Can the West Stop a Civil War Between Palestinian Parties?

Many Palestinians believe they are rapidly descending into civil war. The latest round of fierce fighting between the parties of Hamas and Fatah, who together form the Palestinian government, escalated Monday, with Hamas militants killing a senior Fatah security official. Since then the situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated in an unprecedented manner.

Tuesday was the bloodiest day, according to reports, with at least 26 Palestinians killed in the factional fighting. Also Tuesday Hamas militants seized several security apparatuses that were earlier under the control of Fatah, the former ruling party.

The systematic seizure of the Gazan security positions, initiated by Hamas militants since Monday, seems significant for the party, which is believed to be seeking sole control of the symbols of sovereignty in this embattled and impoverished city.

Many Palestinians, including the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described the brutality of the factional fighting as "madness." Abbas told reporters Wednesday: "What is happening is madness, the situation in Gaza will collapse if there is no cease-fire."

Wednesday, 16 Palestinians were killed in various shooting attacks between the two sides bringing the death toll to at least 62 since Monday.

Fatah has threatened to freeze its participation in the unity government it formed with Hamas roughly two months ago if the fighting doesn't cease. Fatah party members and Palestinian political figures close to Abbas, also the chairman of Fatah party, have vowed in the last few days that Hamas' militants are plotting a coup against what they've called the Palestinian legitimacy.

Since Hamas won the election in January 2006, fighting between the two parties has erupted periodically. In the recent months, cease-fires between Hamas and Fatah were declared and broken almost immediately.

Many Palestinians today fear that the fierce battles between the two rival parties and the mutual brutal killings will diminish the options of creating a viable Palestinian state. More and more Palestinian commentators and political analysts here say that the infighting between Fatah and Hamas is over an authority that does not exist in reality. They claim that there is no real authority over territories that are under Israeli occupation. Therefore, they say that the solution for the current situation is the dissolution of the Palestinian authority.

Fadel Abu Hein, a clinical psychiatrist at the Gaza Community Center and Crisis Management told ABC News that the violence in the streets has been spilling over into the schools. Students, he said, are becoming more and more violent as they bring their tensions and inner anxieties to their schools. He also said that the total chaos and anarchy in Gaza will eventually create a culture of violence and lawlessness among youngsters. He claims that the current collapse of social norms will lead to a lack of respect for law and order.

Israel has monitored he internal fighting in Gaza very closely. Worried about a situation in which Gaza falls in the hands of Hamas, it is considering the deployment of international force along the Palestinian-Egyptian borders. Such deployment will serve to prevent the smuggling of arms from Egypt to Gaza.

With the rapidly increasing chaos in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters Wednesday, "Western countries need to act soon to alter the situation in the Gaza Strip."

He also warned that there will be regional implications if Gaza falls into the hands of Hamas.

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