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Bloodshed Becomes Focus of PA-Hamas Relations Print E-mail

By Khaled Abu Toameh
May 31, 2009

Sunday's confrontation between an armed Hamas cell and Palestinian Authority policemen in Kalkilya shows that the Islamic movement still has a military presence in the West Bank - one that it is hoping to use to topple Mahmoud Abbas's regime there.

PA security officials said the two Hamas operatives who were killed in the clash, Muhammad Samman and Muhammad Yassin, headed a cell that possessed large amounts of weapons, including explosives and automatic rifles, some of which had been hidden in a basement of a mosque in the city.

The weapons, according to the officials, were supposed to be used by Hamas against members of the PA security forces and Fatah and PA officials. The officials revealed that Hamas members had long been collecting information about PA security officials and installations in the context of what they alleged was a scheme to stage a "coup" similar to the one that the movement carried out in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

But while the elimination of Hamas's Kalkilya cell may have foiled or hindered the movement's attempts to undermine the PA, the incident is seen as the final nail in the coffin of Palestinian unity talks.

Over the past few months, the Egyptians have been working very hard to convince Hamas and Fatah to end their differences and agree on the formation of a new unity government. At least four sessions of negotiations between the two parties have ended in failure.

But this did not dissuade the Egyptians from pursuing their efforts. Omar Suleiman, head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service who has been overseeing the talks, had summoned representatives of the two parties to another [and final] session of talks in Cairo in the coming days. Suleiman was hoping to employ heavy pressure on Fatah and Hamas to end their power struggle and sit together in a unity government.

Hamas and Fatah officials agreed on Sunday that it would be "almost impossible" under the current circumstances to resume the unity talks in Cairo. Hamas representatives said they were seriously considering pulling out from the talks, while Fatah accused the Islamic movement of declaring war on its men in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leaders and spokesmen are now openly calling on their supporters in the West Bank to rise up against Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad. Some went as far as accusing the two of high treason for collaborating with Israel - an allegation that is normally punished with death in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hamas is convinced that the killing of its men is one of the results of Abbas's recent visit to Washington, where he held talks with US President Barack Obama, and presented him with a "detailed plan" to wipe out the movement.

Hamas also believes the incident in Kalkilya, as well as the ongoing crackdown by the PA security forces on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, should be seen in the context of efforts by Abbas and Fayad to show Israel, the US and the EU that they are fulfilling their obligations under the road map by fighting terrorism.

Yet while Abbas and Fayad may win words of support from Jerusalem, Washington and European capitals for joining the war on Islamic fundamentalism, it's likely that the two are almost certain to lose points among their own constituents. Many Palestinians have long been drawing parallels between the two men and the former pro-Israel South Lebanon Army headed by Antoine Lahad.

Many Arab media outlets refer to the PA security forces in the West Bank as the Dayton Forces, a reference to US security coordinator Keith Dayton, who has been entrusted with overseeing the reconstruction and training of these forces to prevent Hamas from extending its control beyond the Gaza Strip.

Judging from the actions and fiery rhetoric of both sides, it's obvious that Hamas and Fatah are far from achieving any form of reconciliation between them. Talk about reconciliation has, for now, been replaced with talk about confrontation and bloodshed.

 

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