Fatah and Hama murderers vy for official positions in new Gaza terrorist state
August 23, 2005
Palestinian Groups Jostle for Gaza Control
(08-22) 13:23 PDT RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) --
In a military training camp run by the ruling Fatah movement, hundreds of young Palestinians marched in formation Monday and sprinted across a sandy lot.
Nearby, hundreds of Islamic Jihad gunmen in black ski masks paraded in the streets, some riding in jeeps, raising AK-47 assault rifles and posing with rocket launchers.
Yet a third militant group, Hamas, boasted on its Web site that it has killed more Israelis in more Gaza attacks than any of its rivals — and that it alone deserves credit for Israel's historic pullout from the Mediterranean strip.
Competition among armed Palestinian groups over control of Gaza's lawless towns intensified Monday as Israeli settlers cleared out the last of 21 Jewish settlements.
The jostling for position has raised tensions as well as concerns about armed conflict.
"This huge military presence among people in Gaza will lead to more chaos, will weaken the Palestinian Authority and will create more violence in society," said Talal Okal, a political analyst in Gaza. "Fatah is losing control and Hamas is rising up."
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wants to see carefully orchestrated victory marches under the Palestinian national flag. However, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a few tiny Palestinian Liberation Organization factions have ignored his appeals, already parading their gunmen in a show of force and planning parades once the last Israeli soldiers leave in the coming weeks.
On Monday, Islamic Jihad and Hamas members in uniforms staged marches in Rafah in southern Gaza and in Nablus in the West Bank, burning cardboard models of Israeli settlements and tanks as crowds cheered.
About 10,000 people attended the Hamas rally in Gaza City, where the group played film clips of it building rockets and digging tunnels under Israeli army posts. Over loudspeakers, the group played a song in Hebrew, with the words, "Hamas, Hamas, Hamas, our goal is the head of Sharon," referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
A Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group deserves a share of power, and there cannot be just one decision-maker.
Abbas cannot compete with such popular displays, since he has advocated nonviolence and hopes to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. However, in recent speeches he has increasingly alluded to violence as a means of driving Israel out.
"Today we are getting part of the payoff, of your sacrifice, by seeing the last settlers leaving Gaza," Abbas told hundreds of disabled Palestinians, many wounded in the fighting. "The credit for the evacuation is for you and for the martyrs who sacrificed themselves and gave their lives for the homeland."
However, it appeared his Fatah party did not want to hold back.
In southern Gaza, near what was once the Gush Katif bloc of Israeli settlements, members of Fatah's military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, have organized three military training camps for more than 3,000 activists.
The goal is twofold, organizers said: to recruit large numbers to swell the ranks in Fatah victory marches and to be ready for possible street battles with Hamas.
One training camp was set up in Rafah in a dusty lot about the size of two football fields. Some 700 young men, both Al Aqsa veterans and unemployed with time on their hands, marched in formation, crawled through the sand and did sprints, as trainers in camouflage uniforms barked orders through bullhorns.
Graduates will be members of the "Army of Victory and Liberation," said the head coach, who identified himself only by his nom-de-guerre, Abu Nimr.
"It is our duty as the Fatah movement to make sure that we have the biggest celebrations," said another organizer, Mohammed Al Bouji. "We are getting them together so if there is trouble, our boys will be ready."
Asked what kind of trouble, he said: "You know, trouble with Hamas."
Al Bouji said he and his campers were ready to help Palestinian security forces assert control over the territories and settlement assets Israel leaves behind. Israel is demolishing settlers' homes but leaving greenhouses intact. Abbas declared over the weekend that all settlement real estate would fall under government control.
"If they (Hamas) lay their hands on even one settlement, be sure we will take over 10," said Yasser Khatib, head of Al Aqsa in southern Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority distanced itself from the training camps.
"There is no Fatah army, no popular army," said Tawfik Abu Khoussa, a Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman. "We want to get rid of the military images. After the withdrawal, there is one authority and that's it."
However, the Al Aqsa men said they were getting Fatah funding for the camps, and Palestinian security officials sat in on one of Monday's interviews with camp organizers.
In organizing a small private army, Fatah gunmen in southern Gaza also appeared to be sending a warning to the Palestinian Authority that they could make trouble if jobs are not found for them in the security forces. Many gunmen believe they are entitled to government posts, saying they made personal sacrifices in fighting Israel.
However, Finance Minister Salam Fayyad has imposed a hiring freeze in the security forces under intense pressure from the international donor community, which is partially bankrolling the Palestinian Authority and has complained about a bloated public payroll.
Former Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Amr, a mediator between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, said the Palestinians have so far handled themselves well during the Israeli pullout, but he was increasingly worried about the growing competition between militants.
Hamas believes it has an edge over its rivals, citing Israeli military statistics to claim it carried out 54 percent of 400 attacks in Gaza during the past five years.
The statistics, published Monday, "are a document of Hamas' struggle and Hamas' role in liberating this precious part of the homeland," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
"It made this victory (the Gaza withdrawal) possible, and this victory can be repeated."