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Abbas warns Palestinians on verge of civil war

Marking 40 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned Tuesday that his people are on the verge of civil war. He said the infighting is perhaps worse than living under Israeli military rule.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Marking 40 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned Tuesday that his people are on the verge of civil war. He said the infighting is perhaps worse than living under Israeli military rule.

Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War was a “black day” for the Palestinians, who paid a heavy price for defeat, Abbas said in a televised speech marking the start of the Six-Day War on June 5, 1967.

Abbas focused on the bloody factional fighting between his Fatah movement and the Islamic militant Hamas. The two parties have been governing in an uneasy coalition since March, but another round of gun battles erupted in May, killing dozens of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Regarding our internal situation, what concerns us all is the chaos, and more specifically, being on the verge of civil war,” Abbas said.

He said he has spent hundreds of negotiating hours trying to halt the bloodshed, “realizing that the what is equal to or even worse than occupation is internal fighting.”

Israelis demonstrate against Jewish settlers
Meanwhile, about 200 Israeli demonstrators gathered Tuesday in Hebron to mark the 40th anniversary of the war’s outbreak, urging the government to remove all Jewish settlers from the biblical city.

Demonstrators faced off against 30 counter-protesters nearby, who carried signs calling them “traitors.” Local Palestinians peered out from the windows at the protesters, while dozens of soldiers — including troops on a nearby rooftop — stood guard.

“I’m here to protest the occupation in one of the most violent places in the territories. I want my name down as one of the people who are opposed,” said Doron Narkiss, 52, a teacher from Tel Aviv.

David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers, called the protest “incitement.”

“How can Jews support those trying to kill us?” he said.

Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, but the Israeli military still keeps a tight grip on Palestinian movement there, controlling cross-border movement of goods, limiting passage to Israel to a trickle of approved laborers and traders and shadowing every movement of fisherman along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast.

In the West Bank, hundreds of Israeli roadblocks prevent Palestinians from moving freely, their economy is stifled and their lives are dominated by the ever-present Israeli soldier, bureaucrat or roadblock.

Now Israel is building a network of walls, trenches and barbed-wire fences around the West Bank, jutting into the territory in several places. Going up ostensibly to stop Palestinian militants launching raids into Israel, the barrier puts some 8.5 percent of Palestinian land on the “Israeli” side.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza and largely Arab east Jerusalem for their future state.

Contrasting states of shock
After Israel routed Egypt and Syria and pushed the Jordanian military out of east Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians were in contrasting states of shock.

Dovish former Cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni said Israel missed the chance to make peace in those heady days, again after its victory in the 1973 Mideast War, and is still failing today.

“We reached such a state of euphoria and such excitement that we were blinded, because with such a success we could have brought peace,” she told Israel Radio. “Today we can make peace and we aren’t trying.”

In 1967, Israelis by the tens of thousands streamed to Jerusalem to see and touch the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall, off limits to them and under Jordanian control since 1949. Others traveled to biblical sites in the West Bank. The ecstasy was so great that many talked of the coming of the Messiah.

At the same time, terrified Palestinians cowered in their houses, many expecting pain and death at the hands of the Israeli military, which had just vanquished the best of the Arab war machine in less than a week.

At first, Israelis did not accept that there was such a thing as a Palestinian people. Then they believed that if they treated the Palestinians well enough, they would drop the political ambitions of exiled leaders like Arafat.

In June 1987, the Israeli Civil Administration, an arm of the military, put out a full-color booklet trumpeting Israel’s accomplishments during its two decades in control of the West Bank and Gaza, giving the Palestinian people roads, schools, hospitals and prosperity.

But Palestinians chafed under the occupation, and just five months later the situation blew up. Gaza, then the West Bank, erupted in riots. Israeli forces tried to put them down, killing demonstrators throwing rocks and firebombs.

At the center of the uprising were young Palestinians who grew up under Israeli occupation and demanded its end. The violence forced Israel into negotiations with Arafat’s PLO, in secret at first and then publicly, leading to that handshake on the White House lawn.

Arafat's triumphant return
Arafat made a triumphant return to Gaza in 1994, and both sides felt peace was on the way. They were wrong.

Agreements were negotiated but not fully implemented. Israel pulled out of West Bank cities and refugee camps, but kept a tight hold on Palestinian life. Palestinians smuggled large quantities of weapons into their areas, preparing for more clashes.

When violence erupted again in September 2000, it seemed inevitable.

The last seven years have seen more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombing attacks against Israelis and intense Israeli military incursions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Even Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza in 2005 didn’t stem the chaos, with the impoverished coastal strip deteriorating into anarchic world of gang wars and attacks on Israel that invite retaliation.

On Sunday, Israeli tanks and infantry pushed a short distance into Gaza, detaining several Palestinians in their fight against gunmen.

Years of polls show both sides want a state living in peace next to the other state, but their leaders have proved unable to overcome the historic stumbling blocks, especially control over Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation.