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Power Split Isolates Residents in Palestinian Territories


The recent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants has left the Palestinian territories divided. Hamas now rules Gaza, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction controls the West Bank. Tensions are high across the Palestinian territories, as VOA's Jim Teeple found out when he visited the West Bank city of Nablus.

Kholood Masri warns visitors to be careful these days when they enter the al Juthour Cultural Center. The center, in the West Bank city of Nablus, was recently attacked and burned. About 150 women used to come to the center to learn computer skills and other trades but now they will have to go somewhere else.

Kholood Masri is the deputy mayor of Nablus and a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas. She says she is in shock. She is also angry. "This destruction is not only to resources but to human possibilities. The women working in this center were the breadwinners of their families. Their chances of putting food to their tables and houses are gone."

Nablus is at war. Almost five years ago Israeli troops entered the city to attack Palestinian militants. There was heavy fighting.

The fighting and tensions continue but now the war is largely between Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas.

Ever since Hamas defeated Fatah in the Gaza strip, Fatah has targeted West Bank Hamas militants and Hamas politicians, such as Kholood Masri, in West Bank cities where Fatah is stronger than Hamas.

Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group. But Palestinians give Kholood Masri and other Hamas politicians wide support for their social programs like the al Juthour Cultural Center. But now Kholood Masri says all she can think about is protecting herself and her family. "For sure there is danger on my life and my children's lives. They are always telling me we have prepared something for you. All these are messages that carry in them dangerous threats."

Nablus is the most populous city in the West Bank In the city center Palestinian gunmen allied with Fatah are the law. But Israel controls access into and out of the city, and Nablus residents need Israeli permission to come and go. The city is full of tension, with Israeli checkpoints trapping Nablus residents, and gunmen ruling the city center.

The gunmen of Fatah's armed wing are the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade. Hunted by Israel for carrying out terrorist attacks, Martyrs Brigade gunmen now hunt Hamas in West Bank cities.

Fayez Tirawi is a leader of the al-Aksa Martyrs brigade in Nablus. He and his men provide security on the streets. He works out of his brother's office -- an al-Aksa leader recently arrested by Israel. Tirawi says his men are angry at how Hamas defeated Fatah in Gaza, and now he wants to destroy Hamas in Nablus.

Tirawi will not say if he was behind the attack on Kholood Masri's center, but he says he and his men are disrupting Hamas institutions. He says the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade will eradicate Hamas from Nablus.

Just a short distance away in downtown Nablus there are few signs of the tensions between Fatah and Hamas, but many in Nablus, like Mustapha Ahmed Mansour, say Palestinians need to unite and not divide.

"Both Gaza and here must be one unit, no change, no change absolutely. It is very bad for Palestinians," says the Nablus resident

There are few signs of that happening in Nablus or anywhere else in the Palestinian territories -- which are now divided between Hamas, controlling the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, in control of cities like Nablus in the West Bank.

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