The Fatah–Hamas conflict (Arabic: النزاع بين فتح وحماس an-Nizāʿ bayna Fataḥ wa-Ḥamās) is an ongoing political and strategic conflict between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political parties in the Palestinian territories, leading to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. The reconciliation process and unification of Hamas and Fatah administrations remains unfinalized and the situation is deemed as a frozen conflict.
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights has found that over 600 Palestinians were killed in the fighting from January 2006 to May 2007. Dozens more were killed or executed in the following years as part of the conflict.
Hamas was founded in 1987, soon after the First Intifada broke out, as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization, which is regarded, either in whole or in part, as a terrorist organization by several countries and international organizations, most notably by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas began to rise in 2005 after the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004. After the legislative election on 25 January 2006, which resulted in a Hamas victory, relations were marked by sporadic factional fighting. This became more intense after the two parties repeatedly failed to reach a deal to share government power, escalating in June 2007 and resulting in Hamas' takeover of Gaza. A major issue was control over the border crossings, especially the Rafah Border Crossing.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya formed a new PA government on 29 March 2006 comprising mostly Hamas members, after Fatah and other factions refused to join, especially as Hamas refused to accept the Quartet's conditions, such as recognition of Israel and earlier agreements, leading to a substantial part of the international community, especially Israel, the United States and European Union countries, refusing to deal with the Hamas government and imposing sanctions. Following the abduction by Hamas militants of Gilad Shalit on 25 June 2006 in a cross-border raid via a tunnel out of Gaza, Israel detained nearly a quarter of PLC members and ministers on the West Bank during August 2006 and intensified the boycott of Gaza and took other punitive measures.
Calls for the implementation of the Cairo Declaration, including the formation of a unity government and the cessation of violence between Fatah and Hamas were made in the Fatah–Hamas Mecca Agreement of 8 February 2007. The Hamas government was replaced on 17 March 2007 by a national unity government headed by Haniya comprising Hamas and Fatah ministers. In June 2007, Hamas fighters took control of the Gaza Strip and removed all Fatah officials. President Abbas, on 14 June, declared a state of emergency, and dismissed Haniyeh's national unity government and appointed an emergency government and suspended articles of the Basic Law, to circumvent the needed PNC approval.
Hamas has been the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since its takeover in June 2007. Since then, it has fought several wars with Israel, and the Palestinian Authority has been split into two polities, each seeing itself as the true representative of the Palestinian people – the Fatah-ruled Palestinian National Authority and the Hamas Government in Gaza.
Involvement of Britain
Documents published in the Palestine Papers reveal that the British intelligence MI6 in 2004, helped draw up a security plan for a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The plan mentioned as an objective, "encourage and enable the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fully meet its security obligations under Phase 1 of the Roadmap". It proposes a number of ways of "degrading the capabilities of rejectionists", naming Hamas, PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and the al-Aqsa Brigades. The plan was described by the Guardian as a "wide-ranging crackdown on Hamas". The supposed plan for a Fatah counter-insurgency against Hamas backfired in June 2006, when Hamas won the 2006 elections.
Israeli disengagement from Gaza
In July 2004, there were clashes between rival Hamas-led sections of the security forces in Gaza and violent protests, which were widely seen as a power struggle ahead of Israel's promised pullout from Gaza.
On 16 February 2005, the Israeli parliament had approved its disengagement from Gaza, which would drastically change the Israeli–Palestinian relations in Gaza. The disengagement plan from 2003 was already adopted by the Israeli Government in June 2004. Israel withdrew from Gaza in September 2005. Control of the Gaza–Egypt border was on the Egyptian side handed over to Egypt. The Fatah-dominated PA had been given control on the Gazan side at the Rafah Border Crossing. The 2005 Philadelphi Accord between Israel and Egypt turned over control of the border to Egypt. From February 2005, a technocrat Fatah-led PA government controlled the Palestinian National Security Forces.
From November 2005 until June 2007, the Rafah Crossing was jointly controlled by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, with the European Union monitoring the activities from 24 November 2005 on the Gazan side.
2006 elections and Hamas-government
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas intensified after Hamas won the elections of 2006 and the international community increased the pressure on the Palestinian Authority. As a result of the Hamas led government's refusal to commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements, Israel, the Middle East Quartet (United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union), several Western states, and the Arab states imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid.
