Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 July - 6 August 2008
Issue No. 908
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Do not pass go

Were last week's bombings in Gaza intended to push Palestinian national dialogue out of reach, asks Saleh Al-Naami from the besieged Strip

The bombs that targeted Hamas military and political leaders returned Palestinian domestic relations to square one. In one attack a small girl was killed alongside five leaders of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, and dozens were injured. The bombings also targeted the home of Marwan Abu Ras, head of the Palestine scholars' confederation and a Hamas representative in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

After the dismissed Haniyeh government announced that initial investigations indicated the involvement of Fatah members in the bombings Hamas security agencies arrested dozens of Fatah activists and closed many of the organisation's offices. Hamas leaders say the offices will reopen once it is established staff are not involved in cases of financial or managerial corruption. A statement attributed to Al-Awda Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah, claimed responsibility for the bomb targeting Al-Qassam Brigade leaders. A second statement then appeared in which the group denied any link with the operation and accused others of attempting to cover up the "real perpetrators".

In response to the actions of Hamas security agencies in Gaza the Salam Fayyad government arrested more than 100 Hamas members, including leaders, in the West Bank.

Khalil Al-Hayya, a prominent Hamas leader whose nephew was killed in one of the bombings, says that many Hamas activists feel the Haniyeh government and its security agencies have grown lax in their dealings with Fatah. He says Fatah members who confessed to placing explosives beneath the cars of Hamas leaders spent only two months in prison.

The bombings threaten to undermine efforts to resume Palestinian national dialogue. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's announcement from Cairo that national dialogue will commence immediately, and that the Egyptian government is about to distribute invitations to Palestinian factions to attend dialogue sessions, was greeted with scorn by Hamas. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum claimed Abbas's statements were no more than a cover for the bombings and mass arrests of its activists in the West Bank.

"If Abu Mazen were serious about holding a dialogue with Hamas he would have ordered the arrests of its activists to be stopped, and would have put an end to the security cooperation with the Israeli army in pursuit of Hamas leaders and its charitable institutions," Barhum told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He stresses there were doubts over Abu Mazen's seriousness about dialogue before the bombings, pointing out that after the Palestinian president announced the initiative he effectively undermined any possibility of success by interpreting it in ways that would make any commencement of talks impossible. Barhum denies Hamas has received an invitation from the Egyptian government to attend the dialogue in Cairo though he insists the movement welcomes any Arab role in pushing the dialogue ahead. He added that Hamas is ready to hold a national dialogue without any prior conditions, and that it considers Abbas's talk of limiting the dialogue to ways of applying the Yemeni initiative as unconstructive.

He revealed that Hamas leaders would complete discussions in Cairo with the Egyptian government on a number of issues including the truce and Israel's failure to adhere to it, as well as the case of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and ways of closing it with a prisoner exchange. They will also discuss ways to manage the Rafah border crossing and the national dialogue. Hamas representatives will press Cairo to hasten the formation of a tripartite committee to include the European Union, representatives of the Palestinian presidential office, and representatives of Ismail Haniyeh's dismissed government.

Listening to what Abdullah Abdullah, prominent Fatah leader and head of the PLC's political committee, has to say, the impression is that a lot of time will pass before the national dialogue begins given the depth of the rift separating the positions of Fatah and Hamas. Abdullah told Al-Ahram Weekly that no dialogue will take place until after the split is resolved and the "overthrow" ends. Until the Palestinians are united under a single leadership, government dialogue, he says, will remain illusory. As for differences over the nature of the dialogue, Abdullah says the Palestinian presidential office insists it must be comprehensive and include all Palestinian parties because the "crisis the Palestinians are going through is a national crisis that requires bringing together the efforts of all to reach solutions to the problems storming the Palestinian domestic arena". Abdullah went on to accuse Hamas of exploiting the bombings to wage a planned campaign against Fatah in the Gaza Strip, citing how the Gaza police barred executive committee members Zakaria Al-Agha and Riyad Al-Agha from leaving Gaza to attend executive committee meetings as an example.

Some commentators see Israeli hands behind the bombings and have urged Fatah and Hamas to resist jumping to hasty conclusions.

Palestinian researcher Ikram Atta argues that motives are the primary factor in determining responsibility for any crime and that it is rational to blame the Israelis for the bombings since there are indications that some important circles in Israel are not interested in continuing the truce. Atta points to statements issued by Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet and one of the most influential officials among decision-makers in Tel Aviv. Diskin criticised the truce agreement with Hamas before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committees on the grounds that it reduces Israel's ability to counter the resistance and described it as a lifeline for Hamas. Reservations in powerful Israeli circles over the truce agreement with Hamas lend credibility to accusations that Israel is behind the bombings, as does Israel's well-known antagonism towards any attempts to resume Palestinian national dialogue.

Until it becomes clear who is responsible for the Gaza bombings the reactions will continue to confirm the fragility of what confidence remains between Fatah and Hamas. (see pp.2&5)

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