Cheering Hamas supporters wearing green headbands and waving flags surged
through Gaza's streets Friday as Islamic militants in black masks took over one
of President Mahmoud Abbas' offices and rifled through his bedroom.
Hamas offered amnesty to its defeated foes as violence tapered off from
five days of bloodshed that claimed more than 90 lives. But Fatah leader Abbas
made the split complete by firing the Hamas prime minister, leaving Palestinians
struggling to adjust to a new political reality that has crushed their
long-standing hopes for their own state.
Safe in the West Bank, Abbas moved
quickly to cement his rule there after losing control of Gaza to Hamas forces.
He replaced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas member, with Finance Minister
Salam Fayyad, a respected economist, to head a new moderate government.
Hamas militants stand on an armored
vehicle seized in fighting with security forces loyal to Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas in recent days, at a rally in Gaza City, Friday,
June 15, 2007. The Palestinian territories have essentially been split
into two parts. Gaza is now under the control of Hamas, an Islamist
movement with close ties to Syria and Iran. The West Bank, home to most of
the Palestinian population, is dominated by the more moderate Fatah, which
has ties to Israel and the West.[AP]
Hamas, overwhelmingly elected in a 2006 parliament vote, denounced Abbas'
move as a coup. Hamas' supreme leader, Syrian-based Khaled Mashaal, later said
Abbas has legitimacy as an elected president and promised to cooperate, but
warned Fatah against going after Hamas loyalists in the West Bank.
But Fatah gunmen and security forces allied with Abbas in the West Bank were
prowling that territory looking for Hamas supporters and wrecking a Hamas radio
The sparring made little difference on the ground: The two Palestinian
territories, on either side of Israel, are now separate entities with two
governments ¡ª one run by Hamas and backed by radical Islamic states, and the
other controlled by the Western-supported Fatah.
Abbas received immediate pledges of support from Israel, the U.S., Egypt,
Jordan, the U.N. and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by
phone that he would take steps to bolster Abbas. Officials in Olmert's office
said he would consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax receipts
frozen after Hamas came to power.
Though the moderate government that Abbas plans to appoint will have no say
in Gaza, it stands a stronger chance than the Hamas-Fatah coalition it replaces
of restoring foreign aid to the West Bank.
The yearlong aid embargo imposed after the Hamas election victory has
crippled the Palestinian economy, and many Gazans feared they would become even
more isolated and impoverished.
In a West Bank hotel, several Fatah loyalists who fled Gaza sat in the lobby
chain-smoking and worked the phones to set up new lives, hearing from relatives
in Gaza that their homes had been searched.
In Gaza City, a government worker who ran the operations room in the main
police compound, called his old office and pleaded with the new Hamas rulers to
care for the computers. He gave only his first name, Hani, because he feared for
his safety despite Hamas' amnesty offer.
Several thousand Hamas supporters in Gaza cheered as a small armored
personnel carrier seized from Abbas' forces rolled into the Palestinian
legislature compound, where a victory march was held.
A jubilant crowd chanted slogans and waved green Hamas flags as gunmen fired
in the air. Many wore green hats and headbands. Excited children climbed over
the vehicle, and bearded armed men strutted around the parliamentary building,
grinning from ear to ear.
Hamas was both cocky and conciliatory.
It released nine senior Fatah leaders and many lower-ranking activists,
saying it was granting amnesty to its rivals. Hamas spokesman Abu Obeideh also
promised to get BBC journalist Alan Johnston, held since March, released
quickly. He said Hamas has made contact with the captors and is taking "serious
and practical steps" to win his release.
Yet Hamas gunmen also entered the seaside compound used by Abbas on visits to
Gaza, rifling through the president's belongings in his bedroom, next to his
office. They lifted the mattress and searched drawers.
One gunman sat at the desk of the Fatah leader, who is also known as Abu
Mazen, picked up the phone and pretended to call Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice. "Hello, Rice?" the gunman said. "Here we are in Abu Mazen's office. Say
hello to Abu Mazen for me."
Gaza's streets, deserted during the fighting, were crowded with cars,
pedestrians and triumphant Hamas fighters, some driving in jeeps and firing in
Haniyeh, the prime minister fired by Abbas, promised to restore security to
the anarchic territory. He urged Gazans to display "self-restraint" and end the
widespread looting of houses and other property of Fatah officials.
Looters stripped the home of Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan of everything
from windows and doors to flowerpots. "This was the house of the murderer Dahlan
that was cleansed by the holy warriors," read graffiti sprayed on the wall.
Donkey carts outside the house waited to take more loot. Dahlan was in Egypt
when the fighting erupted, and reached the West Bank on Thursday.
Gaza City's Shifa Hospital was still grappling with battle casualties. More
than 90 people were killed in the fighting and dozens wounded. The morgue was
overflowing, with four bodies lined up on the floor, and some of the wounded
were sleeping on cardboard on the floor.
Two men were killed in revenge slayings Friday, including a Fatah gunman
thrown from a roof in what Hamas described as a family grievance ¡ª the gunman,
they said, had killed a member of a Hamas-allied family. Another Fatah loyalist
was shot dead in southern Gaza.
Since Hamas' victory late Thursday, about a dozen Fatah gunmen had been
killed in gangland-style executions, Fatah said.
Before word came of Hamas' amnesty offer, 97 Fatah officials fled in a
fishing boat to Egypt. Others reached Israel via the Erez crossing and headed to
the West Bank.
An Egyptian security delegation left Gaza after failing in its mediation
efforts between the warring Palestinian factions.
Both the United Nations and the European Union reiterated support Friday for
Abbas. Arab League foreign ministers also threw their support behind Abbas, but
urged an immediate halt to infighting so that the unity of Palestinian lands can
Hamas' military takeover of Gaza formalized the separation between Gaza and
the West Bank, and was a major setback to dreams of Palestinian statehood.
With a larger middle class, more foreign passport holders and more contact
with the outside world, many West Bank residents have long felt they have little
in common with Gaza.
"I expect to have economic development here and poverty there in Gaza," Salah
Haniyeh, a government employee, said as he watched masked Fatah gunmen parading
in pickup trucks through the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Across the West Bank, Fatah gunmen backed by Abbas-allied security forces
expanded an anti-Hamas sweep. Dozens of Hamas supporters had been seized by
gunmen or arrested by police since Thursday.
In the city of Nablus, a Hamas stronghold, Fatah gunmen set up checkpoints
and barred access to the Hamas-run municipal building. Gunmen also vandalized a
Hamas media office in Nablus, trashing computers and furniture.
"We will go after them (Hamas) everywhere," said Mouin Hijazi, a Nablus
leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot. "We won't
allow them to continue existing in the West Bank."
In Gaza, an immediate concern was how long the coastal strip would be sealed.
Gaza's main passenger and cargo crossings, with Egypt and Israel, were closed
this week, and it was not clear when they would reopen. Extended closure could
quickly lead to a humanitarian crisis.
A Hamas spokesman said Palestinian police, now under Hamas command, would
take up positions at the crossings, but it was unlikely Israel would agree to
such a deployment because Hamas militants frequently attacked the passages in
John Ging, head of U.N. aid operations in Gaza, said his agency would resume
work Saturday. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency provides emergency food rations
and health care to hundreds of thousands of Gazans. He called for a quick
reopening of the Gaza crossings