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Step by step Fatah and Hamas make space for each other


Women wave Palestinian (front) and Fatah flags during a rally marking the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, in Gaza City January 4, 2013. Reuters / Mohammed Salem

Fatah rally in Gaza looks toward unity with Hamas, Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press:
Palestinians wave yellow Fatah flags during celebrations marking the 48th anniversary of the Fatah movement in Gaza City, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. The secular-leaning Fatah party staged a massive rally Friday in the Gaza Strip, the first such gathering in the territory since the Islamist Hamas group violently took control there in 2007 – a reflection of the warming ties between the two rival Palestinian factions.


Gaza: Fatah holds biggest rally since Hamas came to power
By Wyre Davies, BBC
January 04, 2012

Hamas, which governs Gaza, allowed rival Fatah to hold celebrations there for the first time since Hamas ousted Fatah forces five years ago.

Last month, supporters of Hamas celebrated their movement’s founding with a rare rally in the West Bank.

The moves were aimed at easing tensions between the two sides.

Hamas came to power in Gaza after winning Palestinian elections in 2006 and ousting Fatah from the coastal enclave in clashes the following year.

In a pre-recorded message played on giant screens, President Abbas said: “Victory is near and we will meet you in Gaza in the near future,” AFP news agency reported.

“Gaza was the first Palestinian territory rid of [Israeli] occupation and settlement and we want a lifting of the blockade so that it can be free and linked to the rest of the nation,” he said from his West Bank power-base.

Sea of yellow
Huge crowds, carrying the yellow flags of the Fatah movement and pictures of Mr Abbas, streamed into Gaza City, the climax to a week of smaller celebrations across the strip marking Fatah’s first attack against Israel.

Hamas-Fatah split
Jan 2006: Hamas wins Palestinian elections
March 2007: Hamas-led unity government formed
June 2007: Hamas-Fatah clashes erupt in Gaza; PA President Abbas dissolves government; Hamas ousts Fatah from Gaza
May 2011: Hamas and Fatah sign reconciliation accord

Fatah organisers decided to end speeches early due to “the huge number of participants and logistical failures”, Yahiya Rabah, a Fatah official in Gaza, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

There were reports of clashes between rival Fatah factions, but none of violence between Hamas and Fatah supporters.

“The message today is that Fatah cannot be wiped out,” Amal Hamad, a member of the group’s ruling body, told Reuters news agency.

“Fatah lives, no-one can exclude it and it seeks to end the division.”

Mr Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, but it has not been implemented.

In a speech during a visit to Gaza last month, Mr Meshaal urged “reconciliation and national unity of the Palestinian ranks”.

“Palestine is for all of us, we are partners in this nation. Hamas cannot do without Fatah or Fatah without Hamas, or any movement,” he said.

Hamas, an Islamist movement, and the secular Fatah, fundamentally disagree in their approach towards Israel. Hamas has refused to renounce violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist or accept peace accords between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Relations between Fatah and Hamas collapsed in June 2007 when Mr Abbas ordered the dissolution of the Hamas-led unity government amid deadly clashes between the factions in Gaza. Hamas subsequently routed Fatah forces in Gaza and set up a rival government there.



Hamas supporters celebrate. Photo by AP. See item 3.

Fatah anniversary celebrations begin in Gaza

By Ma’an news
December 31, 2012

GAZA CITY — Marches announcing the beginning of Fatah’s 48th anniversary celebrations began in Gaza on Monday [December 31].

Cars and motorbikes were seen carrying Palestinian and Fatah flags in the Gaza Strip, with PA official Ahmad Olwan saying celebratory events will start Monday evening.

Fatah will hold its 48th anniversary celebrations in al-Saraya square, Gaza City on January 4.

It will be the first time that Hamas has allowed Fatah to hold such events since seizing the coastal enclave from the secular faction in 2007. Fatah also permitted a Hamas anniversary rally in the West Bank earlier this month for the first time in six years.

Fatah was founded in 1965 by late President Yasser Arafat and has long been the dominant force in Palestinian politics and a cornerstone in the nationalist struggle.


‘Fatah reinstates plans for Gaza anniversary event’
By Khaled Abu Toameh, JPost
December 28, 2012

Fatah said Friday that it will go ahead with its 48th anniversary celebration in the Gaza Strip as planned, after it had decided Thursday to cancel the event in the face of Hamas’s refusal to allow the group to hold rallies in two of Gaza City’s main squares, the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported.

The cancelation appeared to threaten the positive atmosphere that prevailed between Fatah and Hamas following Operation Pillar of Defense and the UN vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinians’ status as the two rival parties resumed their verbal attacks on each other Thursday.

