Fatah-Hamas conflict

Fatah–Hamas conflict

The Fatah-Hamas conflict (النزاع بين فتح و حماس Al-Nizāʿ bain Fataḥ wa Ḥamās), also referred to as the Palestinian Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية الفلسطينية Al-Ḥarb al-ʾAhliyyah al-Filisṭīnīyah), began in 2006 and has continued, in one form or another, into 2008. The tensions between Hamas and Fatah began to rise in 2005 after the death of longtime PLO leader Yasser Arafat who died on November 11 2004 and intensified after Hamas won the elections of 2006.

The conflict is between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas. The majority of the fighting is occurring in the Gaza Strip where fighting began after Hamas' legislative victories. Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip.

It is called Wakseh among Palestinians, meaning humiliation, ruin, and collapse as a result of self-inflicted damage.


2006 elections

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections. As a result, Israel, the United States, the European Union, several Western states and the Arab states imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid, upon which Palestinians depend. (They have promised to resume aid if Hamas fulfils '3 Demands' of recognizing Israel, accepting agreements made by the defeated Fatah regime and denouncing violence.) Despite the sanctions, and incidences of successful border interdiction, Hamas leaders were able to smuggle enough money into the Palestinian territories to maintain basic health and educational services. The defeated Fatah party maintains control of most of the Palestinian security apparatus. The US administration funded and armed Abbas's Presidential Guard and Gaza based Fatah warlord, Mohammed Dahlan .

U.S. funding, weapons and training for Fatah

Starting in February 2006, U.S. officials spoke of "hard coup" against the newly elected Hamas government and were determined to sow the seeds of civil war to oust the democratically-elected Hamas governnment. Over the 2006 and 2007, the United States supplied guns, ammunition and training to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank in a U.S. effort that cost $59 million and covertly persuaded Arab allies to supply more funding. A large number of Fatah activists were trained and "graduated" from two West Bank camps while Jordan and Egypt trained two Fatah battalions, one of which was deployed to Gaza in May.

March 2006 to December 2006 rise of tensions

The period from March to December 2006 was marked by tensions when Fatah commanders refused to take orders from the government while the Palestinian Authority initiated a campaign of assassinations and abductions against Hamas which led to Hamas beginning their own. Tensions grew additionally between the two Palestinian factions after they failed to reach a deal to share government power. On 15 December, Abbas called for Palestinian general election. Hamas has challenged the legality of holding an early election maintaining their right to hold the full term of their democratically elected offices. Hamas has characterized this as an attempted Fatah coup by Abbas, using undemocratic means to overthrow the results of a democratically elected government.

According to one Palestinian rights group, more than 600 Palestinians were killed in fighting from Jan. 2006 to May 2007. A serious escalation in the violence was marked by the 2006 Rimal neighborhood shootings.


First round of fighting

On December 15 2006, fighting broke out in the West Bank after Palestinian security forces fired on a Hamas rally in Ramallah. At least 20 people were wounded in the clashes which came shortly after Hamas accused Fatah of attempting to assassinate Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister.

Intense fighting continued throughout December 2006 and January 2007 in the Gaza Strip. Several ceasefire attempts failed, being broken by continued battles. In February 2007, Palestinian rivals met in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia and reached an accord ensuring a ceasefire. However, minor incidents continued through March and April 2007. More than 90 people were killed in these first months.

Second round of fighting

In mid-May 2007, clashes erupted once again in the streets of Gaza. In less than 20 days, more than 50 Palestinians were killed. Leaders of both parties tried to stop the fighting with dozens of truces, but none of them held for longer than a few days.

By most accounts, Hamas performed better than Fatah in the second round of fighting. Some attribute this to the discipline and better training of Hamas' fighters, as most of the casualties have been from the Fatah faction. However, Fatah's armed forces are greater in numbers and security officials from Israel and the United States allege that Hamas downplayed its casualties.

Third round of fighting: Hamas' Gaza takeover campaign

In early June, 2007, in the middle of Israeli attacks in the Gaza strip made in response to continuing Qassam rocket bombardment of Sderot (as part of the 2007 Israel-Gaza conflict), gunfire and rocket propelled grenades could be heard from the streets of Gaza City. In half a year, more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in fighting, sparking the fear a civil war could erupt in the Palestinian Authorities, and especially in Gaza.

The fighting began on June 10; on June 11 four Palestinians were killed as Hamas declared their rule of northern city of Beit Hanoun. On June 12 Hamas fighters surrounded the headquarters of Fatah in Gaza, where 500 Fatah fighters were holed up. The Hamas militants attacked the building and, after several hours of intense fighting, took control of the headquarters. In addition, several other Fatah positions were overrun throughout the Gaza strip. Fighting was reported to have taken place in at least two hospitals. By the end of the day the towns of Beit Lahiya and Jabaliya were under Hamas control.

On June 13, Hamas took control of the north of Gaza strip (north of Gaza City), declaring it a "closed military area" and demanding that everyone, including the Fatah military forces, hand over their weapons by 4 P.M. (GMT) Friday, the 15th. Hamas also launched attacks on the south of Gaza Strip. An explosion wrecked the Khan Younis headquarters of the Fatah-linked Preventive Security force, killing 13 people. By the end of the fourth day of fighting Khan Younis, Rafah and most of Gaza City were under Hamas control. On June 14 Hamas overran the last two Fatah outposts in Gaza City finally taking full control of the city, and establishing a separate government.

Throughout the four days of fighting Hamas had taken control of the main north-south road and the coastal road. The Israeli government closed all check-points on borders of Gaza in response to the violence. During the four days of intense fighting at least 116 people were killed.

Fatah strikes back: fighting in the West Bank and dissolution of government

The attacks of Hamas gunmen against Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip resulted in a reaction of Fatah gunmen against Hamas institutions in West Bank. Although Hamas' numbers are greater in the Gaza Strip, Fatah forces are greater in the West Bank.

On June 14, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the dissolution of the current unity government and the declaration of a state of emergency. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has been dismissed, and Abbas will rule Gaza and the West Bank by presidential decree. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by declaring that President Abbas' decision was "in practical terms...worthless", asserting that Haniya "remains the head of the government even if it was dissolved by the president".

Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace comments that under the 2003 Palestinian Constitution Abbas clearly has the right to declare a state of emergency and dismiss the Prime Minister, but the state of emergency can only continue for 30 days. After that it would need to be renewed by the (Hamas-dominated) Legislative Council, which also constrains the breadth of his emergency powers. Neither Hamas nor Fatah currently have enough votes to form a new government under the constitution. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns Hamas's "decision to resolve the conflict militarily " but argues that "steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response to these events violate the Basic Law and undermine the Basic Law in a manner that is no less dangerous.

On June 15, Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as prime minister and gave him the task of forming a new government.

The West Bank had its first casualty when the bullet-riddled body of a Hamas militant was found in Nablus, sparking the fear Fatah would use its advantage in the West Bank for retaliation against its members' deaths in the Gaza Strip On the same day, Hamas also declared that it was in full control of Gaza, a claim denied by Abbas.

On June 16, Fatah-linked militant group, the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, stormed Hamas-controlled parliament based in Ramallah in the West Bank. This act, including the ransack of the ministry of education, has been seen as a reaction to similar looting occurring following Hamas' military success in Gaza.

On June 20, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar declared that if Fatah continued to try to uproot Hamas in the West Bank, it could lead to Fatah's downfall there as well. He would not deny when asked that Hamas resistance against Fatah would take the form of attacks and suicide bombings similar to those Hamas has used against Israel in the past.

Renewed clashes in Gaza

On October 17, clashes erupted in eastern Gaza between Hamas security forces and members of the powerful Heles clan (Fatah-affiliated), leaving up to two dead on both sides. Fatah and Hamas officials gave conflicting accounts of what caused the fighting but the dispute seems to have originated when Hamas officials demanded that the clan return a governmental car. Another gun battle on October 20 killed one member of the clan and a 13-year-old boy. During the same day, in Rafah, one woman was killed and eight people were injured when Hamas security members traded fire with Islamic Jihad activists. Two days later, 7 more Palestinians were killed in the internal fighting, including some Hamas militants and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant.

On November 12, a large demonstration dedicated to the memory of late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was organized by Fatah in Gaza City. With over 200,000 participants, this was the largest Fatah demonstration in the Gaza strip since the Hamas takeover. The demonstration was forcibly dispersed by Hamas gunmen, who fired into the crowd. At least six civilians were killed and over 80 people were injured, some from being trampled in the resulting stampede. The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad, whose members have clashed with Hamas several times, condemned the shootings.

On January 1, 2008 at least eight people have died in factional fighting in the Gaza Strip. During early August 2008 a group of Fatah supporters in Gaza crossed to the West Bank after gaining permission from Israel as a round of arrests was carried out in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On 16 August 2008 The Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to join a national committee designated to end the tit for tat arrests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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