Palestinian president plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Updated 13 January 2019

Palestinian president plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

  • Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007
  • As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The decade-long Palestinian split looks set to deepen in the coming months, with president Mahmoud Abbas poised to take multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its Islamist rulers Hamas.
The moves raise concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s two million residents, already under an Israeli blockade and facing severe electricity shortages, while a cornered Hamas could renew violence against Israel.
Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Abbas’s government has limited self-rule.
Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweeping parliamentary elections.
Hamas has since fought three bloody wars with Israel and fears of a fourth remain.
Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power.
As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly.
The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed acrimoniously.
On Sunday, the PA announced it would withdraw from the Egyptian border crossing, creating a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Hamas in control.
So far they have indicated they will.
Senior officials close to Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.
Among these could be removing staff from the crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas, which it and many other countries label a terrorist organization.
They could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports for Hamas employees.
Abbas has also pledged to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, which though it hasn’t met since the 2007 split is still nominally the basis for new laws.
“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
It follows a series of arrests of those affiliated with Fatah in Gaza, according to Abbas allies.
The official said the PA spent around $100 million per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly.
“Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior Abbas ally and negotiator of the 2017 reconciliation agreement, told AFP “the leadership is considering a number of measures.”
Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the Islamists had seen similar threats before.
“Any type of sanctions such as electricity, preventing medicine, closing the border or cutting the salaries are intended to blackmail residents into rising against Hamas and they fail,” he told AFP.
“This is the most that Abbas can do.”
The Palestinians have faced stark challenges over the past two years, with US President Donald Trump leading what he has called the most pro-Israel administration in the country’s history.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has meanwhile continued to expand settlements in the West Bank.
Abbas’s government froze contacts with the Trump administration after it recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The deepening split between the two factions weakens their ability to respond to such pressure, said Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
He said the PA withdrawal from the border crossings was part of a “package of measures designed to try and squeeze Hamas.”
“It is not irreversible but it is certainly a very negative step. This is short-term thinking triumphing longer-term strategy.”
Nadia Hijab, president of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian think-tank, said the infighting prevented a united front against Israeli policies.
“Palestinians fear that this latest move will cement the division and lead to a complete break between Gaza and the West Bank, something Israel has been pushing,” she said.
Both sides were “playing politics with people’s lives instead of taking on Israel’s 50-year-plus occupation,” she said.
At least 241 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since mass protests along the border began in March 2018. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed.
The protests had calmed in recent months after Hamas and Israel struck an agreement that saw Qatari aid allowed into the territory.
This week, it was reported that Israel had blocked a third tranche of Qatari funding, which could lead to increased tensions.
“If the Israelis do block the money, then I think it is almost a certainty you will see Hamas increasing the tension on the border,” Lovatt said.


Afghans condemn Iranian police after refugees killed in car blaze

Updated 12 min 9 sec ago

Afghans condemn Iranian police after refugees killed in car blaze

  • Footage posted on social media showed a boy escaping from the blazing car with burns on parts of his body

KABUL: Afghans have taken to social media to denounce Iranian police after a video of a car carrying with Afghan refugees set ablaze in Iran went viral, arousing new anger weeks after Afghan officials accused Iranian border guards of drowning migrants.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday three Afghans were killed and four injured in Iran’s central Yazd province after their vehicle was shot at by Iranian police, triggering the fire.
Video footage posted on social media showed a boy escaping from the blazing car with burns on parts of his body and begging for water. The ministry said the video was genuine and Afghans in Iran were trying to identify the victims.
The boy’s plea of “give me some water, I am burning” was widely circulated on social media and taken up by rights group demanding justice.
“Iran has no right to kill Afghan refugees, they can seal their borders, expel all Afghans but not kill them,” said Ali Noori, a lawyer and rights activist said on Facebook.
Afghans have for decades sought refuge in Iran from war and poverty in their homeland.
Iran says about 2.5 million Afghan migrants, both legal and undocumented, live there. Facing its own economic problems worsened by international sanctions, Iran has at times tried to send Afghans home.
Last month, Afghan officials said Iranian border guards killed 45 Afghan migrant workers by forcing them at gunpoint into a mountain torrent on the border.
At the time, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi issued a statement saying only that the incident in question had taken place on Afghan soil.
Iranian embassy officials in Afghan capital, Kabul were not immediately available for comment on the latest incident.