West Bank cities are bracing themselves for the deadly turmoil restricted until recently to Gaza as violent infighting between Fatah and Hamas spills over into the West Bank.
Reports of heavy gunbattles between Hamas and Fatah Jenin poured in on Saturday night while in Gaza three members of a Hamas-affiliated family were killed by Fatah gunmen. Earlier in the day the first signs of West Bank infighting emerged as gunmen abducted Nablus deputy mayor Mahdi al-Khamdali at gunpoint. Meanwhile in Ramallah gunmen, reportedly from Fatah, stormed the offices of the Hamas-controlled Ministry of the Interior, shot the office manager in his legs and abducted him.
A Palestinian Authority security official told Ynet Saturday night that there is a grave chance that the internal power-struggle may take root in the West Bank. According to the official Hamas forces are preparing their ranks and stockpiling weapons.
The source estimated however that should the situation in the West Bank come to an all-out battle between the warring factions Fatah would have the upper hand in the region. "But it is not a simple matter at all," said the source, "we've been seeing unprecendented 'import' efforts by Hamas over the past several months in terms of arms." The official said that the rise in demand for firearms by Hamas has already affected the arms-trade in the area, as prices skyrocket to almost double their original value.
Gunman loyal to Fatah in Jenin (Photo: AP)
"An M-16 (assault rifle) that was once worth about 6,000 Jordanian dinars (USD 8,450) is now bought for 10,000 dinars (USD 14,200), this signals that the fight against them (Hamas) will not be easy," said the PA official.
The official also said that Fatah has been recruiting supporters, quietly strengthening its military wing in the West Bank; however he said "Hamas' stronghold is expected to be in the northern West Bank, in Nablus and Jenin. The question we must ask however is will the whole of the Fatah movement rally for such a confrontation?"
Abbas to reform security forces
Fatah is readying itself too. Hussein al-Sheik, a senior member of the organization in the West Bank said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will announce a thorough reform plan and personnel changes for Palestinian security forces. Al-Sheik noted that the changes are meant to help battle the anarchy rampant throughout much of the PA, particularly in Gaza.
According to the security official Abbas is determined to implement his decision to disperse the Hamas paramilitary militia in the Gaza Strip after declaring it illegal.
In light of continued security chaos and assassinations that got to a number of our fighters ... And in light of the failure of existing agencies and security apparatuses in imposing law and order and protecting the security of the citizens, President Mahmoud Abbas decided to reshuffle the security forces and its leadership and to consider the (Hamas) executive force, officers and members, illegal and outside the law,” Abbas’ office said in a statement.
Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was quick to reject Abbas’ call to dismantle his security force. A spokesman for the force, Islam Shahawan, said in response that the force will double its numbers to 12,000 fighters and urged citizens to join up.
Egypt, Jordan and the United States are trying to aid troops loyal to Abbas, shipping them guns and ammunition, Israeli officials were briefed in advance.
Should efforts to form a unity government fall through and infighting between Hamas and Fatah picks up steam Abbas may official call for early elections in the Palestinian Authority, as he has already hinted he might resort to such measures in a speech last month.