The Bloody Hamas-Fatah Power Struggle That Threatens to Return Following Gaza Assassination Attempt

June 2007: Fighting between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza escalates into a systematic and bloody assault by Hamas on Fatah headquarters

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Hamas police chief Tayseer al-Batish inspects the site of an explosion that targeted the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018
Hamas police chief Tayseer al-Batish inspects the site of an explosion that targeted the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018Credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

An explosion damaged and wounded members of a convoy carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, while he was visiting the Gaza Strip Tuesday morning. The Palestinian Authority immediately blamed Hamas for the explosion, which it said targeted Hamdallah's convoy. The assassination attempt of Hamdallah threatens to end the October 2017 reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fatah and to reignite the deadly violence that plagued the two factions for much of the past decade.

Following are highlights leading up to and consolidating the power struggle:

January 2005: Abbas wins presidential elections, held some two months after the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

January 2006: Separate parliamentary elections see the radical Islamist Hamas unexpectedly beating Abbas' secular, mainstream Fatah, ending years of traditional Fatah domination over Palestinian politics.

Hamas wins mainly on an anti-corruption ticket, but its political platform conflicts with that of Abbas, chosen on a pro-peace program calling for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.

March 2006: Hamas forms government headed by Ismail Haniya. Fatah refuses calls to join. International community boycotts the government over its refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept past interim peace agreements.

June 2007: Fighting between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza escalates into a systematic and bloody assault by Hamas on Fatah headquarters throughout the strip of Fatah-dominated security forces answering to Abbas. Abbas loses control of Gaza and responds by sacking Haniya, who ignores the dismissal. Abbas appoints Fayyad, an independent and internationally respected economist, to head an emergency government based in Ramallah. The result is a de-facto split between Gaza and the West Bank.

Wikileaks later revealed that Fatah asked for Israel's help in both fleeing Hamas and retaliating against Hamas during the coup.

January 2009: Abbas' term as president ends, but he vows to stay in power until parliamentary and presidential elections can be held simultaneously as per Palestinian law. His supporters argue the presidential elections in which he was chosen were held early due to Arafat's death. Critics, not least Hamas, deny Abbas' legitimacy.

February 2009: The severing of contacts is all but complete. Egypt pushes the parties to hold reconciliation talks, the first round of which starts in February. The aim is to create a unity government that would pave the way for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections before the term of term of the current Hamas-dominated parliament in January 2010.

March 2009: Fayyad resigns, hoping this will add pressure to the unity talks, but the stalemate remains.

May 2009: A fifth round of talks in Cairo ends without a breakthrough. A new round is set for July.

Abbas appoints Fayyad at the head of a broader government, believing he cannot hold on without a functioning cabinet until then. About half the seats are given to Fatah, but its parliamentary bloc, angry that not one of its own but rather Fayyad was chosen as prime minister, calls for a boycott.

Reconciliation deal

In previous deals, including one brokered by Egypt in 2011, both sides professed willingness to reconcile, but ultimately balked at giving up power in their respective territories.

They agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but Hamas’s shadow government has effectively continued ruling Gaza since.

But conditions have changed in recent years. Hamas has been weakened by years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, international isolation and three devastating wars with Israel. Gaza today is mired in poverty, with unemployment approaching 50 percent and receiving just a few hours of electricity each day.

Abbas has also stepped up the pressure, saying he will no longer pay for electricity shipments to Gaza and cutting the salaries of tens of thousands of former civil servants and policemen who have sat idle since the Hamas takeover.

With the election of a new leader, Yehiyeh Sinwar, early this year and Egypt offering to ease its blockade, which has largely shuttered the border crossing that serves as Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world, Hamas now appeared ready to deal.

On October 12, 2017, Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reached a reconciliation agreement, which was announced by Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented that the deal constituted "a declaration of the end to division and a return to national Palestinian unity."

The agreement, which followed two days of intensive negotiations at the headquarters of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo, focused on the integration of Hamas officials into the Palestinian Authority's relevant ministries, the rebuilding of Gaza's police system, and the joint management of the strip's crossings.

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