The PA government, who had with President Abbas shared authority over the Security Forces, was no longer in the hands of Fatah. When Abbas and Hamas in the struggle for power failed to reach an agreement, Abbas appointed, on 6 April 2006, the Fatah-affiliated Abu Shbak head of the Security Forces, by-passing the Hamas Interior Minister. In response, Hamas formed its own security force.
On 25 June 2006, militant groups conducted a cross-border raid into Israel. The Israeli response left Hamas with half its parliamentary bloc and its cabinet ministers in the West Bank in Israeli custody.
The semi-constitutional and semi-presidential Basic Law gave President and Government a shared political power. Fatah refused to cooperate with Hamas. The powerful Fatah-backed President Abbas was supported by the international community and more or less tolerated by Israel. The Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority and the parliament on the other hand were boycotted, and international financial aid was rendered via Abbas, bypassing the Palestinian Government. Because Fatah and Hamas did not co-operate, the parliament became dysfunctional and the PA suffered financial distress.
Involvement of US, Israel and Arab states
Several sources speak of considerable involvement by the United States, Israel and Arab states, after Hamas in 2006 announced the formation of its own security service, the Executive Force, which was denounced by Mahmoud Abbas as unconstitutional. The Presidential Guard of Mahmoud Abbas was enlarged and equipped, and its members trained by the US, Egypt and Jordan. Also, a PLC council member for Hamas, Anwar Zaboun, believes that ″Mohammed Dahlan had a big plan to remove the roots of Hamas, the resistance, in Gaza and the West Bank″.
According to the IISS, the June 2007 escalation was triggered by Hamas' conviction that the PA's Presidential Guard, loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, was being positioned to take control of Gaza. The US had helped build up the Presidential Guard to 3,500 men since August 2006. The US committed $59 million for training and non-lethal equipment for the Presidential Guard, and persuaded Arab allies to fund the purchase of further weapons. Israel, too, allowed light arms to flow to members of the Presidential Guard. Jordan and Egypt hosted at least two battalions for training.
March 2006 to December 2006: rise of tensions
Following the elections, Hamas announced the formation of its own security service, the Executive Force, appointing Jamal abu Samhadana, a prominent militant, at its head. Abbas had denounced the move as unconstitutional, saying that only the Palestinian president could command armed forces.
The period from March to December 2006 was marked by tensions when Palestinian Authority commanders affiliated to Fatah refused to take orders from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government. Tensions further grew between the two Palestinian factions after they failed to reach a deal to share government power.
December 2006 to January 2007
Facing international sanctions, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority depended on the import of large amounts of cash to pay its debts. On 14 December 2006, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, carrying tens of millions in donations, was denied by Israel entry into Gaza via the Rafah Border Crossing. Angry Hamas militants stormed the post, which was manned by European monitors and Abbas' Presidential Guard, responsible for security there. After guards had fired at the Hamas militants, they took over the hall, firing shots into the air. A Hamas official tried to get the militants to disperse. Haniyeh had already cut short his trip due to mounting tensions between Hamas and rival faction Fatah, after three sons of a Fatah security chief were killed days earlier.
The same day, Haniyeh was allowed to return to Gaza without the money, but while crossing the border, gunmen attacked his car, killing one bodyguard. One of Haniyeh's sons was moderately wounded and his political adviser Ahmed Youssef was lightly wounded. At the time, Fatah PLC member and former Fatah security chief Mohammed Dahlan was blamed for this apparent assassination attempt. Peace activist Ellen Rosser also believes that it were Dahlan's men who tried to assassinate Haniyeh. Fighting broke out in the West Bank after Palestinian National Security Forces fired on a Hamas rally in Ramallah. Security units loyal to Mahmoud Abbas and dressed in riot gear, used clubs and rifles to beat back the demonstrators before the shooting broke out. At least 20 people were wounded in the clashes, which came shortly after the attempt to assassinate Ismail Haniya.
On 16 December, Abbas called for new parliamentary and presidential elections, but his advisor Saeb Erekat said that "elections cannot be held before the middle of next year for legal and technical reasons". A senior Hamas lawmaker called it "a real coup against the democratically elected government". Hamas challenged the legality of holding an early election, maintaining its right to hold the full term of its elected offices. Hamas characterized it as an attempted Fatah coup by Abbas, using undemocratic means to overthrow the results of a democratically elected government. Fatah leaders called for the dismissal of the Hamas-led government and the establishment of an emergency cabinet. One Fatah operative said that Abbas had been threatening to call early elections for the past five months and that "more threats are not going to work". The announcement of elections provoked high tensions and gun battles between Hamas and Fatah supporters. Abbas strongly denied allegations that members of Fatah and the Force 17 "Presidential Guard" were behind the assassination attempt on Ismail Haniyeh, and he criticized the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
On 17 December, pro-Fatah gunmen attacked Hamas' Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar. Pro-Hamas militiamen retaliated with shots at the home of President Abbas, wounding five guards. A member of Fatah's Force 17 was killed, together with a passing woman. At the end of the day, Fatah and Hamas agreed on a ceasefire, though gunfire continued outside Mohammed Dahlan's house.
