The second civil war in the Middle East after Iraq burst into full flame Thursday night, December 15, over Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya‘s return to Gaza from a two-week absence. His convoy was fired on by gunmen of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential guard Force 17, injuring Haniya’s son and killing one of his bodyguards.
From this point, the violent Hamas-Fatah feud sputtering for some months is expected to flare up in earnest.
As the Palestinian prime minister approached the Rafah crossing between Egyptian Sinai and Gaza, Israel refused permission for him to enter bringing with him suitcases crammed with $31 million out of the quarter of a million dollars Iran donated to the Hamas war-chest. Three hundred Hamas gunmen then opened heavy fire on the Rafah terminal, destroying the building and putting the European monitors to flight. Egyptian border units shot back, killing at least 3 Hamas gunmen.
On the West Bank, 16 separate firefights between warring Fatah and Hamas adherents left some 40 wounded on both sides. The two factions announced the full mobilization of their armed strength for Saturday, Dec. 16. Palestinians missiles meanwhile exploded in the Israeli town of Sderot and Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in an initial evaluation, report that in the Rafah confrontation, Hamas proved capable of deploying an organized force rapidly and effectively. Abbas’ Fatah-affiliated Force 17, assigned with guarding the president and the Rafah crossing, did not last 5 minutes under the Hamas onslaught before turning tail.
According to our military sources, Israel has rushed reinforcements to the fortified complex hidden behind the Rafah terminal, from which an Israeli unit keeps an eye on the traffic passing through the crossing. Neither Israel nor Egypt on either side of the Gaza border are ready or arrayed for a full-blown Palestinian fratricidal conflict.
Both warring factions, Fatah and Hamas alike, consider the Israeli civilian population hostages to their feud. Their normal practice is to integrate terrorist attacks on Israel into their factional combat. The IDF’s primary task in this conflict will be to contain the fighting within Palestinian territory and prevent it spilling over from Gaza and the West Bank into Israel. It is feared in Cairo, Amman and Jerusalem that a Palestinian civil war will soon spread to the communities in Jordan and northern Sinai.