USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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U.S. Backing for Fatah Stirs New Conflict

Posted by uscsjp on February 7, 2007

Jon Elmer and Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 2 February 2007

Palestinians carry the body of Hamas commander Hassan al-Shorbasi, killed by gunmen on Tuesday, during his funeral in the southern Gaza Strip, 31 January 2007. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

GAZA CITY, Feb 2 (IPS) – Explosions, fierce gunfights and ambulance sirens ripped through the Gaza Strip again Thursday, only two days after a ceasefire ended a bloody week of factional fighting that left more than 30 Palestinians dead.

As night fell on Gaza, the death toll was at six, with more than 60 wounded. Fighters loyal to the elected Hamas government — the Interior Ministry’s Executive Force and the Islamist Movement’s militia, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades — battled the Fatah security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The fighting began in the afternoon when four truckloads of supplies entering from Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing were intercepted by Hamas fighters, who claimed that they had commandeered an arms shipment to the Presidential Guard, a U.S.-backed security force loyal to Abbas.

Fatah officially denied it was an arms shipment. Spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said the convoy contained only tents, generators and medical supplies.

In late December, an Israeli-approved arms shipment of 2,000 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition from Egypt passed through the same Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza strip.

The resumption of violence comes as Washington announced plans to deliver a further 86.4 million dollars to back President Abbas.

Hamas officials have denounced Washington’s involvement in training and financing Fatah security forces. Spokesman Ismayil Radwan said in a public speech that it was Washington’s intention to “fuel a civil war in the Palestinian arena.”

Mouin Rabbani, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the United States is seeking to build Abbas’s Presidential Guard into the leading Palestinian security force.

“It was developed to take on the Executive Force of Hamas,” he told IPS. Rabbani said that the United States is preparing for the long haul, rather than trying to spark the clashes that Gaza is immediately experiencing.

“This is not a direct instigation by the Americans, because they are not yet convinced that Fatah are ready to take on Hamas,” Rabbani said. “But they are beginning to pump significant amounts of weapons, training and funds in the hope that Fatah will prevail in the eventual conflict.”

For its part, Washington has acknowledged that it is training Abbas’s Presidential Guard in urban warfare tactics in the West Bank city Jericho under the guidance of Lt. General Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In an interview in December, Dayton told the Israeli daily Yehidot Ahronot, “We are involved in building up the Presidential Guard, instructing it, assisting it to build itself up, and giving them ideas.” Dayton denied the Force was being groomed to confront Hamas.

In December 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which explicitly denounced the elected Hamas leadership. The Act seeks to bolster the Palestinian National Authority under Fatah’s partnership.  (continued…)

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