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Fatah Claims Gaza Rulers ‘Helping’ Israel
Palestinians on the Israeli border near Gaza City face tear gas fired by Israeli forces to disperse them during a Hamas-initiated ‘March of Return’ protests. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Fatah Claims Gaza Rulers ‘Helping’ Israel

Hamas personnel seen preventing escalation at latest fence protests, raising ire of West Bank rival

Fatah, the Palestinian faction, has slammed its archrival, Hamas, for creating and enforcing a buffer zone along the Gaza Strip border with Israel to prevent the latest in a series of weekly protests from spiraling out of control.

There had been concerns that this weekend’s “March of Return,” which sees Palestinians congregating close to the border with Israel in a ritual that usually devolves into violent confrontations with troops, would be especially violent. It marked a year since the first March of Return, but also coincided with Land Day, which commemorates a deadly 1976 protest by Israeli Arabs over land expropriations.

Four Palestinians were reported killed in the weekend March of Return, and more than 300 were said to have been wounded. Death tolls at the weekly protests have often reached well into the double digits.

In a statement issued on March 31, the PLO’s Fatah movement criticized Hamas, describing it as being “engulfed in the scourge of the Zionist-American shame” in addition to accusing the armed Islamic group of launching rockets toward Israel and then backing off.

The statement added that Hamas’s weekend performance indicated its interest in an agreement with Israel that will “clearly pave the way for the separation of the Gaza Strip [from political coordination with the West Bank] and a literal implementation of the shame bargain,” meaning an expected US peace plan being derided here as the “deal of the century.”

Osama al-Qawasmi, a member of the PLO’s Revolutionary Council and a spokesman for Fatah, said in the statement that Hamas personnel had been acting on orders from the Israeli army when, dressed in luminescent orange vests, they stood between demonstrators and the border fence.

“It proves that Hamas is politically ready for the shame deal,” Qawasmi said, calling Israel the “golden sponsor” of Palestinian division.

Muneer al-Zahub, head of Fatah’s media office, accused Hamas of directly collaborating with Israel on controlling the latest protests.

“Eight-hundred officers of the Hamas forces were surrounding the protesters to prevent them from reaching the fence,” Zahub told The Media Line.

He said he believed the Israeli army had even asked Hamas to set off its members from the protesters by having them wear specific colors.

“Hamas forces were designated by orange vests,” he complained, claiming that Israeli soldiers were thus able to identify protesters managing to move toward the fence and kill them immediately.

“At the end of the day,” Zahub said, “the existence of Hamas in Gaza is an Israeli interest. Israel wants us [Palestinians] divided and fightin, while it’s watching.”

Gad Shemron, an Israeli political analyst, said that Hamas was at least indirectly helping Israel as the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would like to see the Palestinians divided.

“Bibi’s government is quite happy to see Hamas and Fatah fighting for control,” he told The Media Line, referring to the Israeli leader by his nickname.

Shemron explained that Palestinian divisions over the Gaza Strip serve Netanyahu’s policy toward the West Bank, where he has indicated an interest in building more settlements and expanding the Israeli presence.

“The Gaza conflict gives him a free hand in the West Bank,” he added.

According to the Palestinian Maan news agency, Jimmy McGoldrick, deputy United Nations envoy to the Middle East, was in the Gaza Strip and witnessed the weekend protests, stating it was “very clear that Hamas worked to rein in the demonstrators in light of reports on new understandings” between the Islamist group and Israel.

Talks on a longer-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas are being brokered by Egyptian mediators.

“The new deal that Hamas and other political parties in Gaza have approved includes a mitigation of confrontations and the launching of burning kites,” Moeen al-Taher, a Jordanian writer and political analyst, told The Media Line. “The Islamist group kept a buffer zone of 300 meters [about 1,000 feet] between the protesters and the border to prevent any escalation of the protest.”

He predicted that in return, Israel would announce new policies to ease humanitarian hardships in the Gaza Strip – although not for the long term.

“Netanyahu needs calm until the Israeli elections in April,” Taher explained. “All of this is temporary, to the date of the elections. After that, the situation will explode into a war.”

Meanwhile, crossing points from Israel into the Gaza Strip have been reopened, a move construed as evidence that both sides are, for the time being, intent on returning to a fragile status quo. Nevertheless, the tense calm was challenged just past midnight on Sunday when five short-range rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, triggering sirens in surrounding communities but causing no injuries or damage.

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