By Mel Frykberg
"RAMALLAH, May 31 (IPS) - The inevitable has happened. Simmering tensions between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have left six Palestinians dead, in the bloodiest confrontation between the two groups since Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza in June 2007.
A bloody gun battle broke out Sunday morning in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilia between a group of Hamas gunmen and security forces from the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA had tried to arrest and flush out a group of Hamas gunmen who were hiding in a building in the northern city, just over an hour's drive north-west of Ramallah. The exchange of gunfire left two Hamas members and three PA police officers dead.....
Resentment and anger between the two organisations reached boiling point last week following Israel's assassination of a top Hamas leader near the southern West Bank town Hebron, 30 km south of Jerusalem. Abed Al-Majid Dudin, 45, head of Hamas's military wing in Hebron was assassinated last Thursday by Israeli commandos, backed by jeeps and a helicopter.
According to the Israelis he was shot dead in a firefight after he had barricaded himself inside a house and refused to surrender. Hamas accused the PA of helping Israel carry out surveillance on Dudin prior to the killing.
Dudin was one of Israel's most wanted men, and had apparently managed to elude Israel security forces for 14 years. The Jewish state accused him of being behind several suicide bombings within Israel proper. Following the assassination, Israel declared a state of high alert in anticipation of retaliatory attacks.
Hamas, meanwhile, told its fighters in the West Bank that the gloves were off, and they were free to carry out retaliation of their choosing against any legitimate targets in the occupied territory. According to Hamas officials, the PA was also a legitimate target, due to its alleged collaboration with Israel.
Hamas further accused the PA of carrying out a witch-hunt against its members in the West Bank, stating that prior to bloody Sunday, over 20 Hamas sympathisers had been arrested during the previous two nights.......
Several human rights organisations have charged repeatedly that PA prisons are full of political prisoners and Hamas sympathisers, many of them not even members of its armed wing Izzedin Al-Qassem.
Due to the escalating events and yet another round of failed Palestinian unity talks in Cairo several weeks ago, it was just a matter of time when bloody violence would break out.
But Israel's timing, and the reasoning behind carrying out the provocative assassination of Dudin, which provided the spark to the West Bank powder keg, is curious.
There have been no attacks against Israel proper emanating from the West Bank for years, despite rampaging Israeli settlers stepping up their attacks against Palestinian civilians in the territory.....
Bloody Palestinian infighting might just be what a cornered Israeli government needs at the moment to focus attention elsewhere. "