However, Fatah official in Gaza Atef Abu Yousef told Ma’an late Thursday that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh informed Fatah official Nabil Shaath that it could use al-Saraya square to hold the celebrations.

According to Ma’an, Shaath will announce the date of the anniversary celebration in a press conference in the coming days.

Hamas has banned Fatah from holding major rallies in Gaza ever since the Islamist movement took control of the area in 2007. Fatah, in contrast, recently permitted Hamas to celebrate its anniversary in several West Bank cities for the first time since that year.

In the wake of the recent rapprochement between the two parties, the Hamas government announced two weeks ago that it had given Fatah permission to celebrate the event in the Gaza Strip. However, it rejected Fatah’s demand to hold the rallies in two squares and offered alternative venues, including the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City and the site of former Jewish settlements.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri cited security reasons to justify his movement’s opposition to holding Fatah rallies in the two squares.

He claimed that information Hamas had received indicated that “saboteurs” were planning to attack the Fatah rallies. He did not provide further details, nor did he identify the “saboteurs.”

Abu Zuhri denied Fatah claims that Hamas had banned the rallies. He said such talk was “very negative and unsuitable.”

The Hamas spokesman said his movement’s agreement in principle to allow the rallies to take place in the Gaza Strip was a “positive step aimed at paving the way for Palestinian reconciliation.”

Another Hamas official said his movement was worried that supporters of ousted Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan, who fell out with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, were planning to disrupt the rallies and turn them into anti-PA events.

However, Yehya Rabah, a senior Fatah official in the Gaza Strip, held the Hamas government fully responsible for the cancellation of the events.

Rabah said Fatah had tried over the past three weeks to reach agreement with Hamas over the venue of the rallies, but to no avail. Egypt and Qatar also tried to mediate between the two sides to solve the crisis, he added.

The Fatah official confirmed that Hamas had proposed two alternative locations for the rallies, but he said the former Jewish settlement areas were lacking in infrastructure, and the Yarmouk Stadium was in danger of collapsing since Israel had bombed it during the last war.


Hamas Bans Fatah From Open-Square Gaza Rally

By Abeer Ayyoub, Al Monitor

December 26, 2012

Soon after the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza was over, there were positive indicators for finally achieving national Palestinian reconciliation. As expected, however, the optimism was short lived as differences have again began to resurface between the two rivals, Fatah and Hamas.

The optimism was an inevitable result following the two parties’ cooperation in the field to resist Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza. Both factions showed readiness to return to the negotiation table.

The first positive signs of reconciliation began to appear after the Hamas authorities in Gaza released several Fatah political prisoners, with the gesture reciprocated by Fatah in the West Bank. Fatah also allowed Hamas supporters in the West Bank to commemorate their faction’s anniversary for the first time in six years earlier this month.

But movement towards reconciliation appears to have stalled, as evident by Hamas’ refusal to permit Fatah from celebrating its 74th anniversary next month in Al-Kateeba Square, where Hamas held its own 25th anniversary celebrations a few weeks ago.

Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah lawmaker in Gaza, said his faction was intent on reaching an agreement with Hamas, which was proven when it allowed the Islamists to commemorate its anniversary in the West Bank without any limits.

“Hamas said we have to choose an enclosed place for our anniversary, while we gave them whatever place they asked for their celebrations in West Bank cities,” he noted. “This is so disappointing.”

Hamas, which routed Fatah forces to seize control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, has its own concerns for limiting its rival’s activity in Gaza. The secular Fatah was expected to have a large ceremony in Hamas’ territory, testing Fatah’s popularity in Gaza for the first time in six years.

Mukhaymar Abu Sa’ada, a political analyst and lecturer at Al-Azhar University, said that Hamas’ reluctance to give Fatah an open place for its ceremony in Gaza is “understood.”

“It’s expected that after six years of being banned, Fatah supporters will rush out into the streets which will put Hamas popularity in Gaza, once represented as the greatest, in an awkward situation,” he explained.
In response, Hamas official Taher Al-Nono sought to play down the rift, telling Al-Monitor that it was his pleasure to see Fatah strong and united. “We feel so sorry that Fatah is connecting the reconciliation to such an unimportant detail.”

“The agreement between us and our brothers in Fatah has nothing to do with a celebration. It’s the public good that we are seeking,” he said.

Abu Sa’ada also offered security reasons for Hamas’ move, citing internal splits within Fatah that could lead to chaos in an open square. Divisions within Fatah have inflamed in recent times, due to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to oust Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan from the PLO in July 2011.

