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Hamas-Fatah war of words rages as clashes continue

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring on 18 May

    Hamas and Fatah agreed on 12 May to halt "inflammatory media campaigns" in the print media and on radio and TV stations.

    But the last week has seen the two sides step up their rhetoric and exchange of insults against each other as factional violence surged in the Gaza Strip.

    The media truce did not last long, and before long the war of words in media outlets affiliated with one side or another erupted again.



    The pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Centre website on 15 May carried a statement from Hamas that "it will not allow anyone to foment sedition and strife and it will cut off the hand of anyone that tries to harm its sons, symbols, and leaders."

    At the height of the fighting, on 16 May, "radio and TV stations belonging to both factions exchanged accusations and armed clashes erupted near a building housing several press offices. Journalists were trapped in their offices, especially the offices of Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel and Ramattan News Agency, for more than two hours, and their lives were endangered. Some people called this infighting `the second catastrophe'," the independent Ma'an News Agency reported.

    The London-based Foreign Press Association (FPA) blamed this attack on Hamas fighters.

    "We urge all groups to stop the flagrant violation of the freedom of the press and to allow Palestinian journalists in Gaza to pursue their work without interference and without blatantly endangering their lives... There can be no excuse for the abuse of our colleagues working for the international media," the FPA said in a statement.


Trading insults

    Following one of the worst incidents of violence, on 16 May the PNA Presidency-controlled Palestine news agency, Wafa, reported Fatah's official spokesman in the Gaza Strip as saying that the Hamas-affiliated Al-Qassam forces and the Executive Force "cold-bloodedly executed between four to six of the bodyguards of General Rashid Abu-Shibak, internal security director". "All Hamas activists and leaders are implicated in this," Awad added.

    PNA Presidency-controlled Palestinian TV on 16 May said: "We tell all the killers and criminals: You will not escape the Palestinian people's justice. You will not escape the Palestinian people's justice. Our Palestinian people will reach all of these criminals, murderers and traitors who are openly carrying out acts of terrorism before our Palestinian people."

    The station later broadcast remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad, who said: "There is no doubt that there is a group of killers and traitors that do not want the Palestinian people and Gaza to enjoy stability."

    Palestine TV aired extensive live footage of the four slain bodyguards' bodies, including gruesome images and close-ups of their bullet injuries.

    At one stage the station posted the following banner: "Palestine TV ceases its broadcast for one moment of silence and mourning in protest against the ongoing killings in Gaza."

    Later on the 16th, Wafa quoted Jamal Nazzal, another Fatah spokesman, as saying: "Nobody in Fatah can tell the difference any more between Hamas's destruction of PNA headquarters, the killing of Palestinian security personnel, and the common classical way in which a coup is carried out.... Hamas has now clearly started a coup against the Palestinian National Authority, which was established by the PLO factions. It is doing so in order to establish an unknown political regime."

    Gaza-based Ramattan News Agency on 16 May quoted Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad condemning the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, as "gangs" that work against the Palestinian cause, and urging the disbandment of the "bloodthirsty" Hamas-affiliated Executive Force.


More invective

    Pro-Hamas media outlets used similar strong invective too.

    Reporting an attack by gunmen on a visiting Egyptian delegation in Gaza on 15 May, Filastin al-An, a Hamas affiliated site, said that "the Egyptian security delegation's representatives, as well as a Palestinian government representative and a Hamas representative have escaped an assassination attempt that almost cost them their lives, when the security services' black militias and bloody Fatah gangs opened fire at them".

    Accusing the Wafa news agency of carrying "scandalous lies", Hamas said in a statement carried by the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Centre: "A piece of advice to the immature media teenagers and the devils of lies and fabrications: You should know that lies do not survive long. Learn from history and from past lies."

    And another report by the Palestinian Information Centre noted: "Hamas vehemently condemns the feverish media campaign launched by the mouthpieces of Fatah and the Palestinian Preventive Security Service [PPSS] and the other Fatah television and radio outlets, accusing the Al-Qassam Brigades..."


Escalation feared

    Another ceasefire that came into effect briefly on Thursday 17 May was soon broken, and Hamas and Fatah continued to accuse each other of violating the agreement.

    Nor did the Israeli air strikes on Gaza on 17 May bring the two Palestinian sides together against their common enemy.

    On 18 May, factional clashes continued between Hamas and Fatah forces, as three rocket propelled grenades were launched by Fatah into the campus of the Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold.

    The pro-Hamas, anti-Fatah news site Filastin al-An said the attack was the work of "Presidential Guard mercenaries".

    Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV announced that "Fatah and Presidential Guard gunmen were preparing to besiege the Islamic University and are using tanks and heavy weapons." An on-screen caption read: "New Zionist-American weapons used in war on Islamic University."On the same day, Israeli helicopter gunships fired on Hamas militants who launched Qassam missiles into Israel.

    According to reports from Gaza by international news agencies, Palestinians fear an escalation in internal violence, as Hamas forces come under dual attack by Fatah on the one hand and Israel on the other.

    Source: BBC Monitoring research 18 May 07



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