Friday, May 18, 2007

Fanning the flames in Gaza

The US is arming Fatah in the hope of defeating Hamas. Meanwhile, everyone suffers.

Laila El-Haddad in CiF

No ever seems quite sure how or why the spates of violence begin in Gaza, but a few days on, it becomes irrelevant anyway.

Firefights including heavy arms and mortors continue to rage all around Gaza city, all while Israeli gunships pounded east and north of the city, which has been transformed to a ghost town. Even the most foolhardy opted to stay indoors, and all but a lone convenience store closed. Masked Fatah and Hamas gunmen patrolled every street corner, and took positions on every major high-rise tower, keeping residents, schoolchildren, and university students penned indoors as battles swirled around them.

Fatah called for a general strike, and has taken to shooting into the air to scare people off the streets, stopping cars at self-imposed checkpoints, and detaining men with beards, in response to what they say was a deadly Hamas ambush of the presidential guard (Hamas has denied involvement saying their military forces were there re-enforcing their defenses on the border for fear of a possible Israeli attack, and hospital sources say the shrapnel is Israeli, not Palestinian, in origin). Israel has claimed responsiblity for the death of at least two of the Fatah guards. But by that point, it didn't matter anymore. The revenge machine was already in high-gear. In some locations, angry Palestinians reportedly pelted rocks at jeeps belonging to the presidential guard.

Many here are referring to the on-again-off-again battles as a new "Nakba", one that has coincided with the day Palestinians mark as their original "catastrophe"-when the state of Israel was declared on 78% of historic Palestine. Tuesday marked the 59th anniversary. "Our Nakba has become two Nakbas," young protestors chanted in unison on the city streets this morning.

Palestinians are not pleased about the ever-worsening violence which is threatening to unravel the recently negotiated unity government, but there is little they can do about it besides watching things unfold to their inescapably grim conclusion, they say.

But the news that really upset many here was word of the Israeli government briefly opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which it has shut down 50% of the year to average residents here, to allow US-funded, Jordanian-trained, Fatah reinforcements (450 members of the elite Badr Brigade) inside.

The fact is, Gaza is not combusting spontaneously.

To quote Alistair Crooke, "the US is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is working to ensure its failure" - a policy promoted and openly acknowledged by the American deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams.

In his meetings with a group of Palestinian businessmen last January, Abrams said the US had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government. And just over a week ago, a 16-page secret American document was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper outlining an action plan for undermining and replacing the Palestinian national-unity government. The document outlines steps for building up Abbas and his security forces, leading to the dissolution of the parliament, a strengthening of US allies in Fatah in the lead-up to new elections.

Events have unfolded according to plan, with not so much as a peep or word of protest from the major world governments.

It has become a city decaying, debilitated, and on the verge of implosion; its people exposed to the most violent form of subjugation, collectively sentenced to a life in prison by global power colluding to unwind the very fabric of their society, punishing them where no crime existed.

The US has allocated as much as $84 million to this end, directly funding president Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan and their security forces, which are often one and the same as the Fatah militias engaged in bitter battles with Hamas and even firing missiles at Israel.

That doesn't change the bitter resentment in the streets over what has unfolded, and the utter cynicism associated with it.

"I'm just saying, what are they fighting over - the trash burning in the streets?" remarked one shopkeeper, in reference to the piles of accumulated trash gathering as a result of a week-long municipality protest.

"We all know what's going to happen next," he continued. "Government officials will convene with the military commanders, and ask them to show restraint. The gunmen will withdraw from the streets. And for a few more weeks, things will be calm again. We're in a maelstrom and I can't really see a way out. Gaza is burning. And the world is watching."


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