“Hamas claims that the security reason is the only reason [for preventing the Fatah ceremony in an open square]. They say that they fear internal clashes among Fatah supporters or something similar to the Arafat clashes in 2007,” Abu Sa’ada said, referring to the deadly fight that took place between Fatah supporters and Hamas policemen on the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death in Gaza, which also took place at Al-Kateeba Square.

Abu Shahla criticized Hamas’ security concern as “total nonsense.”
“It’s our decision and it’s us who can manage it. The rest of the security issue is Hamas’ responsibility as a government of Gaza,” he said.

Ehab Al-Ghussen, spokesperson for the Hamas-run Gaza government, said on his Facebook page last week that Abbas was responsible for suspending reconciliations talks, as he received promises from Israel for a return to peace talks after Israel’s elections in January.

“If Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) succeeds in going back to negotiations with Israel then he will abandon the reconciliation talks. If not, he’ll get back to it as a plan B,” he said.

Another Fatah MP in Gaza, Muhamad Hijazy, immediately dismissed Al-Ghussen’s remarks, stressing national reconciliation as one of Abu Mazen’s first priorities.

“There’s no way that Abu Mazen will make a bet on the national Palestinian reconciliation with any external party. And he told Khaled Mashaal earlier that he’s seriously interested in reaching an agreement with Hamas,” Hijazy said.

What the two Palestinian factions experienced was not a reconciliation of sorts, but a softening of tension, according to Abu Sa’ada. “You are talking about real differences of ideologies and agendas, and not a slight difference that can be easily solved,” he said.

One major point of difference is the question of Palestine’s borders, as well as their approaches to Israel.
“Fatah believes in a state on the 1967 borders and adopts negations with Israel to achieve it, while Hamas believes in a Palestinian state on the historical land of Palestine from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and adopts armed resistance to reach it,” he explained.

Continued polarization on the political level has resulted in greater apathy and disenchantment among many ordinary Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who are pessimistic about a reconciliation deal.
Amjad, a 40-year-old petrol station employee in Gaza, said he no longer trusts either of the two parties, and has little confidence in their ability to reach a serious agreement.

“Previous experiences taught me not to believe them again. Both don’t want to reconcile, despite the positive atmosphere the Israeli offensive on Gaza has left,” he said.

The two factions have indeed been talking unity for months, from Mecca to Egypt and finally in Qatar, but no change has been effected in the Occupied Territories. No coalition government was formed, and talk of elections has yet to lift off the ground.

Already burdened with Israel’s occupation, continued infighting between Hamas and Fatah is only adding further strain on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, as Amjad illustrated. “The reconciliation is all what we need. It will result in us living soundly, with better careers and lives.”

Abeer Ayyoub graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza with a BA in English literature. She is a former human rights researcher.


Hamas holds rare West Bank rally

Palestinian authority permits rally in the Israeli-occupied territory as Hamas supporters celebrate its anniversary.

By Al Jazeera,
December 14, 2012

Thousands of Palestinians have attended a rare Hamas rally in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank celebrating the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding and its recent “victory” over Israel in Gaza.

“Our message is that Hamas is here, on the ground and in the heart of our people”. – Hosni al-Burini, Hamas MP

The rally is the first time that the West Bank’s ruling Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by Hamas rival Fatah, has allowed such a gathering since 2007.

It comes as the two movements take tentative steps towards restarting a reconciliation process.

“Our message is that Hamas is here, on the ground and in the heart of our people,” Hamas MP Hosni al-Burini told the AFP news agency.

Yussef Iqtishaat, a teenager attending the rally with his family, was among those eagerly brandishing the movement’s flag.

“It’s a great day thanks to the victory in Gaza,” he told AFP.

In November, Hamas and other Palestinian factions fought an eight-day conflict with Israel that left 174 Palestinians and six Israelis dead and ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

Reconciliation

Among those speaking at the Nablus rally was Amin Maqbul, the secretary-general of Fatah’s revolutionary council, who saluted the rival movement.

“Hamas has given thousands of martyrs, prisoners and wounded for Palestine,” he said, adding that Fatah head and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would soon hold reconciliation talks with Hamas’s chief-in-exile.

“There will soon be a meeting in Cairo between Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Khaled Meshaal to complete the reconciliation and this will be a historic day,” he assured the audience.

The rally was a rare opportunity for Hamas to display its support in the West Bank, where the PA has clamped down on the rival group.

The longtime rivalry between the two Palestinian movements boiled over in 2007, a year after Hamas won a surprise victory over Fatah in legislative elections.

Armed members of the two groups battled in Gaza, with Hamas eventually routing Fatah and taking control of the coastal territory, while the PA has continued to rule the West Bank.

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