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Tensions Escalate as Bomb Attacks Target Fatah Party Members in the Gaza Strip

Roughly 15 blasts targeted houses and cars belonging to Fatah leaders on Friday morning, as well as a stage that was to be used for an event marking the death of Yasser Arafat.
November 7, 2014, 7:20pm
Photo by AP/Khalil Hamra

A coordinated series of bomb attacks in the Gaza Strip hit the homes of senior members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party early on Friday.

Roughly 15 blasts in the early hours of the morning targeted houses and cars belonging to Fatah leaders as well as a stage that was to be used for an event marking the 10th anniversary of Palestinian leader and Fatah founder Yasser Arafat's death. No casualties were reported.


Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah canceled plans to travel to Gaza on Saturday, where he had been scheduled to meet with newly appointed European Union foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini.

A letter was reportedly left at the scene of one of the attacks claiming that it was carried out by Islamic State militants. But analysts believe that the terror group's involvement is very unlikely.

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Fatah sources suggested that the letter was meant to mislead authorities. They instead blamed Hamas, the Islamist group that dominates Gaza.

"The Fatah central committee condemns the crimes which took place this morning against its leaders and lays the responsibility for these crimes upon Hamas," senior official Nasser al-Qidwa told reporters in Ramallah.Hamas' leadership condemned the attacks, however.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007 after a series of violent clashes and a week-long internal conflict. The two groups crafted a unity deal in April and formed a "national consensus" government headed by Abbas.

Tensions between the Palestinian rivals has been rising recently, partly owing to the planned Arafat commemoration events. At least seven people died and several dozen wounded during a similar memorial rally in 2007, during which Hamas and Fatah elements exchanged fire. Hamas supporters had criticized this year's plans as well.


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Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, told VICE News that the theory behind Fatah's claims is "that Hamas is intending to thwart a Fatah show of force in Gaza for the Arafat commemoration events."

He noted that Hamas and the Islamic State are the two primary parties singled out for blame, but added that the bombings might possibly have resulted from infighting between Fatah factions.

Hugh Lovatt, the Israel/Palestine project coordinator for the European Council on Foreign Relations's Middle East and North Africa program, told VICE News that he was initially doubtful that Hamas was responsible because its leadership had appeared to sincerely be pushing for unity with Fatah.

"Given the priority that Hamas has placed on reconciliation talks, it would seem very improbable and unlikely that it was a Hamas action," he said.

In fact, Lovatt thinks that the Hamas leadership is likely to regard the attacks as a challenge to its authority. The group has tried policing the Gaza Strip since 2007, but its capabilities were badly damaged by the July-August conflict with Israel that left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead.

Lovatt said it seemed more likely that the attacks were the work of a smaller extremist group.

Elsewhere on Friday, clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces continued in the occupied West Bank and East Jersualem. Soldiers fired rubber bullets at protesters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails around Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, while police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators throwing fireworks in East Jerusalem.


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They were the latest incidents in two weeks of violence that erupted because of a dispute over one of Jerusalem's holiest sites — called Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and Temple Mount by Jews — which is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and is believed to be the former site of two Jewish temples. Israeli authorities have long banned Jews from praying there, but in recent weeks hardline Israeli elements have stepped up campaigns to be allowed to do so.

Muslims countered with protests of their own, and in late October a Palestinian gunman shot and wounded an ultraconservative rabbi who had been promoting Jewish presence at the site. Israel responded by blocking all access to the area for the first time in 14 years. A number of Palestinians have since deliberately driven into Israeli pedestrians, leaving three dead and more than 20 injured.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now reportedly attempting to obtain judicial authorization to demolish the houses of Palestinians who committed the recent attacks. It's a tactic Israel has frequently used in the West Bank, but only rarely in Jerusalem.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck