A bombing that killed five Hamas members and a five-year-old girl on July 25 in the Gaza Strip has escalated tensions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the West Bank.
The victims were picnicking on a Gaza beach when a bomb exploded under a nearby car. At least 20 bystanders, including children, were injured.
Two other explosions occurred earlier in the day, one near the house of a Hamas leader, Marwan Abu Ras, and the other at the Al-Jazeera cafe that killed one person, who is suspected of being the bomber, and injuring three others.
According to a July 27 report of the Palestinian Information Centre, the Fatah-affiliated Al-Awdah Brigades have taken responsibility for the massacre.
On August 2, Gaza police launched an attack against the Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaia, a stronghold of the Fatah-aligned Hilles clan. Eleven people were killed (including three Hamas police and one child) and dozens more injured during the fighting that eventually resulted in 200 people being detained (40 were released soon after) and another 180 fleeing to Israel.
More than 30 of the people who fled were sent back to Gaza by the Israeli army and around half of them were detained. However, Israel eventually negotiated an agreement with Fatah PA President Mahmoud Abbas that allowed 92 people to go to the West Bank.
The rest either returned to Gaza voluntarily, remain in Israeli hospitals or were detained in Israeli custody.
According to an August 4 PIC report, a large quantity of weapons, including explosives identical to shrapnel extracted from the victims of the Gaza beach bombing, were confiscated during the raid. A statement by the Quassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) said the area had been a haven for "gangsters who exhausted our people for long years even before general elections that brought Hamas to power".
Gaza-based NGO, Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, strongly condemned the bombing but also expressed concern at the government response. According the Al-Mezan, the police raided 122 institutions (some containing kindergardens and medical centres) including NGOs, Fatah offices, social and sports clubs and the homes of many individual Fatah members. In many cases equipment such as computers were confiscated and the buildings and contents severely damaged.
Also, many arbitrary arrests took place including of a journalist.
In a July 27 media release stated "Al Mezan Center for Human Rights views with much concern this unprecedented assault on institutions, NGOs, political parties' offices, and offices of PLC members in Gaza".
Abbas has denied Fatah involvement in the bombing, calling for an independent inquiry and renewed discussions with mediation by Egypt. According to a July 28 report on Alalam News, Abbas stated "What happened in Gaza is extremely regretful and painful to us and to our people. We don't accept it. Neither do we accept accusations and claims made directly by Hamas blaming Fatah and its members of the Gaza blasts."
However, Hamas spokesperson Dr Sami Abu Zuhri told the PIC on July 27 that celebrations on PA-affiliated media outlets meant that Fatah had in effect officially adopted the attack.
According to the PIC, the victim's families were also upset by news coverage, in particular Fatah leader Samir al- Mashharawi who hailed the massacre, and asked that Fatah leaders take a unified stand condemning the attack.
Hamas has put forward its own plan for an end to politically motivated arrests in both the West Bank and Gaza and for discussions with Fatah through the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Hamas and Fatah hold most of the seats in the council, however, many of its members were arrested by Israel 2006 and it was completely dismantled by Abbas in 2007 after Hamas defeated an attempted coup in Gaza by Fatah-backed warlord Muhammad Dahlan (who also has links to Israel).
According to an August 6 Xinhua report, Ahmed Bahar (deputy speaker of the PLC) said the initiative was sponsored by the PLC speaker, who is currently in Israeli prison along with a number of other elected Palestinian politicians.
"In the name of the PLC presidency and the kidnapped legislators, we call on the (Abbas') presidency, the (Hamas) government, Hamas and Fatah to immediately resume the national dialogue to resolve the internal crisis", Bahar said.
However, Abbas does not want to see the PLC revived. According to July 30 Haaretz report, Abbas has threatened Israel that if it releases the 40 or so Hamas PLC members who remain in detention, he will dissolve the PA.
According to the report, Abbas has been working with US security coordinator for the peace process, Keith Dayton, to strengthen the PA's security services, including arresting hundreds of Hamas activists and shutting down Hamas-affiliated institutions and NGOs in the West Bank.
However, Asociated Press reported on August 7 that after talks with Abbas, Israel is promising to release 150 prisoners including "imprisoned politicians". It is hoped by the US that the deal would re-energise the failing peace negotiations with Israel and bolster Abbas's falling credibility.
Israel increases suffering
Meanwhile, despite the ceasefire that has been in place between Israel and Hamas for a month and the ongoing negotiations with Abbas, little has improved for Palestinians living in either Gaza or the West Bank.
According to an August 5 Palestinian News Network, during July, Israeli forces arrested 468 Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem and 12 from Gaza — including 68 children.
Daily raids on homes and businesses have been carried out in Nablus where 140 people were arrested. Patients have been stopped from reaching medical help, resulting in a number of deaths.
Israel's blockade against Gaza continues with growing shortages of essentials such as food, water and fuel. The director of the Gaza City branch of the Palestine Network of NGOs told the Palestine News Network on July 27, "So the life here is very bad although there is a 'cease-fire' because Israel didn't respect the 'cease-fire' and still continue violating the agreement … between Hamas and Israel.
"And just to remember, three people were killed last week by Israel, one of them from Gaza, a young man around 17 or 18 years old was killed. About 13 people were injured although the 'cease-fire' had been claimed.
"And so I think, again and again, although we have this very difficult situation, we have the hope that the international community will wake up, not just talk, but instead intervene.
"We need them to intervene, to pressure Israel to lift the siege, to end the siege on the Gaza Strip and to let the Palestinians have free lives, free access to the outside."