The Palestinians' war within

Fatah leader Abdallah Frangi talks about the violent power struggle raging between his party and Hamas -- "the worst we've experienced in Palestinian history."

Published January 31, 2007 11:50AM (EST)

Hamas and Fatah have been fighting each other for weeks. Now a tenuous cease-fire has been agreed on. Abdallah Frangi, the highest-ranking Fatah official in Gaza, talks about his hopes for an end to the violence, the responsibility of Hamas and the role of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Frangi, you're now in the Gaza Strip. On Monday morning there are said to have been more shoot-outs between supporters of Hamas and supporters of Fatah. What is the situation like?

Things have improved a great deal since the cease-fire that was negotiated Monday night. It's true there was an incident yesterday. But the Egyptians mediated very well. And I think both organizations are trying to seize this opportunity. This time all indicators suggest the cease-fire will hold. I've just read a communiqué from our boys stating they seriously want to observe the cease-fire.

When you say "our boys," do you mean the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is close to Fatah and was involved in the fighting?

I mean Fatah as a whole.

The last cease-fire didn't last long. Afterward, things got even worse. There were kidnappings, skirmishes, coldblooded murders. Why are you more hopeful this time?

What happened during the last few days was the worst we've experienced in Palestinian history. It has deeply upset the entire Palestinian society. The people are against every person who continues to want to escalate the situation.

So who was responsible for this escalation?

Hamas is responsible for the government. It won the elections one year ago. And Hamas is therefore also responsible for developments in the Palestinian territories and in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has not succeeded in making the streets safe. Hamas still deals with other parties and organizations as if it were the political opposition. But it has to face up to the responsibility that it now has.

You're the representative of Fatah in the Gaza Strip. It's clear you tend to attribute blame to Hamas. But we're also hearing about how Fatah militants and members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Bridge have been far from restraining themselves. Are these forces out of control?

The bloodshed that has occurred makes it very difficult to restrain people. The number of dead and wounded on the side of Fatah is much larger than that on the side of Hamas. And of course the reactions are driven by the corresponding emotions.

So no one can control these forces, including yourself.

Under these circumstances, it's very difficult to control people. But we have resolved to do it; we want to; and we're trying. I haven't heard any shooting since 4 a.m. yesterday morning. Hope is growing.

Why do these outbreaks of violence keep occurring in the first place?

The reason is that we haven't succeeded in forming a unified government or developing a common political program. And so everyone tries to defend their position. Unfortunately, they don't always do so by democratic means; they also use force of arms.

High-ranking politicians from both side have been targets in the conflict again and again. Do you fear for your life?

Everyone in a position of responsibility, whether from Hamas or Fatah, has suffered due to these events. The commitment and the responsibility to end this confrontation are therefore all the greater.

You already mentioned Monday's successful mediation by Egypt. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is also trying to mediate. There is talk of a summit meeting between Hamas and Fatah in Mecca.

That's the best thing Saudi Arabia could do. That's why the suggestion was immediately accepted by both Hamas and Fatah. The Hamas delegation will be led by Khaled Meshal, the leader in exile. Our delegation will be led by Abu Ala, the former prime minister. Saudi Arabia carries great weight. That became evident in 1989, in Lebanon, when the Taif Agreement was reached between the Lebanese camps, under Saudi mediation. The agreement has lasted until now. The Saudis can surely help set the reconciliation process in motion.

On Monday, there was a suicide attack in Israel for the first time in nine months. Several Palestinian groups claimed responsibility. Does this endanger the efforts of the Middle East Quartet, which is meeting in Washington on Friday?

I don't believe so. Even Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised not to react with major military offensives. Everyone knows -- both in Israel and in Palestine -- that the current situation wouldn't hold up to a further escalation.

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By Yassin Musharbash

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