Intense factional fighting continued throughout December 2006 and January 2007 in the Gaza Strip. After a month of fighting, which left 33 people dead, President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to incorporate the Hamas-led Executive Force into the security apparatus loyal to the president. Hamas rejected Abbas' order, and instead announced plans to double the size of its force. On 6 January 2007, Abbas outlawed the Executive Force and ordered its disbandment. Fighting continued until a cease-fire was implemented on 30 January. The dueling announcements raised the prospect of an intensified armed standoff. Abbas's only means of enforcing the order appeared to be coercive action by police and security units under his command, which were relatively weak in the Gaza Strip, Hamas's stronghold.
February to April 2007
Fierce fighting took place after Hamas killed 6 people on 1 February in an ambush on a Gaza convoy which delivered equipment for Abbas' Palestinian Presidential Guard, according to diplomats, meant to counter smuggling of more powerful weapons into Gaza by Hamas for its fast-growing "Executive Force". According to Hamas, the deliveries to the Presidential Guard were intended to instigate sedition (against Hamas), while withholding money and assistance from the Palestinian people.
On 8 February 2007, the Saudi-brokered Fatah–Hamas Mecca Agreement produced an agreement on a Palestinian national unity government signed by Fatah and Hamas leaders. The agreement included measures to end the internecine violence. The unity government was formed on 17 March. However, it struggled to resolve the two most pressing issues: an economic crisis and a collapse of security in Gaza. Violent incidents continued through March and April 2007. More than 90 people were killed in this period.
In mid-May 2007, clashes erupted once again in the streets of Gaza. In less than 18 days, more than 50 Palestinians were killed. Leaders of both parties tried to stop the fighting by calling dozens of truces, but none of them held for longer than a few days.
June 2007: split of government
Throughout 10 and 15 June of fighting Hamas took control of the main north–south road and the coastal road. and removed Fatah officials. The ICRC estimated that at least 118 people were killed and more than 550 wounded during the fighting in the week up to June 15. Human Rights Watch accused both sides with violations of international humanitarian law. Including the targeting and killing of civilians, public executions of political opponents and captives, throwing prisoners off high-rise apartment buildings, fighting in hospitals, and shooting from a jeep marked with "TV" insignias. The International Committee of the Red Cross has denounced attacks in and around two hospitals in the northern part of the Gaza strip. The Israeli government closed all check-points on the borders of Gaza in response to the violence.
On 14 June, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the dissolution of the current unity government and the declaration of a state of emergency. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was dismissed, and Abbas began to rule Gaza and the West Bank by presidential decree. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by declaring that President Abbas's decision was "in practical terms ... worthless," asserting that Haniya "remains the head of the government even if it was dissolved by the president".
Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commented that under the 2003 Palestinian Constitution Abbas clearly had the right to declare a state of emergency and dismiss the prime minister but the state of emergency could continue only for 30 days. After that it would need to be approved by the (Hamas-dominated) Legislative Council. Neither Hamas nor Fatah had enough votes to form a new government under the constitution. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned Hamas' "decision to resolve the conflict militarily" but argued that "steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response to these events violate the Basic Law and undermine the Basic Law in a manner that is no less dangerous."
On 15 June, Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as prime minister and gave him the task of forming a new government. The international community smoothly recognized the government. Within days, the US recognized Abbas' emergency government and ended a 15-month economic and political boycott of the Palestinian Authority in a bid to bolster President Abbas and the new Fatah-led government. The European Union similarly announced plans to resume direct aid to the Palestinians, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said it would release to Abbas Palestinian tax revenues that Israel had withheld since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Parliament.
West Bank clashes
The attacks of Hamas gunmen against Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip resulted in a reaction of Fatah gunmen against Hamas institutions in the West Bank. Although Hamas's numbers were greater in the Gaza Strip, Fatah forces were greater in the West Bank.
