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Palestinian Civil War

2007

Formation of a Unity Government

After months of intermittent talks, on 8 February 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a national unity government aimed at ending both the spasm of violence and the international aid embargo that followed the formation of the initial Hamas-led government. The accord was signed by PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khalid Mish'al in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after two days of talks under the auspices of Saudi King Abdullah.

Under the agreement, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remained Prime Minister. In the new government, Hamas controlled 9 ministries and Fatah 6, with independents and smaller parties heading the remainder. Among the independents were Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, a reformer and ally of President Mahmud Abbas.

The new government's platform called for the establishment of a Palestinian state "on all the lands that were occupied in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital," and at the same time affirmed the Palestinians' right to "resistance in all its forms" and to "defend themselves against any ongoing Israeli aggression." The new government commited to "respect" previous agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) but failed to explicitly renounce violence or recognize Israel. The government platform stated that any peace agreement reached would be submitted for approval to either the Palestine National Council (the PLO legislature) or directly to the Palestinian people in a referendum.

Outbreak of Violence - The "Two State Solution"

Tensions between the rival Palestinian factions continued to escalate, however, as each side jockeyed for position during an ensuing power struggle. Each side bickered about the appointment of officials, particularly the Minister of the Interior, who would have control of the Palestinian security forces. By the beginning of May 2007, the sanctions against the PA had still not been lifted and each side continued to blame the other for the region's problems. Hamas grew frustrated after they unsuccessful attempted to integrate their security forces into the overall Palestinian police force, which was dominated by Fatah. The situation intensified when President Abbas deployed Fatah's police force of 3,000 men throughout the streets as a security measure, but failed to notify or coordinate the action with the leaders of Hamas. The armed combatants of Hamas retaliated by attacking the Fatah-led security forces. What resulted was a wave of violence that gripped the region throughout the month as each side launched a wave of kidnappings and attacks against opposing officials and leaders.

A series of cease fires could not stem the violence, and by June 2007 turmoil had overtaken the region. Abbas and Haniyeh both survived assassination attempts. The streets became the scenes of gruesome public executions and local government officials were forced to shut down businesses, schools, and public offices. Hamas militants laid siege to Fatah strongholds across the Gaza Strip and blew up the headquarters of Fatah's Preventative Security Forces in Khan Yunis. Fatah struck back by exerting its power and influence in the West Bank against Hamas positions. By the middle of June 2007, the 2 territories more or less represented the division between the two factions.

As the situation worsened President Abbas sacked Prime Minister Haniyeh and dissolved the government on 14 June 2007. He then declared a state of emergency and swore in a new cabinet on 17 June 2007. The new government, free of any attachments to Hamas, was to be led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Ismail Haniyeh said he would ignore Abbas's decree and continue to operate as if his government was still in place. However, the international community threw its support behind Abbas. In addition to receiving the backing of the Arab League and the European Union, both Israel and the United States announced that they were prepared to lift the financial and economic sanctions against the PA that had been in place for over a year. The Israeli Cabinet agreed to transfer about $700 million previously held on frozen PA accounts in the country to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his standoff with Islamist militants on 24 June 2007. Support was also promised to Mr. Abbas by the United Sates.

On 12 November 2007, Hamas security forces arrested hundreds of rival Fatah members in the Gaza strip after a mass rally that was held. More than 200,000 people attended the Fatah rally that marked the third anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader and Fatah founder Yasser Arafat. Fatah accused Hamas of firing upon the crowd, in which they killed 7 people and wounded about 100 others. The rally was the strongest show of protest since Hamas took over Gaza June 2007. Three days later on 15 November 2007, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the overthrow of Hamas. Mr. Abbas said Palestinians were suffering under Hamas rule in Gaza, and the group should be removed, by force if necessary. It was the first time the Palestinian president directly called for the overthrow of Hamas. Previously Abbas had said only that Hamas should apologize for its rebellion against his Fatah forces.




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