Hamas-Palestinian Authority conflict could escalate into a deadly fight.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
ome 60 miles southwest of Yasser Arafat's
ruined Ramallah headquarters, supporters
of the Palestinian Authority leader are
engaged in another confrontation.
The new front is not against Israel, but against
their Palestinian brethren — Hamas supporters in
the Gaza Strip, who are now openly challenging the
This latest confrontation could lead the
Palestinian society to a fitna —the Arabic term for
civil war. The fear has a precedent: In the Arab
Revolt of 1936-1939, thousands of Palestinian Arabs
were killed in bloody internal strife.
The current unrest in Gaza began with a blood
vengeance. Imad Akel, 27, a resident of the
Nusseirat refugee camp, and a number of his friends
shot dead Palestinian Authority riot police chief Col.
Rajah Abu-Lihyeh. Abu-Lihyeh allegedly was
responsible for the shooting of Imad Akel's younger
brother Yussuf in violent protests last year against
the American war in Afghanistan. Five others were
killed and dozens wounded in that unrest.
Palestinian Authority police tried to detain Abu-
Lihyeh's killers, to no avail. Akel, a senior activist in
Hamas' military wing, found shelter among his
friends. Riots broke out as P.A. officers tried to arrest
Akel and the other perpetrators. Four people were
killed, but so far the Palestinian Authority has failed
to bring Akel and his associates to trial.
As commander of the riot police, Abu-Lihyeh was
one of the most hated persons in the Palestinian
Authority. His people are responsible for the rough
handling of any demonstration not to the P.A.'s lik-
ing. It's no wonder, therefore, that Hamas enjoys
growing popular support in its confrontation with
But if one thing is considered off-limits in Arab
regimes, it is a challenge to the security forces. Such
a challenge is seen as an attack on the legitimacy of
It's not the first time Palestinian groups have flout-
ed Palestinian Authority directives:
When groups ignore Arafat's statements against
terror attacks, the Palestinian Authority has not got-
ten upset, and indeed Israelis suspect a tacit division
of labor. But the Palestinian Authority is not likely
to allow a challenge of such magnitude to its securi-
Hamas that if it tries to undermine or destroy the
Palestinian Authority, Fatah will fight it to defend
the authority," a senior Fatah official told Reuters.
Despite the growing popularity of Hamas' uncom-
promising outlook, the Islamic fundamentalist
movement also finds itself at a difficult crossroads.
Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank is in ruins.
Its top military leader, Mohammad Deif, barely
escaped a recent Israeli assassination attempt in the
Gaza Strip, which left him seriously wounded.
Frequent Israeli raids on Gaza Strip targets strike at
Hamas' power base.
For years, Arafat has ignored his commitments to
disarm Hamas and make them subject to P.A. law.
Analysts say it's not just because he doesn't want to
fragment Palestinian society, but also because it has
served his purposes to have militant groups carry out
terror attacks supposedly outside of Arafat's control.
But some have warned that Arafat ultimately will
have to bring all Palestinian factions to heel if the
Palestinian Authority is to stay in power.
The example often cited is the Altalena ship, a
1948 incident in which Jewish militias tried to defy
the nascent Israeli government and import arms ille-
gally. Despite his reluctance to fight other Jews,
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the ship
bombed before it reached port; it sank, killing sever-
The dissident Jewish groups condemned Ben-
Gurion for the attack. But it was a watershed in
Israeli history that made clear that challenges to the
central authority would not be tolerated.
Israelis believe Arafat must eventually have his
own Altalena, which would benefit not just Israel by
eliminating the threat from nominally renegade
groups but the Palestinian Authority itself by
strengthening order and central control.
Mohammad Dahlan, former head of Palestinian
security forces in Gaza and now Arafat's security
adviser, is pushing for such a confrontation. He
knows that unless the killers are handed in, the
Palestinian Authority may lose its grip on the popu-
Dahlan, sometimes mentioned as a possible suc-
cessor to Arafat, reportedly has grown so frustrated
with Arafat's unwillingness to impose his rule that
he recently tendered his resignation, the Israeli daily
Hakretz reported. Arafat has yet to act on the letter.
Yet Arafat may keep postponing the showdown
with Hamas:- In the face of growing Israeli pressure,
Arafat feels that his only chance to survive is to
avoid internal rifts at all costs.
Hamas, however, is not willing to play by
Arafat's rules. In addition to the Gaza riots, two
suicide bombings last week — one near B'nei Brak
that killed an Israeli, another that was foiled near
the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv — show that Hamas
is determined to pursue its violent agenda, provok-
ing Israeli countermeasures that further weaken
On Monday, Oct. 14, thousands of Palestinians
from Fatah marched through Gaza, warning Hamas
not to undermine the Palestinian Authority.
"This is a show of force. This is a J-
-_, ccompany the coffin of Col. Rajeh Abu Lehiya, head of the Palestinian riot police, through the streets
of Gaza City on Oct. 10. Lehiya was shot dead by gunmen from the militant Islamic group Hamas. The huge
turnout, some 20,000 mourners, was seen as a show of strength by the Palestinian security forces.