The West Bank had its first casualty when the bullet-riddled body of a Hamas militant was found in Nablus, sparking the fear that Fatah would use its advantage in the West Bank for retaliation against its members' deaths in the Gaza Strip. On the same day, Hamas also declared that it was in full control of Gaza, a claim denied by Abbas.
On 16 June, a Fatah-linked militant group, the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, stormed the Hamas-controlled parliament based in Ramallah in the West Bank. This act, including the ransack of the ministry of education, was seen as a reaction to similar looting occurring following Hamas' military success in Gaza.
On 20 June, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar declared that if Fatah continued to try to uproot Hamas in the West Bank, it could lead to Fatah's downfall there as well. He would not deny when asked that Hamas resistance against Fatah would take the form of attacks and suicide bombings similar to those that Hamas has used against Israel in the past.
October 2007 to January 2008: renewed clashes
On 17 October, clashes erupted in eastern Gaza between Hamas security forces and members of the powerful Heles clan (Fatah-affiliated), leaving up to two dead on both sides. Fatah and Hamas officials gave conflicting accounts of what caused the fighting but the dispute seems to have originated when Hamas officials demanded that the clan return a governmental car. Another gun battle on October 20 killed one member of the clan and a 13-year-old boy. During the same day, in Rafah, one woman was killed and eight people were injured when Hamas security members traded fire with Islamic Jihad activists. Two days later, 7 more Palestinians were killed in the internal fighting, including some Hamas militants and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant.
On 12 November, a large demonstration dedicated to the memory of late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was organized by Fatah in Gaza City. With over 200,000 participants, this was the largest Fatah demonstration in the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover. The demonstration was forcibly dispersed by Hamas gunmen, who fired into the crowd. At least six civilians were killed and over 80 people were injured, some from being trampled in the resulting stampede. The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad, whose members have clashed with Hamas several times, condemned the shootings.
On 1 January 2008, at least eight people died in factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.
2008 Sana'a declaration
On 23 March 2008, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement in Sana'a, Yemen that amounted to a reconciliation deal. It called for a return of the Gaza Strip to the pre-June 2007 situation, though this has not happened. On 8 November 2008, Palestinian reconciliation talks due to be held in Cairo were called off after Hamas announced a boycott in protest at the detention of hundreds of its members by president Mahmoud Abbas's security forces.
2009 political violence
The 2009 Hamas political violence took place in the Gaza Strip during and after the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict. A series of violent acts, ranging from physical assaults, torture, and executions of Palestinians, suspected of collaboration with the Israel Defense Forces, as well as members of the Fatah political party, occurred. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 32 people were killed by these attacks: 18 during the conflict and 14 afterward, and several dozen more were maimed, many by shots to the legs.
On 31 May 2009, six people were killed as Palestinian Authority and Hamas forces clashed in Qalqilya. Ethan Bronner described the fighting as an indication "that the Palestinian unity needed for creation of a state is far off."
2010 to present: tensions and reconciliation attempts
During the Arab Spring
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and the deposal of Egyptian president Morsi in July 2013, tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached a new high. According to Barakat al-Farra, the PLO ambassador in Cairo, the Egyptian US-backed el-Sisi regime, which annually receives some $1.5 billion military aid from the US, will keep the Rafah border crossing closed, until forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have regained control. A Hamas official accused the PA leadership of playing a major role in enforcing the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In the midst of negotiations to resolve the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, the Shin Bet revealed an alleged plot by Hamas to depose Fatah in the West Bank. This would be achieved by deploying Hamas cells around the West Bank to incite a third intifada and overwhelm Palestinian Authority forces. More than 90 people were arrested. President Abbas said the plot was "a grave threat to the unity of the Palestinian people and its future."
2021 elections failure
The 2021 Palestinian legislative election for the Palestinian Legislative Council, originally scheduled for 22 May 2021, according to a decree by President Mahmoud Abbas on 15 January 2021, was indefinitely postponed on 29 April 2021. Announcing the postponement on Palestinian TV, Abbas said "Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed." Hamas has rejected the idea of postponing elections and refused to attend the meeting amid speculation that Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party will seek to delay or cancel them. Hamas said voting in East Jerusalem does not need Israeli permission.
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"First, the PLC can overturn any action taken (presumably by a simple majority, though...Hamas may have difficulties mustering votes with so many deputies in jail). Second, any extension of the state of emergency beyond thirty days requires PLC approval—and this time it is Abu Mazin who would have trouble mustering the votes, since he would need 2/3 of all PLC members."
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