Palestine

After months of internecine fighting that has resulted in more than 90 Palestinian deaths, Fatah and Hamas signed a deal on February 8 to form a new unity government. The deal, brokered by Saudi Arabia, was signed after a two-day emergency meeting in Mecca.

An emergency February 7-8 Mecca summit sponsored by Saudi Arabia that brought together the leaders of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah resulted in a power-sharing agreement between and a plan to form a national unity government. Palestinians hope a unity government can achieve the international recognition required to lift the crippling economic embargo against the Palestinian Authority that has been imposed by the West since Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in last January’s elections.

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.

A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. “Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run and no space to hide”, wrote senior UN relief official Jan Egeland and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people “living in a cage”, cut off by land, sea and air, with no reliable power and little water, and tortured by hunger and disease and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.

Factional fighting between the armed wings of Fatah and Hamas resumed on January 25 when a vehicle carrying members of the Hamas Executive Force was bombed. Two EF fighters later died as a result of their injuries. The subsequent bloody clashes between rival militants, which took place mainly in the Gaza Strip, left 19 people dead, including a two-year-old boy and eight civilians.

More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the past month in violence between Fatah and Hamas that flared up after Fatah-aligned President Mahmoud Abbas called on December 17 for new presidential and legislative elections. Hundreds more have been wounded in the violence, which intensified in the Gaza Strip late last year and has now spread to the West Bank.

A Gaza ceasefire was negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian officials on November 26. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it is aimed at ending the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel by armed Palestinian resistance groups, and providing the basis for negotiations regarding the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Palestinians, for their part, hope the ceasefire will provide some relief for the people of the sealed Gaza Strip, who have faced a relentless Israel Defense Forces (IDF) campaign since late June.

On November 18, the UN General Assembly voted 156 to seven, with six abstentions, to support sending a UN fact-finding team to Gaza to investigate the November 8 massacre of 19 sleeping Palestinians in Beit Hanoun by an Israeli artillery barrage. Israel, the US and Australia voted against the resolution, along with four Pacific Island states.

Independent surveys by the Jerusalem Media Communication Centre, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) and the Najah National University Centre for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies have each found two-thirds of Palestinian in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza support the formation of a national unity government as a way to overcome the economic embargo imposed by Israel, the US and the European Union.

In the deadliest single attack on Palestinians in four years, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killed 19 civilians at Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on November 8. Seven homes were bombed in the early hours of the morning as the victims slept and, according to the Gaza-based United Nations Relief and Works Agency, more than 60 civilians were injured in the attack.

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