Tension has been escalating in the Palestinian territories, after clashes broke out overnight between rival security forces in Gaza. A new force set up this week by the Hamas government exchanged fire with gunmen loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.
The fighting, which left two rival gunmen and two police wounded, has raised fears of civil war. Washington’s described the situation as “very dangerous”. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is refusing to back down and has defended Hamas’ deployment of the 3,000-strong force. He denies claims it’s illegal and says it will not be disbanded.
It’s the latest salvo in a deepening power struggle between Haniyeh, who swept to power after elections in January, and Mahmoud Abbas. The president sent a Fatah-loyal police unit onto the streets of Gaza in response to the Hamas deployment. Meanwhile tensions are being exacerbated by a financial crisis which started when Hamas took control.
In an attempt to force the Islamist government to change its policies towards Israel, the West has cut off virtually all aid to the Palestinians.