Alexa

New factional fighting forces Hamas to scale back anniversary celebration

New factional fighting forces Hamas to scale back anniversary celebration

A new wave of factional fighting in the Gaza Strip on Friday killed nine Palestinians, including a 2-year-old boy, marring the first anniversary of Hamas' upset victory in Palestinian elections.
While Hamas proclaimed a "moral victory" against an international boycott, turnout at the celebration was sparse and the ongoing violence forced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to skip the event.
Friday's fighting was among the heaviest since factional violence erupted last month. After nightfall, the violence showed no signs of slowing, as gunfire echoed throughout the streets of Gaza City.
Tensions have been high since Hamas swept parliamentary elections in January 2006, ending four decades of Fatah rule. Those tensions have frequently erupted into violence, killing more than 40 people in Gaza since early December.
Hamas had originally announced that victory rallies would be held across the West Bank and Gaza, with the main event to take place in Gaza City, Hamas' stronghold. But the new fighting, which began Thursday night, led organizers to relocate the main rally to the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.
Haniyeh bowed out of a planned appearance at the rally, apparently fearing it would be too dangerous to travel there. In the end, only several thousand Hamas supporters attended the Jebaliya celebration.
Hamas trounced Fatah in last year's election, promising to root out corruption and improve social services. But the Hamas-led government has been paralyzed by an international boycott and accomplished little on its agenda.
Israel and Western donors have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinian government, demanding Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has rejected the conditions, despite deepening poverty in the West Bank and Gaza caused by the sanctions.
At a speech in Gaza City, Haniyeh said it has been a "year full of events" and spoke proudly of the Palestinians' refusal to succumb to the international boycott.
"The siege has become ineffective," he said. "The Palestinian people were patient and steadfast in the face of this siege, as was their government, and we have not offered any concessions."
Despite the economic hardship in the Palestinian areas, Hamas remains popular with the public and appears to be in no immediate danger of being ousted.
Seeking a way out of the crisis, the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, has called on Hamas to join his party in a moderate, coalition government. Abbas, who was elected separately, hopes a moderate platform will get the sanctions lifted and allow him to restart peace talks with Israel.
So far, the talks have not produced an agreement, and Abbas has threatened to break the deadlock by ordering early elections. Hamas has said it would boycott a new vote.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abbas on Friday said he would give the unity talks no more than three weeks, and indicated he would order new elections if the efforts fail. "I would say we're at a juncture ... I think it will take two weeks, maximum three weeks," he said.
Abbas' threat to call new elections, along with the continued deadlock in unity talks, has fueled the latest factional violence in Gaza. After a lull of several weeks, renewed fighting broke out late Thursday when a bombing killed a Hamas activist in the northern Gaza Strip.
Nine others were killed in retaliatory attacks on Friday, including a 2-year-old boy killed when Fatah gunmen fired at a car believed to be carrying Hamas militants in the southern town of Khan Younis, hospital officials said. Hamas and Fatah officials accused each other of firing the deadly shot.
In other fighting, gunmen exchanged fire outside a mosque in Gaza City. Hamas said three members were killed.
Hamas gunmen surrounded the house of Mansour Shaleil, a Fatah activist whose home had been used by a sniper. Fatah officials said the gunmen fired at the house and hurled grenades. Two Fatah people were killed in the exchange.
In response, Fatah gunmen kidnapped a total of 19 Hamas militants, both sides confirmed. Mediators were trying to work out a deal to free the Hamas hostages in exchange for ending the siege of Shaleil's house.
In all, six Hamas militants, three Fatah supporters and the child have been killed since the fighting began Thursday night, according to hospital officials.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Fatah gunmen kidnapped 11 Hamas activists and threatened to kill them if Shaleil is harmed.