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West Bank Violence Greets Obama Push for Mideast Peace

An explosion of violence between the Fatah faction of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of the militant Islamist group Hamas has left at least six people dead in the West Bank. The latest round of violence comes as U.S. President Barack Obama presses Israel to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. The internal standoff among Palestinian factions threatens the unity and eventual statehood that Mr. Obama supports.

Nihad Abed Halin unchains a door to a house next to hers in an alley of Qalqilya, a town that sits in the shadow of a concrete wall that makes up part of Israel's security barrier.

Inside the house, there are puddles of drying blood on the floor. The walls have been peppered with bullets, some so powerful, they went through the masonry.

It was the scene of the bloodiest encounter between Palestinian factions in years, and a sign of the deep divisions that exist between Palestinian factions. Six people - including two Hamas militants and three members of the Palestinian security forces - were killed here when police chased and attacked the two militants who had commandeered the house. The owner of the house was also killed.

Nihad saw the raid and she says she was shocked by the scale of the violence that Palestinian forces used.

She said she never saw this scale of violence from Israeli soldiers, who she said had more mercy during their incursions. She begged the security forces not to shoot. She says they told her to be quiet and started shooting in all directions as children in neighboring houses screamed.

The raid was part of a law and order campaign being carried out by the administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Adnan Dameiri is a spokesman for Mr. Abbas' security forces in the West Bank. He says Palestinians are prepared to use the force necessary to prevent militants from seizing power.

He says the threat of a coup against the leadership of President Abbas remains a threat, as does the proliferation of illegal weapons.

The raid in Qalqilya killed Mohammad Samman, a top Hamas field commander who had been wanted by Israeli forces and was regarded as especially dangerous.

His father, Hassan Abdel Rahim Samman, points to bullet holes at the family's residence are from the times that Israeli soldiers came here looking for him. He says his son had for years been in possession of explosives and weapons.

He says his son was always heavily armed and would boast that the gun he was carrying was to be used against the Israeli occupation forces. He says he encouraged his son to fight the occupation.

In the end, it was Palestinian forces and not Israelis who killed his son. His anger against Israel is greater than ever and he, like some other Palestinians, accuses Mr. Abbas and Fatah of collaborating with the Israelis.

The escalation in violence between the factions is further threatening Palestinian unity.

Fatah - which governs the West Bank - and Hamas - which controls Gaza - have both indicated they might break off talks that have been going on in Egypt.

Israel points to internal fighting between factions as one reason why it does not support Palestinian statehood just yet.

In June 2007, not long after Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Hamas violently seized control of the enclave and drove out Fatah. Militants in Gaza have since continued firing hundreds of homemade rockets at communities in southern Israel. Israelis see a Hamas takeover of the West Bank as much more threatening because of the proximity of the borders to Israel's main urban centers.

Polls have shown that if elections were held now, Hamas - which calls for the destruction of the Jewish State - might defeat Fatah.

For Hassan Abdel Rahim Samman, the death of his son at the hands of Palestinian forces under Mahmoud Abbas has hardened his support for Hamas.

He says Fatah does not represent him. He says Fatah represents only those who are in its inner circle. He says elections should be held to make the will of most Palestinians known.

Analysts say elections are not likely to be held anytime soon, as long as Israel perceives itself threatened by the prospect of a Hamas victory.

Mustafa Barghouti is a democracy advocate in the West Bank town of Ramallah who says the violence in Qalqilya has further fueled the argument that the Palestinians are not ready for statehood.

"Practically, the only beneficiary from this internal fighting is the Israeli occupation which can always claim that because of the internal fighting, there is no Palestinian partner," said Mustafa Barghouti. "Of course, this is not true, but it's an excuse that Israel can use."

The violence in Qalqilya was the bloodiest since 2007, when a four-day war broke out between Fatah and Hamas. The two factions had unsuccessfully tried to form a unity government following Hamas' victory in legislative elections the year before.

Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza, leaving Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah ruling only the West Bank.

The escalation of violence this week means the prospects for a Palestinian state with a unified democratic leadership remain distant.