TOPICS > Politics

Hamas, Fatah Jockey for Control After Gaza Clashes

June 15, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Wilson, thank you for being with us. What is the situation right now in Gaza?

SCOTT WILSON, The Washington Post: It’s calm now, after five very fierce days of fighting there. Hamas has taken control of the entire Gaza Strip. What that means, practically speaking, is that it’s taken over control of the Fatah-controlled security posts.

And, today, there was even celebrations in the streets of Hamas’ victory. People came out of their houses for the first time to buy food in several days, and just a general feeling of relief that the violence of the past few days is over. And so it’s much calmer than it’s been all week.

Two Palestinian governments

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this a sense that this is permanent, that Hamas is now in charge in the Gaza Strip, and that Fatah is now confined to the West Bank?

SCOTT WILSON: Well, it is increasingly looking like that, although it's difficult to say what the next couple of days and weeks will hold. Today, basically what happened is that two separate Palestinian governments started operating: one in Gaza, and one in the West Bank.

President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah in the West Bank appointed a new prime minister, an independent lawmaker named Salam Fayyad, who the Americans like very much. And meanwhile in Gaza, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who Abbas fired the day before, said that he did not recognize the order dissolving the government and went about official business as if nothing had happened.

So you are seeing a big political separation between the two places. And how these two parties are going to get together and talk about the future of the Palestinian Authority, possibly with some kind of an international mediation, will likely result over the next few days or weeks. And that's the only way that these two sides will come together again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right now, you're saying there's no real, meaningful diplomatic effort underway?

SCOTT WILSON: No, there really isn't. Abbas has sent some of his top aides to Saudi Arabia to feel out the royal family there, which was very instrumental in brokering a truce between these two sides and the unity government that Abbas has dissolved two days ago, back in March.

The Saudis have a lot invested in this process. They'd like to see Hamas and Fatah get together again. But at this point, the Palestinians earlier, you know, woke up this morning to a whole new reality, a major territorial and political division between the West Bank and Gaza. And right now, they're looking to each other and trying to figure out the next couple of steps to take.

Israel's reaction

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how is Israel reacting to all this, Scott?

SCOTT WILSON: Israel is very concerned about it, for both practical and political reasons. Practically speaking, you have Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip at the moment, and what that means for Israel in particular is that the border with Egypt, which they've been concerned about for a long time, is now in Hamas' hands.

That's a smuggling route. They've warned for a long time that Hamas has been bringing guns, explosives, other things across that border that Israel patrolled itself until it left the Gaza Strip back in 2005. So they're very worried on that level.

They're also worried politically, because, once again, they're looking at who they might be able to talk to in the future about the shape of a future Palestinian state, resolving the major issues that might lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And they're seeing that farther away than ever, with Hamas in charge of one territorial entity in Gaza, and Fatah in charge of another in the West Bank. It's fracturing, and it's just more complicated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How closely do you sense the United States, the Bush administration, is working with President Abbas and Fatah?

SCOTT WILSON: Well, very much rhetorically at the moment. They've supported them wholeheartedly in Abbas' position today. They've supported them today in dissolving the government. But they've also had an effect, over this past week of fighting, which has been different than the other periods of fighting over the past 18 months, in that it's taken on a very anti-American tone.

The Americans are sending $40 million in aid to Abbas' forces. That's arriving now. And you saw in a lot of statements issued by Hamas' militia this week that they were fighting an American-backed army. And so I think that led to a lot of the intensity of the fighting over this week, the brutality of it. You saw people getting thrown off the tops of buildings, assassinations, executions. And a lot of that, I think, heat was derived from the fact that Hamas really felt that it was fighting an army backed by the United States.

Averting a humanitarian crisis

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Scott, what about the Palestinian people themselves? There are, what, two -- how many millions of Palestinians living in Gaza right now, in the midst of this completely changed situation?

SCOTT WILSON: Yes, it really is the most pressing question. And it's about 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza, many of them refugees. And a lot of the refugee -- the U.N. Refugee Agency suspended most of its work earlier this week because two of its Palestinian employees were killed in this fighting. They are now completely sealed off, because Israel had closed the borders with Gaza out of security concerns.

And many human rights groups and humanitarian relief organizations have warned this week that, unless those crossings open soon, there will be a crisis. And so what they're struggling with now is not only Hamas in charge, but how is the international community going to treat them in the coming months with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, in charge of them? How are they going to receive any kind of help, assistance, from Israel and beyond, which they need to survive?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Wilson with the Washington Post, thank you very much.

SCOTT WILSON: Thank you.