RealNews

Once Neighbors, Now Rival Palestinian Leaders

In the wretched Khan Yunis refugee camp, their family homes faced each other across the same sandy street. But Muhammad Dahlan cast his lot with Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement of Yasir Arafat. Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi joined Hamas. In student politics, rallies and Israeli prisons, the two ambitious, clever men climbed the ranks of their separate organizations. Now, with the Palestinian parliament expected to confirm a new government as soon as Tuesday, Gaza is waiting for Mr. Dahlan, the new security chief, to return from the West Bank. With hope or dread, Gazans are waiting to see if Mr. Dahlan, who has spoken privately of plans to wipe out Hamas, will act against his old neighbor, now a top political leader of Hamas, and his organization. The Israeli government and the Bush administration are watching as well. Dr. Rantisi said he was not worried. “He can say anything,” Dr. Rantisi said. “But I believe they will hesitate to do anything.” Yet Hamas, whose power and popularity have grown steadily through more than two years of conflict with Israel, is suddenly facing hard times and hard choices. The American war in Iraq and the new pressure on Syria have endangered sources of the group’s financing and other support. Israeli raids and killings of militants have temporarily thinned its leadership, while Israeli military closures and other restrictions have hampered its ability to strike. Full Story

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