Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Palestinian unity pleas mask split

Tihani Abed Rabbu
Tihani Abed Rabbu revisits the scene of a family tragedy during Israel's offensive

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza City

Standing with the support of relatives on a street in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, Tihani Abed Rabbu is distraught.

She is revisiting the spot outside a grocery store to which she ran a few weeks ago, after hearing Israeli shelling.

Then, amidst the smoke and the blood, she found six bodies. They included her teenage son, Mustafa, as well as her brother and her closest friend.

Tihani breaks down as she tells me she had left them just moments earlier as they bought food during what they thought was a lull in the bombing.

"Why don't people feel our suffering?" she cries. "My heart is on fire, I miss Mustafa with every breath.

"There were no fighters around here, and they were not terrorists, so why did they die?"

She suddenly raises her voice. "But even our own politicians, sitting in their big chairs, don't care. They don't feel what we feel. If they cared, they'd be united.

"The only thing that will help my heart is if our so-called leaders stopped fighting and joined hands in the face of our enemy."

All together

Ahmed Youssef
There are people who are inside Fatah who are serving the Zionist and American agenda
Ahmed Youssef, Hamas
Politicians from the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, all claim that unity is exactly what they want.

Dr Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah member of parliament in Gaza City, says the recent Israeli offensive did unite Palestinians.

"They were all together suffering," he says. "There was no discrimination between Hamas and Fatah people, civilians. Everybody was facing the Israelis, and the Israelis were killing anyone. All together, it was a message from the Palestinians that they want unity."

Hamas politicians too, like Ahmed Youssef, talk of the time being right for unity.

"We understand that if we don't have national reconciliation, developing Gaza, or re-building Gaza, will be very difficult to achieve," he says.

But both Fatah and Hamas have been talking of unity for a long time. Still, Gaza is run by Hamas, the West Bank by Fatah, and there is little contact between the two.

This has been the case for 18 months when inter-factional fighting reached its peak and the 2006 parliamentary election winners Hamas ousted the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and its security forces from Gaza.

Since then every Palestinian politician I have spoken to, from whatever party, has said he or she recognises the harm the political split is doing to the Palestinian cause. They will insist that reconciliation is their priority.

But talk a little longer, and the bitterness and the same old accusations soon surface. Even at a time like this.

'Unfit to govern'

Faisal Abu Shahla
The division which Hamas created allowed this to happen
Faisal Abu Shahla, Fatah
"There are people who are inside Fatah who are serving the Zionist and American agenda," Ahmed Youssef, of Hamas, tells me.

"They don't want to see the Palestinians united and are weakening the social fabric of the Palestinians."

Hamas is reasserting its control on the streets of Gaza. It admits to having carried out punishment beatings and even shootings of rival Fatah supporters that it claims spied for Israel.

Fatah says Hamas is unfit to govern and has brought untold problems - including the Israeli attacks - to the Palestinians.

"The division which Hamas created allowed this to happen," says Dr Fasial Abu Shahla of Fatah. "What it did in Gaza and what it has done since, made the Israelis think they are dealing with Gaza alone, not all Palestinians. This is the weak point.

"What Hamas is practising on the ground makes the division bigger."

The word on every politician's lips here may be "reconciliation," but even after an Israeli offensive which wrought so much death and devastation, they still point fingers of blame at each other.

Those Palestinians who hope unity will come out of the carnage could still have a long wait.

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