As he prepares to submit a request to the UN in September for recognition of a Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has also found time to wage a relentless war against his former ally and friend, Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan.

The rivalry between the two men, which reached its peak last month when Abbas ordered his security forces to raid Dahlan’s villa on the outskirts of Ramallah, has caused severe damage to Fatah and will only serve Hamas’s interests, Fatah officials warned.

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Hamas spokesmen have already taken advantage of the public power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan.

Hamas is now saying that it was right when it staged a coup against the Fatah-dominated PA in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. According to Hamas, Dahlan, who allegedly tried to stage a coup against Abbas in the West Bank, tried to do the same thing to Hamas prior to the Islamist movement’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

“The charges that Dahlan had plotted to overthrow the Palestinian Authority leadership prove that Hamas was right when it kicked Dahlan and all the Palestinian security forces out of the Gaza Strip,” said a Hamas legislator from Gaza City. “This just proves that we were right when we said that Dahlan, backed by the Israelis and Americans, was seeking to stage a coup against the elected government of Hamas.”

Many Hamas officials have not hidden their satisfaction with the growing tensions in Fatah, which has suffered from power struggles, bickering and internal fighting almost from the day it was established more than four decades ago.

The infighting in Fatah, as well as allegations of financial corruption and abuse of power, was one of the main reasons why Fatah lost the parliamentary election to Hamas in 2006.

The dispute between Abbas and Dahlan seems to be far more serious than many Palestinians had thought. What began as rumors about a personal dispute between Dahlan, the former Fatah commander in the Gaza Strip, and the wealthy sons of Abbas, Yasser and Tareq, is now threatening to divide the ruling Fatah faction.

Dahlan has many supporters in the Gaza Strip, including hundreds of former security officers who worked under him in the days when he headed the Preventive Security Force. Many of these loyalists are now threatening to break away from Fatah and create their own group in protest against the measures taken against Dahlan.

At the recommendation of Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee voted earlier this year in favor of expelling Dahlan from the faction on the grounds that he had conspired to topple Abbas.

A commission of inquiry set up by Abbas determined that Dahlan and his few supporters in the West Bank had purchased weapons, mainly from criminal elements amongst Israel’s Arab citizens, in preparation for staging a coup against Abbas and the PA leadership.

The commission of inquiry, like the Central Committee, consisted almost entirely of Abbas loyalists and longtime allies. And since they all receive their salaries from Abbas, it would have been a surprise had any of the commission or committee members voted against Abbas’s recommendation.

The expulsion of Dahlan was preceded with a clampdown ordered by Abbas on all his loyalists and institutions in the West Bank. Most of Dahlan’s men, especially those who fled the Gaza Strip before and after the Hamas takeover, have been rounded up and held in custody without trial. Some have complained of torture at the hands of PA security officers in Ramallah.

Moreover, a TV station and several news web sites believed to be funded by Dahlan were ordered closed by Abbas.

But last month’s raid on Dahlan’s villa on the outskirts of Ramallah showed that Abbas was determined to finish off his bitter enemy for once and for all. More than 200 security officers belonging to various branches of the PA security forces participated in what has been described by eyewitnesses as a “commando operation” on the villa in the fashionable a-Tira suburb.

Although Dahlan himself was not harmed, all his bodyguards, aides and friends were detained. The PA police also confiscated weapons and armored vehicles used by Dahlan and his men. Shortly after the raid, Dahlan packed his bags and rushed toward the Allenby Bridge, not before PA security officers stopped his car and detained and assaulted his companions.

The clampdown on Dahlan has also been accompanied by a barrage of “leaks” from Abbas’s office about the ousted Fatah operative’s wrongdoings and conspiracies.

According to the “leaks,” Dahlan has been involved in shipping weapons to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to help him in his battle against the rebels and the “poisoning” of Yasser Arafat. Other leaks emanating from Abbas’s office have claimed that Dahlan was behind the unrest in the Sinai town of El- Arish, where Muslim fundamentalists and Beduin have been waging terror attacks on government troops.

Sufyan Abu Zaida, a top Fatah official closely associated with Dahlan, mocked the reports about Dahlan’s alleged involvement in stirring unrest in Egypt and killing Arafat. Abu Zaida pointed out that Abbas’s aides had also tried to sell a story according to which Dahlan was responsible for arming anti-government militias in Syria.

“What is happening to Dahlan has nothing to do with transparency or accountability or the rule of law,” Abu Zaida noted. “Instead, it’s all about a personal grudge and jealousy.” He added: “Hamas today doesn’t have to make any effort because there are people in Fatah who are doing the job for it by weakening Fatah.” Abu Zaida and those who are familiar with Dahlan know very well that he won’t give up easily. Dahlan has already come out with a series of serious allegations against Abbas, including squandering public funds.

Dahlan claims that Abbas and his associates are responsible for the fact that more than $1.2b. which they reportedly inherited from Arafat have gone missing. Dahlan has vowed to return to Ramallah to continue the battle to clean his name and prove that he is the victim of a conspiracy concocted by Abbas and a number of top Fatah leaders. Dahlan said last week that until now the PA leadership has not provided any evidence to support any of the charges against him.

Samir Mashharawi, another senior Fatah official and longtime friend of Dahlan, revealed that the rivalry with Abbas was nothing but a personal matter. He said that some Fatah leaders had reported to Abbas about a meeting where Dahlan allegedly said that the PA president was a weak figure and that his sons were exploiting their father’s position to become wealthy.

Mashharawi said: “I personally sat with Abbas and talked with him about the measures against Dahlan. Abbas openly admitted that the reason he was angry with Dahlan was because he [Dahlan] had been badmouthing him and his sons. Abbas told me, ‘your friend has a big mouth. He’s been saying that I handed the Gaza Strip to Hamas. He’s also been saying bad things about my sons.’”

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