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28 Jul, 2007 07:49

Fatah’s hold on West Bank still uncertain

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is due in Moscow on Sunday for talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr Abbas’ position at home is far from secure after Hamas took over Gaza a few weeks ago, and their control over the West Bank seems weak.

Tulkaram is a small city in the West Bank. The first thing you see when you arrive is a burnt out carpet shop. Five days ago it was a successful business, but today it’s in ruins because its owner was a Hamas supporter. The fire burnt its way through every centimetre of merchandise, and no firemen came to put out the flames. The Fatah leadership is sending a strong message: this is what the future holds for Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

The city is home to 80 000 Palestinians. They have a reputation for being the toughest fighters against Israel, but today their frontline is inside the city.

The guns and uniforms on the street belong to Fatah men. They decide who is, and who is not, allowed to speak to journalists.

For Hamas supporters the life in the West Bank is difficult. Many have gone underground. It’s risky for them to give an interview, since the punishment could be days in prison.

Mustafa Odhi, a Hamas activist, has just been released from prison, but he says he's prepared to speak for the camera, even though that might mean a swift return to jail.

“I gave this interview because I want to show people what is happening in Palestine. The Fatah are treating people more cruelly than the Israelis. I was not tortured by them in prison but I saw other people having cigarettes burnt onto their skin. It is possible I will be investigated again after this interview but this is the truth and I am not afraid,” he says.

Nobody says exactly how many Fatah and Hamas supporters there are in the West Bank.

After sunset, both sides take a respite from fighting. The real lords of the nightlife come out to play – the Israeli Special Forces. With checkpoints and pinpoint operations they protect their interests by stopping suicide bombers from coming to their borders. And just as importantly they help Fatah maintain its hold on power. Off the record many Palestinians tell if it wasn’t for the Israelis, Hamas would’ve been in power in the West Bank a long time ago.