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2 Feb, 2009 21:02

Caught in the conflict: innocent suffer from Hamas-Fatah rivalry

Hamas has been seizing supporters of the moderate Fatah party, sometimes torturing and killing them, in an effort to reassert its grip on political power after Israel's attack on Gaza.

There are many Fatah fighters in Gaza, but very few of them are brave enough to talk on camera. Hamas is back in control and putting pressure on rival Fatah supporters to switch their allegiance.

Mohammed Abu Loly has been a Fatah fighter for most of his life. He says he has nothing to lose by talking on camera, as many of his close friends were shot dead by Hamas gunmen.

“Our brothers in the Hamas movement have taken all our weapons and told us we can’t leave our homes after 9 pm. When the war started with Israel, we bought weapons with our own money to fight Israel but now Hamas has taken them from us as well,” says Mohammed.

Outside Mohammed’s home there are still a few posters of his friend Saher that haven’t yet been torn down. Saher was also a Fatah fighter. He was shot dead by Hamas last month for participating in a Fatah funeral.

“If the Israelis had killed Saher it would be better for us, because Israel is our enemy. But when someone of the same nationality kills one of us, how do you make sense of it?” sighs Saher’s relative Tarik Alselawy.

Fatah leaders in Gaza have all gone underground, including Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas. He hasn’t been in Gaza for two-and-a-half years and during the recent war with Israel he never criticised Hamas openly, leaving many of his supporters feeling abandoned and betrayed.

The most vulnerable victims of this political power game are four children in Gaza’s El-Shifa hospital. They are all in desperate need of specialist care that is not available in Gaza, but while the Hamas government has given the go-ahead for them to be airlifted to France, where doctors are waiting, the Fatah government in Ramallah is refusing to let them leave. It says Hamas is using these children to get international sympathy for the people of Gaza.

“The transfer of these children to France is not an exploitation of their cases. It is not being used for political means, it is not being used to bolster the ministry of health in Gaza or the Ministry of Health in Ramallah,” says Caoimhe Butterly of the Free Gaza movement.

Amira Al Qerem is one of these four children, and if she doesn’t get to France soon doctors say she’ll never be able to walk again. She saw her father, sister and brother killed in front of her. She recalls her horrifying story:

“I kept saying ‘please daddy wake up, please daddy wake up’. He never heard me. I ran into the house and went to sleep. The next day I woke up and went into the street, but couldn’t find anyone to help me.”

Two days later a neighbour found Amira dehydrated and traumatised. Now doctors in France may be able to give her a second lease on life, away from political games being played with their lives in Gaza.

Unsteady peace

Meanwhile, the ceasefire agreed to two weeks ago is barely holding between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli soldiers shot a motorist near the Palestinian city of Hebron on Monday. Israeli media reports said the motorist was killed after attacking soldiers in protest against Israel's offensive on Gaza.

However, relatives of the man said he was not connected to militants.

In a separate incident in southern Gaza, an Israeli air strike killed a suspected militant in a car.

Despite the truce, violence has been rising in recent days.