Hamas and PLO battle for power in Gaza

Outside al-Sadiq mosque in Gaza City yesterday Kahlid el-Bach said he was starting, once again, to feel afraid. Three weeks after Israel pulled back its forces, the worshippers around him were talking of new oppression. 'The people are nervous. They think it's just the beginning,' said Mr Bach. The cause of the fear is a new order, issued in the name of a senior Palestinian police commander, banning political activity and the distribution of leaflets in all mosques in the south-east of Gaza.

The order is the first salvo in a battle for control of Gaza's mosques, the nerve-centres of political, social and religious power for Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. The order is likely to have been directly approved by Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO. Evolution of Palestinian self-rule will be dominated by a power struggle between the PLO and Hamas, the main opposition grouping. It is now clear that this struggle is under way.

Hamas leaders say Mr Arafat also intends to send his own religious leaders from Egypt to take control of the mosques and to oust the Hamas imams. There is no evidence of this but such reports are raising doubts. 'Now the Israelis have gone, the people do not want conflict with our own police. But we are worried,' said Mr Bach.

Nobody expected the honeymoon with the Palestinian police in Gaza and Jericho to last. Hamas leaders knew Mr Arafat would use the police sooner or later to outmanoeuvre them. The movement is ready with its response. As a first step, Hamas leaders are proposing launching a political party for the first time since the movement was founded.

Since the Gaza-Jericho agreement became a fait accompli, the leadership has undergone a fundamental rethink of its strategy. Hamas has always aimed to establish an Islamic state in the whole of Palestine, including Israel proper, and this has not changed. However, the leadership is shifting its emphasis from the 'struggle' and talking instead of 'engaging' with Mr Arafat when he returns later this month to claim his autonomy prize.

The political party would not replace the religious, social or military structures of the movement. Rather, say the Hamas leaders, the political arm would allow the movement to become part of a broader opposition to the new Palestinian authority. While Hamas still insists its members would not stand in elections, its strategy is evolving so fast that this cannot be ruled out.

Hamas is ready to challenge the democratic and human-rights credentials of Mr Arafat. Leaders are already issuing warnings in Gaza that he will bring 'Algerian-style' democracy with him to Palestine. 'Maybe the new authority will implement the kind of democracy we have seen in Algeria and other Arab countries,' said Mussa abu Eta, another Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

Hamas is also looking to exploit the weakness of Mr Arafat's new administration to win support for its own social networks, which it is planning to expand with new orphanages, a hall for 'Islamic weddings and celebrations', new summer camps and Koran schools.

While insisting that military resistance against the Palestinian authority is out of the question, provocation may yet test this resolve. The mosques clamp-down is not the only sign in Gaza that Palestinian police are beginning to take off their gloves. Yesterday the Palestinian police took their second political prisoner.

The head of the Palestinian police, General Naser Yusef, has also clamped down on Hamas punishment of collaborators, and repeatedly threatened to disarm some of the militants. All these moves, say Hamas leaders, are 'red lines' which the Palestinian police must not cross.

JERICHO - Palestinians freed by Israel yesterday were stranded at the entrance to this self-rule zone by a dispute between Israel and PLO officials over terms of their peace deal, Reuter reports.

Palestinians said PLO police stopped busloads of prisoners in protest at Israel's insistence that they be confined to the self-rule zone rather than released to their homes elsewhere in the West Bank.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence