RAMALLAH - The telephone in the senior Fatah official's office in Ramallah began ringing incessantly shortly after 1 P.M. Thursday. His people in Gaza wanted advice on what to do. Hamas gunmen were surrounding their headquarters, the gunfights were growing fiercer. Should they surrender to Hamas, they asked, or continue fighting to the death?
The senior official replied cautiously. "You're in charge," he said. "Do what you think is best."
At one point, the Gazan commander wanted to talk to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and ask his permission to surrender, since they had run out of munitions. But Abbas was busy meeting with the PLO leadership in Ramallah.
A few minutes later, another phone call came from Gaza. This time, the official realized it was over. "If you give in, don't let them take the weapons. Put all rockets and guns in the basement. Burn all the floors and then the basement and cars. When you surrender, don't agree to undress," he ordered his Gazan subordinate.
When his dead and wounded exceeded his remaining fighters, the Gazan commander surrendered.
The fate of Fatah's other headquarters in the Strip was similar. At noon, Hamas conquered Gaza's Preventive Security headquarters, which symbolized Fatah's corruption. But the Hamas group that took it over is already making Gazans miss the days of the corrupt PA, and even the Israeli occupation.
"They're using the same methods as the Israelis, and even worse," a senior Palestinian source said. "They declare an area a closed military zone and shoot anyone who goes out into the street. Hamasniks strip Fatah men they capture, humiliate and beat them. They go from door to door with lists to hunt down Fatah people and execute them."
Fatah's military defeat was mainly caused by the split in the organization, he said: "All the forces are identified with Fatah, but each force fought independently against Hamas, which was united and better trained."
Fatah officials in the West Bank spoke with contempt about Hamas in Gaza. "Let's see how they manage now, after they've won, running things like water and power from Israel," one official said. "How will they cooperate with Israel over the border crossings?"
On Thursday evening, PA Secretary Tayeb Abed al-Rahim announced to the media that Ismail Haniyeh's government had been fired and Abbas had declared an emergency situation. Abbas's associates said that Fatah would arrest Hamas operatives in the West Bank and treat them as an illegal militia.
Israel helped behind the scenes, approving Fatah's requests to move forces and weapons in the West Bank. But the Israel Defense Forces also continued its raids and arrests in the West Bank. This reflects Israel's confusion over events.
The defense establishment is cautious, reluctant to take part in the internal Palestinian war. But it is difficult to know how long this policy will last. Israel will not be able to keep the Gaza crossings closed forever.
Ramallah residents Thursday dismissed the possibility of Hamas taking over the West Bank. In Gaza, "there are tribes and clans like in the Jahiliyyah [pre-Islam] era," said one, Qassem. "Here, in the West Bank, we're more civilized, educated. It's a different nation, not like in Gaza."
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