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No Clear Winner Emerging From Hamas-Fatah Fighting January 28, 2007

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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GAZA CITY (AP)–No clear winner has emerged from the latest round of deadly Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza, a sign that neither is strong enough to knock the other out.

The bitter rivals have been buying and smuggling weapons for months to try to get an edge – sharply driving up prices for rifles and bullets -but for now are avoiding all-out battle because of the stalemate.

The combatants are also holding back because of lingering hopes that a power-sharing deal between the Islamic militant Hamas and the Fatah movement of moderate President Mahmoud Abbas is still possible.

Bursts of violence have alternated with periods of tense calm since factional fighting erupted in December, following the collapse of Hamas-Fatah coalition talks and Abbas’ threat to call early elections.

Experts said they expect this pattern to continue as long as neither side has the upper hand. “They are equal parties,” analyst Nasser Al Lahham said. “No one can cancel the other out.”

In the latest round, which began Thursday, 25 Palestinians, including two children, were killed in street battles. The fighting – with mortars, grenades, bombs and assault rifles -often erupted spontaneously, without clear objectives or central command, would last for a few hours, and then suddenly fizzle.

Sunday, an explosion rocked the Gaza City home of a bodyguard to Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, but the guard was not in the building and no casualties were reported. Later in the day, shops reopened and frightened residents emerged from their homes during an apparent lull.

Hotspots in Gaza’s “war of attrition” include the headquarters of Abbas’ security forces, Hamas-run mosques and the homes and offices of leaders from both sides, fortified by bodyguards with concrete barriers and piles of sandbags. Traffic jams are getting worse each day in Gaza City’s already crowded streets because more and more roads are being closed off to motorists by the rival security forces.

Neither side is using all of its firepower, both to give coalition talks another chance and because it’s not clear who would be left standing after an all-out confrontation, said Mouin Rabbani, a Jordan-based analyst from the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank.

But both are preparing for the big battle. The arms race began in earnest after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005 and intensified after Hamas’ victory in parliament elections a year ago.

Rifles, missiles, ammunition and explosives have been pouring into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt, reaching both Hamas and Fatah, according to security officials and weapons dealers.

In a climate of increasing lawlessness, Gaza clans also have stocked up on weapons, according to two weapons dealers in the southern Gaza border town of Rafah.

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