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West Bank Wary as Gaza Fighting Rages

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Responding to the fighting there, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today declared a state of emergency. He also dismantled the unity government between Hamas and his Fatah movement. A senior aide says Abbas will soon call for the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force in Gaza.

And as NPR's Linda Gradstein reports, many Palestinians fear the fighting in Gaza could spread to the West Bank.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: While Hamas may have taken over Gaza, in the West Bank, the Islamist movement is on the run. In Nablus today, Fatah gunmen stormed a Hamas office. In Jenin, Fatah officials said all Hamas members had either been arrested or gone underground. In Ramallah, several Hamas members were kidnapped from a downtown office building by Fatah forces.

Shortly before declaring a state of emergency today, Palestinian leader Abbas ordered his security forces to respond to Hamas attacks in Gaza. But both orders appeared to come too late with Hamas forces now in almost total control of Gaza. Samir Hulelah(ph), a former aide to the Palestinian leader, says Abbas has failed to provide leadership. He says Abbas must confront the Hamas onslaught in Gaza.

Mr. SAMIR HULELAH (Former Aide to Mahmoud Abbas): This is a very serious coup against (unintelligible) and this cannot be faced with some talks and words. What you're seeing is - on the ground. They are trying to create new realities based on a coup kind of position and not democratic position.

GRADSTEIN: Yesterday, Fatah loyalists here in Ramallah marched through the streets calling on Abbas to do more. Where are you, Abbas, they chanted. One of the organizers of the demonstration was Naser Jumah(ph), a member of the Palestinian parliament and a founder of a militant offshoot of Fatah, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. Sitting in a Ramallah coffee shop, he said Abbas has been ineffective. But, at the same time, he said, he does not believe the factional fighting in Gaza will escalate in the West Bank because Fatah is in control here.

Mr. NASER JUMAH (Founder, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade): (Through translator) Yes, I can say that it is a stronger Fatah in the West Bank, and in the control physically and, well, in the control of weapons and arms.

GRADSTEIN: Jumah says Israel bears part of the blame for the Hamas victory in Gaza because Israeli forces destroyed much of the Fatah infrastructure in the territory during the years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. He called on Israel to allow more weapons into the West Bank to help Fatah. Israeli officials say they fear any weapons allowed in will eventually end up in the hands of Hamas. In Ramallah, residents are glued to broadcast reports from Gaza on the Arab satellite channel, Al Jazeera. The mood here is grim. Faten Burbar(ph) works in a Palestinian authority office.

Ms. FATEN BURBAR (Resident, Ramallah): (Through translator) What's going on in Gaza is scaring me because it might move over here to West Bank.

GRADSTEIN: Abu George(ph), a jewelry store owner, who refused to give his last name, said he never imagined the factional fighting would get this bad.

Mr. ABU GEORGE (Resident, Ramallah): (Through translator) It's a big disaster for the Palestinian people because they are brothers, and now they are fighting and this is like a big mistake happened in the history of Palestinians.

GRADSTEIN: With Hamas in control of Gaza, and Fatah still holding the West Bank, many here say the idea of a Palestinian state in the two territories has become virtually impossible. Riad Malki is the director of a Palestinian think tank.

Mr. RIAD MALKI (Director, Panorama): It means disaster. It means total collapse of all their achievements over the last decades. It means that, you know, they are losing their future. It means that the national Palestinian project has been aborted.

GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.
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