ security. However, in our assessment, the recent events cannot shake Hamas’s grip on the Gaza Strip.
1 For further information see our July 29, 2008 Bulletin entitled "News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation July 22-29, 2008” .
2 For further information see our February 21, 2008 Bulletin entitled "YMCA library building in Gaza City blown up: another incident in a series of attacks on Western and Christian targets in the Gaza Strip by groups associated with the global jihad and radical Islam” .