Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 14:31 UK

Hamas and Fatah battle for power

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza City

Hamas militants stand with rifles on the back of a pickup in convoy during a funeral in Gaza City
Hamas militants pointed the finger of blame at Fatah for the beach bombing

The political power struggle is, once again, creating tensions across Palestinian society. Hostilities were re-ignighted last week, with a bombing which killed five Hamas members in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, the Islamist party in charge of Gaza, pointed the finger at rival Fatah, the party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since then, tit-for-tat arresting operations - by Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah in the West Bank - have left hundreds in prison

It is one of the worst flare-ups of the conflict since last summer, when fierce fighting led to dozens of deaths, and two rival administrations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Ahmed Abul Nasser, 47, is a public health specialist in Gaza City and a Fatah supporter.

A few days ago, while he was preparing to go out for a meal, he says two armed Hamas guards appeared at his door and told him to go with them.

She was laughing and drawing sand circles around me and her grandmother. Then she was dead

Falastin Sefady
Mother of girl killed in rival fighting

"They didn't say why they wanted me, or where they were taking me, but there was nothing I could do," Mr Nasser says. "There were maybe 20 gunmen surrounding the house and my family was here."

"They say on the news they arrested people because of the bombing on Gaza Beach, but they didn't even ask me about it, they know I don't even know how to use a gun. They just want to scare us."

Mr Nasser says he was only released when he signed a form saying he would stop any activities associated with Fatah and would respect the "Hamas government".

While he was not beaten, he says he saw many others who were.

Power, control, revenge

Tahir An-Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, insists the detentions are just part of a criminal investigation.

"We don't arrest people just to arrest people, there are no political reasons," he says. "I say clearly, anyone who is found to have nothing to do with the bombing will be released."Mr An-Nunu said anyone who alleged mistreatment was a liar.

Falastin Sefady, whose daughter was killed in the beach bombing
Ms Sefady finds it too upsetting to go anywhere associated with her daughter
But Fatah argues Hamas has seized on an opportunity to silence its opposition in any way it sees fit, including physical intimidation.

However, Hamas accuses Fatah of carrying out a worse, unjustifiable, campaign in the West Bank.

Scores of people associated with Hamas have been arrested there in what is seen as retaliation for the detentions in Gaza. The effect seems only to have been to fuel animosity.

Certainly, there are ideological differences between the two parties. Hamas is religiously conservative and more hardline in its view of the conflict with Israel, feeling peace talks have achieved little.

Fatah is a secular party, which favours dialogue with Israel, but was voted out of government in 2006 in favour of Hamas.

However, many Palestinians feel the fight between the two factions has now become less about ideology, but more about power, control and, ultimately, revenge.

Unintended targets

There has been talk for many weeks of the possibility of Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks, and both sides publicly say that is still what they want.

But there remains intense mistrust between them, and few can see how they would able to work together, given recent history.

Falastin Sefady enters the living room in her aunt's house with a limp. She is being supported by her two young sons. They were all caught up in the bombing last week, during a family trip to the beach.

Hamas may have been the intended target, but Falastin got shrapnel injuries to her legs. Her four year old daughter, Serena, was killed.

"My daughter was enjoying herself so much," says Falastin. "She was laughing and drawing sand circles around me and her grandmother. Then she was dead. Now I can't bring myself to go into my own home or any of the places Serena spent time, it is too upsetting.

"Hamas and Fatah have to stop their fighting, for all of us."

Top Fatah officials held in Gaza
01 Aug 08 |  Middle East

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