Gaza's war of the clans: The West's antipathy towards Hamas, after its election success of 2006, did nothing to help curb the lawlessness that spread through Gaza courtesy of the warring clans. In the vacuum created by the departure of Fatah, fears are growing that Al Qaeda is finding a foothold because of the anarchy.

Author:Blanche, Ed

IN THE ENCLAVE of anarchy known as the Gaza Strip, powerful clans heavily involved in smuggling and other criminal activities have emerged as the dominant force as Hamas and Fatah battled each other for mastery of the coastal territory; unprecedented levels of Palestinian on Palestinian violence were sparked in mid-June to devastating effect, with Hamas finally routing its rival.

"Gaza," lamented one Israeli security chief, "is starting to become a Palestinian Somalia."

There are around two dozen clan-based militias, that sell their services to the highest bidder, defy the badly weakened PA and attack officials, judges and security personnel who anger them or stand up to them. It seems that it is the clans, and not Hamas, Fatah, or even Israel, that will determine the fate of the Gaza Strip.

Virtually every major hamulla, the tribe or clan, has its own armed militia to protect its interests, and they have established their own semi-autonomous, heavily guarded fiefdoms that some time ago had already become no-go zones for the PA's security forces--those of them who were not already aligned with militias through family connections.

Gaza's 1.5m population has been militarised to a murderous degree. More Palestinians are being killed by their own, rather than by Israelis. Hamdi Shaqqara of the Palestine Centre of Human Rights says that in the absence of any central authority, Gazans have been looking to their clans and families for protection.

Amid this violent turmoil, Mumtaz Dughmush, the militant leader of a large clan in northern Gaza, seems to be the capo di capi--the boss of bosses. Dughmush's extended family numbers in excess of 15,000, including hundreds of well-armed fighters. The various clans frequently war with one another over turf or rackets, but remain capable of setting aside their differences to fashion temporary alliances that will keep the official authorities at bay.

Against that kind of firepower, the PA, the nominal government that became totally dysfunctional as Hamas and Fatah fought over who was in charge, was incapable of taking action. Neither the fundamentalist Hamas, which dominated the PA, nor the more secular but collapsing Fatah have been prepared to take on Dughmush and the other warlords. "Because of the power of the families, and because of the power of the Dughmush family, and its strength and huge numbers, to take action against such a family ... would put the interior minister in a very difficult situation," then justice minister, Ali Sartawi, a Hamas loyalist, explained. "If...

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