Hamas responded in a serious manner, arresting 300 Fatah members including, unlike previous large-scale detentions, the first tier of party leaders, such as Zakareyya al-Agha and Ibrahim Abu al-Naja. Hamas took over the offices of over 120 organizations and groups affiliated with Fatah, in addition to closing many of the media outlets that belonged not only to Fatah, but also to other political parties, such as the al-Sah’eb Radio of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Hamas prevented the distribution of all newspapers published in the West Bank and Jerusalem within the Gaza Strip, and journalists were prevented from covering this weekend’s clashes.
In response, Fatah or the Palestinian Authority arrested numerous Hamas activists in the West Bank, particularly those from the Nablus area.
There exist three primary elements to the framework in which this weekend’s clashes took place:
Firstly, the clashes occurred at the same time as the dialogue for Palestinian national unity, which is being conducted under the auspices of Egypt. Last week Palestinian newspapers reported that real differences began to appear between negotiators from both Hamas and Fatah concerning the topics to be discussed, such that a serious outcry appeared on both sides and this rift was translated into actions on the ground, as occurred this weekend.
Secondly, the failure or delays of the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which are also occurring under the umbrella of Egypt, had an impact. These negotiations are hampered by Israel’s insistence on focusing exclusively on the Hamas-held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, while Hamas or the government in Gaza desire to discuss many topics, first and foremost the siege on Gaza, which represents the largest problem for Hamas and its government.
Nearly every day, Hamas leaders have been issuing statements that ending the siege of Gaza is the primary condition for it to forge ahead with the ceasefire. Obviously, Hamas needs this achievement for economic and social reasons, and primarily for the political achievement inherent in recognition, even indirect, of its authority in the Gaza Strip by Israel, Arab countries, Europe and the United States. Hamas needs to set the price of a ceasefire in accordance with its leaders’ statements. However, Israel has not accepted this and other demands, resulting in Hamas feeling it is being increasingly pushed into a corner. Mahmoud Zahhar, leader of the Hamas in Gaza, and Sami Abu Zohree spoke much in the past two weeks about possible alternative actions if the Israeli siege will not be ended. As entering into direct clashes with the Israeli military is obviously not an easy choice, Hamas must reiterate to all parties involved that no one can overcome it, that it is the party ruling the Gaza Strip and that it is the Hamas itself that will decide what happens there.
Thirdly, the Hamas looks upon the 25 July incident as representing a high level of escalation in which its frontline leadership was targeted. Hamas speakers note that the explosion was a crossing of red lines that cannot be accepted or ignored.
The Hamas response can thus be understood, and several important points support this analysis. For example, immediately following the explosion, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank condemned the event and called for an investigation by an impartial committee composed of people not from Fatah or Hamas. However, Fatah didn’t cover the event, so the question arises as to why the Hamas did not pay attention to calls such as this from Fatah and other political parties? Such events happened in the past, but were not reflected on the ground as is now happening. So the response of Hamas to the explosion is more about politics than security.
Another point to be considered is that Hamas needs and wants to solve the problem of the arrests of its members and attacks on their institutions by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It appears Hamas wants to close this issue totally through a serious response in the Gaza Strip. Hamas wants to give the message to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank that if this policy is continued in the West Bank, Hamas also will make choices in Gaza, and there will be no limitations and no red lines. This may explain the arrests of Fatah’s frontline leadership in Gaza this time. Hamas wants to establish some facts on the ground which will assist them in negotiations. Hamas did not officially close the door of negotiations with Fatah, but is currently ignoring calls for negotiations. This is a new development, as recently, Hamas representatives have spoken and focused on this more than in the past.