Islamist state declared by Hamas in Gaza "The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived"
June 15, 2007
Islamic rule has arrived, says Hamas
Last Updated: 3:18am BST 15/06/2007 Page 1 of 2
Last Updated: 3:18am BST 15/06/2007 Page 2 of 2
Hamas takes control of Gaza
Conal Urquart in Ramallah, Ian Black and Mark Tran
Hamas fighters today basked in triumph after taking complete control in Gaza as the west scrambled for a response to the arrival of Islamist power on Israel's doorstep.
In a stark demonstration of the new facts on the ground, a masked Hamas fighter sat down at the desk of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and declared an end to the western-backed authority in the Gaza strip.
In an imaginary telephone call to the US, a fighter from the Islamist movement's armed wing Izz el-Deen al-Qassam joked: "Hello Condoleezza Rice. You have to deal with me now, there is no Abu Mazen anymore."
In one of its first assertions of authority, Hamas called for the immediate release of the BBC Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, who was seized in March.
"He is a guest of the Palestinian people," a masked Hamas official said at a news conference.
Amid scenes of disorder, the deposed Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, called for an end to looting of abandoned Fatah properties and proposed reconciliation talks with Mr Abbas.
"I demand that all our people show calm and self-restraint and not take any action against those houses and compounds that contradicts the morals of our people," Mr Haniyeh told reporters before weekly prayers.
In scenes reminiscent of Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of people swarmed through the unoccupied house of Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, after his neighbourhood fell to Hamas, stripping everything, including windows, doors and flowerpots.
"The scenes of Iraq were repeated in every single detail here in Gaza," Hamad Jad told the Associated Press news agency.
After days of fighting and the death of over 100 Palestinians, the rout of Mr Abbas's Fatah forces was complete. Fatah meekly surrendered the president's office, where masked Hamas gunmen took pictures of themselves and picked over the trappings of office, including mineral water reserved for Mr Abbas.
Hamas said it would grant an amnesty to a number of senior Fatah officials it had detained.
Among them were Musbah al-Bhaisi, the head of Abbas's presidential guard, Jamal Kayed, chief of the national security forces, Majed abu Shammala, Fatah's senior Gaza political official and the group's spokesman and old Hamas foe Tawfiq abu Khoussa.
Fearful that Hamas's momentum could spread, Fatah went on the offensive in the West Bank. In the city of Nablus, Fatah men shot dead a Hamas member, Hamas said, the first to be killed in the West Bank. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot, claimed responsibility.
As Gaza fell to Hamas control, the European commission threw its full support behind Mr Abbas and called for dialogue to end Palestinian infighting. "We fully support president Abbas," a spokeswoman for the EU executive told a news conference. "We call on president Abbas, the legitimate president of all Palestinians, to make his utmost to resolve the situation through dialogue and to work towards national unity and reconciliation."
She said foreign ministers of the quartet of international peace mediators - the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - would hold a telephone conference during the day to discuss developments in the Palestinian territories.
Israel and the US are expected to ease an embargo on the Palestinian Authority in order to boost Mr Abbas and his secular Fatah group, now that there are two warring Palestinian entities.
The Bush administration is expected to ask Israel to unfreeze tax funds it has been holding back from the Palestinian Authority and to consider loosening its military grip on the West Bank, home to most of the Palestinian population and dominated by Fatah.
Israeli and western officials said the US president, George Bush, and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, could agree to send money to the West Bank when they meet in Washington next week.
"If there will be an emergency government without participation of Hamas, then the funds can flow," said a senior Israeli official. "From our point of view, there isn't a Hamas government any more."
While Hamas is in control of Gaza, with its militants banishing and executing their Fatah rivals and declaring Islamist rule on Israel's doorstep, the Palestinian quest for an independent state is on the verge of collapse.
Fourteen years after the Oslo accords opened up the prospect of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, its putative territory was in danger of breaking into two warring entities. The week of violence between Hamas and Fatah has left almost 100 people, both gunmen and civilians, dead.
Last night Mr Abbas, declared a state of emergency from Ramallah in the West Bank and dissolved the three-month-old "national unity" government as he grasped for a strategy to undermine the "coup d'état".
But Mr Haniyeh of Hamas, said Mr Abbas's decision to dismiss him and his government was "hasty", and he pledged to stay in power.
Mr Haniyeh told a late night Gaza news conference that Mr Abbas and his advisers had not considered "the consequences [of the decision] and its effects on the situation on the ground".
It was unclear how the president could impose his authority in Gaza where the green flag of the Islamic resistance movement was fluttering on many government buildings in the crowded coastal strip.
"We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return," Islam Shahawan, a Hamas spokesman, told the movement's radio station. "The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived."
Qais Abu Leila, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee, said there was determination to take action to stop the "insurrection". "This is a fight to preserve everything that we have built over the last 14 years."
But in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, leaders appeared paralysed as they discussed how to stop the revolt.
The Bush administration described the Gaza events as "a source of profound concern", accusing Hamas of committing acts of terror. The EU suspended what few aid projects it still maintained there.
The Arab League warned of a "disastrous outcome" to internecine fighting that has been waged on and off for more than six months.
The Hamas victory is widely seen as a boost for Iran and Syria, which have supported the militants, and a painful reversal for the pro-western regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which worry about the Iranian government's meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Palestine.
Jordan also fears intra-Palestinian fighting could spread from the West Bank and across the river into the kingdom, where at least half the population is of Palestinian origin. "Things have never been so bad," said one senior Arab diplomat.
Around 25 people were killed and 90 injured in yesterday's violence. Hospital staff said some of the dead had been shot in the head at close range.
The Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority's security and military intelligence headquarters came after a three-day siege.
Sources close to the Palestinian president said Israel had ignored repeated requests to allow deliveries of ammunition to Palestinian Authority forces, leaving them outgunned by Hamas who have relied on smuggled munitions.
Last night, Hamas said it had executed the top Fatah militant in Gaza, Samih al-Madhoun.
Witnesses said the conquest of the security headquarters was followed by many executions.
The civil war is rooted in a long-standing power struggle between Hamas, which won elections last year, and Fatah, the historic core of the PLO.
Hamas, which refuses to formally recognise Israel or renounce violence, denounced Fatah officials who had negotiated with Israel as renegades and "collaborators". http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,2103988,00.html
A Hamas fighter speaks on the phone as he sits inside the personal meeting hall of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
June 15, 2007 - 6:28PM
Gazans awoke to the first full day of Hamas rule today, a new reality fraught with uncertainty and fear that they'll become even poorer and more isolated.
Streets were quiet after five days of intense fighting in which the Islamic militants seized the crowded and chaotic territory from their Fatah rivals.
"I don't know what's coming," said taxi driver Nader Susi, 31, sitting on the kerb outside Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, puffing on a cigarette. "I think I will make even less money now."
In the nearby hospital, the morgue was overflowing, with four bodies lying on the ground.
More than 90 people were killed in the fighting, including four Fatah militiamen in street executions late yesterday, after the Hamas victory.
Some 300 Fatah activists fled by boat late yesterday, while others went into hiding.
The Fatah forces collapsed in the face of the onslaught by Hamas' men, who displayed superior organisation and motivation. One by one, Hamas seized Fatah's security installations and marched once-feared Fatah fighters down the street shirtless and with hands raised.
Today, traffic was back on the streets, shops opened, and few armed men were visible, in contrast to the running battles of the past few days.
The Palestinian territories have essentially been split into two parts. Gaza is now under the control of Hamas, which has 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.
Safe in his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah declared a state of emergency yesterday, sacking the Hamas-led government and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
But whatever power Abbas once wielded in Gaza disappeared with the collapse of his forces there.
Haniyeh brushed off Abbas' decision, calling it "hasty" and refusing to leave office. The situation was "not suitable for unilateral decisions," Haniyeh said.
"The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived," Hamas spokesman Islam Shahawan announced.
Fearful that Hamas' momentum could spread to the West Bank, Fatah went on the offensive there.
In the city of Nablus, Fatah men shot dead a Hamas member early today, Hamas said, the first to be killed in the West Bank. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent Fatah offshoot, claimed responsibility.
Yesterday, angry Fatah militants threw office furniture out a third-storey window of an office of Hamas lawmakers in Nablus, then set fire to it.
The Fall of Gaza
First Hamas won at the ballot box, now it has won again, with bullets. Massive Western financial, diplomatic and even military support for Fatah has been for naught. Though Fatah has more men under arms in Gaza than Hamas, its corrupt leadership has not even been able to rally its own forces, let alone popular support.
Instead of reacting to its electoral loss by bringing in new leadership and weaning itself away from thuggery and palaces, Fatah has spent its time trying to overthrow Hamas. For its part, Hamas has completely ignored the "Change and Reform" platform it sold to Palestinians, and has done nothing but fight to consolidate its control and continue its attacks on Israel.
The Palestinian people have little to do now but hide as rival mafias fight it out. As the Associated Press reported from Gaza City yesterday, "Fatah officials said seven of their fighters were shot to death in the street outside Preventive Security [headquarters]. A witness, Jihad Abu Ayad, said the men were being killed before their wives and children."
The international community bears considerable responsibility for this turn of events. We are now seeing the results of two failed policies: turning a blind eye toward massive arms smuggling across the Egypt-Gaza border for almost two years; and propping up an utterly corrupt and unreformed Fatah as an alternative to Hamas, rather than linking international support to real steps toward peace, democratization and state-building.
The transformation of Gaza into Hamastan could, ironically, give the international community a second chance to change its ways. Fatah is despised and discredited in the West Bank as much as it is in Gaza, but Hamas does not yet have sufficient power in the West Bank to challenge Hamas. The Quartet now has the opportunity to hold Hamas fully accountable in Gaza, Fatah fully accountable in the West Bank, and Egypt fully accountable for policing its border.
Accordingly, the Quartet should:
The overall goal would be to display sharply contrasting policies toward Gaza and the West Bank. Both policies, however, would link aid or sanctions to results, rather than backing one "horse" against another.
Some observers have noted that in the context of the current fighting, the US State Department is blaming Hamas's "military wing," thereby for the first time implicitly distinguishing between "good" and "bad" parts of Hamas. It may be that even the US is poised to treat the "good" Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian address, following the collapse of the "good" Mahmoud Abbas, and before him, the "good" Yasser Arafat.
If so, it would mean that the US has learned nothing from the serial failures born of backing particular people rather than policies. In each case, the international community failed to hold its favorite Palestinian leaders accountable for fear that worse ones would take over.
This approach has led precisely to the outcome it sought to avoid. The alternative is a policy that does not support the search for a Palestinian ally to support at all costs, but holds all factions, on behalf of Palestinians and Israelis alike, to basic standards of legitimacy, governance and movement toward peace.