Hamas, Fatah ceasefire attempt fails

Reuters reported on February 3 that at least 23 people had died in armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza during the previous 24 hours. The deaths helped bury a short-lived ceasefire that had been declared by the groups the two largest Palestinian political parties on January 30. In the two months prior to the ceasefire, more than 60 Palestinians had been killed, half of them between January 25 and January 29.

On January 29, Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh, who is a leader of Hamas, had called for an end to "all forms of clashes and end all forms of armed display in the Palestinian community". Later that day, Haniyeh and Hamas representatives once again met with a Fatah delegation in order to re-establish a ceasefire between the two warring groups.

On January 30, Palestinian foreign minister and Hamas member Mahmoud Zahar announced that the two parties had reached a ceasefire agreement.

Shortly after the cease-fire was agreed on, 20 Hamas and 18 Fatah hostages were released by the two groups.

The internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah has come in the wake of Hamas being elected in a landslide victory over the corruption-ridden Fatah administration in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Since Hamas's election, Fatah has sought to undermine the Hamas-led administration. Sections of Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have sought to exploit the hardships created by the economic blockade imposed by Israel, the US and the European Union on the Palestinian people top punish them for voting for Hamas, classified as a "terrorist organisation" by Israel and the US.

While the Hamas administration has been financially strangled, Fatah has received more than US$86 million from the US government. Abbas's presidential guard has received training and arms from Israel.

Fatah, which had previously dominated the Palestinian Authority, was the main political group in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was denounced by Israel and the US as a "terrorist organisation" until the early 1990s.

On January 29, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-associated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that same day of a bakery in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, killing three Israelis. It was the first suicide bombing inside Israel since last April.

While Abbas condemned the attacks, Hamas said that it was a "natural response" to Israel's brutal policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

For the past two years, Hamas has maintained policy of not carrying out suicide bombings in Israel. However, since last June the Israeli military has been responsible for the deaths of more than 496 Palestinians, 410 of them in Gaza.

As Hamas and Fatah were negotiating their new cease-fire agreement in Gaza, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni warned Abbas not to reach a political agreement with Hamas. The January 26 Tel Aviv Haaretz reported that Livni told Abbas that "compromising with extremists will not promote anything, but it can lead to further stagnation [of negotiations between Israel and Abbas]".

Livni also rejected Abbas call for the creation of Palestinian state based on the 1967 Green Line borders, saying that any borders for a Palestinian state had to be negotiated.

Israel's refusal to accept internationally recognised borders highlights the Zionist state continued attempts to illegally annex more Palestinian land through expanding its illegal settlements in the West Bank.

In response to Livni's warning, Abbas threatened for a third time to call fresh elections for the Palestinian parliament if Hamas does not agree to honour agreements with Israel signed by the Fatah-dominated PLO.

The January 31 Haaretz reported that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has approved a plan for the relocation of the apartheid wall (officially called the "separation barrier") at least five kilometres eastward into the West Bank from the Green Line in the area of Modiin Ilit, in order to take in the Zionist settlements of Nili and Naaleh, inhabited by 1500 Israelis.

The new route would create two Palestinian enclaves containing about 20,000 people. The ghettos will contain the villages of Nileen, Budrus and Qibya.

According to Haaretz: "Olmert approved the change in response to pressure from residents of the two settlements, both of which would have been left outside the barrier, according to the route approved by the cabinet last April."

The new route will lengthen the wall by about 12 kilometres, which will cost an estimated $30 million.