Menu JTA Search

Arabs Battle Each Other in Gaza, Raising Prospect of a Civil War

A youth was killed and dozens were wounded this week as unprecedented violence erupted in the Gaza Strip between activists of the Moslem fundamentalist Hamas movement and supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mainstream Al Fatah faction.

Palestinian leaders expressed concern that if the violence continues, it could develop into a full-scale civil war.

The background to this latest round of Palestinian strife was the collapse of an earlier agreement between both sides to refrain from violence between each other.

Relations between Moslem fundamentalists in the administered territories and the secular nationalist organizations have deteriorated since the June 23 elections in Israel.

Hamas was particularly upset after PLO supporters in the territories expressed relative satisfaction over the Labor Party’s victory in the elections.

Some PLO supporters, such as Hatem Abu-Ghazala of Gaza, went so far as to say that the Palestinians should suspend all violence against Israeli civilians as a gesture of good will to speed up peace negotiations between the projected Labor government and the Palestinian leadership.

As a result, Hamas activists sent hundreds of threatening letters to PLO activists in the territories, warning them not to adopt a policy of appeasement toward Israel.

The riots took place Tuesday in the cities of Gaza, Rafah and Khan Yunis, and in the Shati refugee camp. One Gaza youth, Shifa Diab, 17, died Wednesday of wounds sustained the day before.

At least 30 were reported wounded, some from club and hatchet blows. Most wounded were evacuated to clinics run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, rather than to the local hospitals, for fear they might be arrested by the Israeli authorities.

Earlier this week, both sides had reached an agreement, through the mediation of a 14-member armistice committee, to put an end to all hostilities and adopt a “political dialogue” as a means to bridge differences.

NEW THREATS AGAINST ASHRAWI

However, on Monday evening, radical Moslem activists said they would not honor the agreement and staged attacks on the houses of Fatah activists in various parts of Gaza City.

Some Hamas activists burst into the house of Suach Abu-Seif, a journalist and Fatah activist, attacked him, his mother and his brothers with clubs and knives, smashed the furniture and the television set.

Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi, head of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, returned to Gaza earlier this week and urged the various parties concerned to maintain law and order and settle differences peacefully.

Abdel-Shafi described the situation as “dangerous” and warned that it could deteriorate into a civil strife.

Although the rivalry between the Moslem fundamentalist and the secular Palestinian organizations is especially bitter in the Gaza Strip, it is also escalating in the West Bank.

Nine buses were damaged last Saturday in Hebron, as Moslem extremists set them on fire in the course of a violent confrontation with the secular groups.

The fundamentalists tried to prevent a joint hike by male and female students at Hebron University. Hamas, which adheres strictly to Moslem law, was affronted by the coeducational activity. But despite the violent protest, the excursion took place as was originally planned — men and women together.

New threats also have been made in the territories against Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks, for remarks made in an interview that appears in the July issue of the American feminist magazine Ms.

In the interview, Ashrawi says she does not believe that the Islamic fundamentalist movement “is endemic to Palestinian society,” which she says has “always been traditionally more secular, liberal, tolerant.”

Ashrawi, who is Christian, also decries an attempt by Hamas to require Moslem women in the territories to wear veils, as is traditional in strict observance of Islam.

Hamas has distributed leaflets in the territories accusing Ashrawi of heresy and comparing her to Iranian writer Salman Rushdie, who was sentenced to death by the Iranian regime for his controversial book, “The Satanic Verses.”

Ashrawi is presently overseas. Friends have warned her to delay her return, until things quiet down after the interview.

NEXT STORY