Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How's that Democracy Thing Going?

The Bush administration's push for democracy in the Middle East included promoting elections among Palestinians in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death. Proving conclusively its utter lack of understanding of the political situation among the Palestinians (or anywhere else for that matter), White House was astonished when jihadi-loving Hamas soundly beat the incrementally-less-militant Fatah faction (whose primary concern seems to be lining its leaders' pockets). Fatah did not, shall we say, take its electoral defeat with a stiff upper lip. Predictably, the Palestinians little experiment in democracy isn't on its way toward producing a Jeffersonian Republic on the Gaza Strip.

Fighting between the two factions, which nominally share power in the Palestinian government, spilled into the Fatah-dominated West Bank. Dozens of gunmen loyal to Fatah surrounded a pro-Hamas TV production company in the city of Nablus, and tried to break into its offices, where about 10 people were holed up.

The gunmen said they wanted to torch the company, Al Thurayya, in retaliation for the violence in Gaza. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and Palestinian police were not intervening.

The violence in Gaza has rapidly spiraled toward all-out civil war, with more than 50 reported killed since Monday. Hamas has systematically taken control of security positions in the north and south, apparently leaving the main battle for the strip's security and political nerve center in Gaza City for last.

An announcer on a Hamas radio station said the offensive would proceed to the presidential compound and the national security headquarters in Gaza City.

Separately, Hamas demanded Fatah-allied security forces in the north relinquish their weapons by 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Friday, or risk having them taken by force. The ultimatum was delivered in text messages and radio announcements.

Hamas leaders blamed the Gaza fighting on Abbas, saying his security forces were corrupt and riddled with criminals. Abbas called the fighting "madness" and appealed to Hamas' exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, to end the violence.

Shops in Gaza City were shuttered tight Wednesday, and streets were mostly empty as terrified residents huddled in homes that could at any moment turn into battlegrounds. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said it couldn't distribute food to the 30 percent of the Gaza Strip that relies on international food aid.

The agency's Gaza director, John Bing, said the agency would scale back its operations after two of its Palestinian workers were killed by crossfire, but insisted, "We are scaling back, we are not pulling back."

Hamas has been logging strategic wins against the far-larger forces affiliated with Fatah. On Wednesday, the Islamic militant group said it seized and flattened a Fatah post on the main north-south road, and where security forces often stopped cars carrying Hamas loyalists.

Yet another example of the miraculous powers of democracy to transform Muslim populations and nations. Just like Iraq, Lebannon, Egypt and Iran (hey, they have elections, too).


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