Palestinian Civil War Starting?

Members of the new Hamas police take part in a patrol on the streets of Gaza City May 18, 2006. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters) There is talk of civil war in Gaza as paramilitary forces loyal to rival terrorist factions Hamas, which now controls the premiership, and Fatah, which controls the presidency, clashed.


Hamas and Fatah paramilitaries staged mass shows of strength amid warnings that the Islamists’ decision to deploy its gunmen on the streets of Gaza could trigger a Palestinian civil war. Thousands of security officers denounced a rival militia, dispatched by the Hamas government a day earlier in a bid to restore order to the territory, and pledge support for beleaguered Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya insisted the unit was “set up in keeping with the law, the basic law and direct agreement with president Abbas” — illiciting flat denials from the presidency. “You were in the resistance. Today you are protecting the nation, security and the people,” Haniya told hundreds of recruits of the new paramilitary.

Tensions spread beyond Gaza, as Hamas deputy premier Nasserdine al-Shaer cut short a tour in the West Bank when Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades gunmen, loosely affiliated to Abbas’s Fatah faction, opened fire and blocked his vehicle. Al-Aqsa supporters have said they will have no truck with the new force which began its operations in Gaza on Wednesday, despite Hamas interior minister Said Siam’s insistence that its ranks were open to all-comers. Abbas, as Palestinian Authority president, is meant to be overall commander of the security services. Their main branches are dominated by Fatah supporters despite Hamas’s victory in a January parliamentary election.

Abbas’s office made clear the president’s anger at the deployment of the Hamas forces at a time when he was in Europe — ironically to lobby for an end to the international community’s isolation of the Hamas-led government. “Any situation in which two different forces, seemingly taking orders from separate authorities, are attempting to take charge of maintaining law and order in Gaza, is untenable,” his office said.

Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina denied there was any agreement with Hamas over creating a new force, only on incorporating gunmen into the existing security forces commanded by the Palestinian Authority. “There was no agreement between president Abbas and prime minister Haniya on forming a special security force of armed Palestinian factions. It is impossible under Palestinian basic law to form a new force,” he told AFP. A senior official in Abbas’s office went further by warning that the deployment of the new force “could lead to a civil war” and demanding that the force withdraw to allow the security services to carry out their duties.

Palestinian Civil War? A security force patrolled Gaza City Wednesday, deployed by the Hamas-led Palestinian government in a challenge to Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli soldiers killed two members of Islamic Jihad in a raid at a house in Nablus where more than 50 pounds of explosives was found.

Reuters reports, “At least four people were wounded in the first fighting since Hamas deployed the force on Wednesday. Two police, one Hamas member and a gunman from Abbas’s Fatah movement were hurt.” NYT adds, “In another sign of Palestinian infighting, a Hamas militant was killed in a drive-by shooting near Gaza City, the second such killing of a Hamas member in two days. No one claimed responsibility, though Hamas and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah movement are waging an increasingly open power struggle.”

Max Weber told us that a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force is a hallmark of a sovereign government. Technically, at least, both these factions are under the control of the “government.” Unfortunately for the Palestinians, there are, in effect, two governments, each of which is trying to assert control over the security forces. That is not a good sign.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ticketplease says:

    Just remember these are peaceful people. This is the religion of peace. They know not what they do…..sarcasim off.

  2. DC Loser says:

    In your opening paragraph, shouldn’t it say “Fatah, which controls the presidency?”

  3. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Oops. Yes. Fixed. Thanks.