(photo credit: AP [file])
The war against Hamas is taking place not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank as well, Palestinians said on Thursday.
Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces, they noted, had stepped up their crackdown on Hamas supporters and figures in the West Bank since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead.
The latest anti-Hamas measures in the West Bank, which are being carried out in coordination with the IDF and under the supervision of US security experts, are designed to foil any attempt by the movement to overthrow the PA.
Earlier this week, Israeli security officials expressed satisfaction with the coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in fighting Hamas in the West Bank.
The officials praised PA President Mahmoud Abbas's forces for employing an "iron-fist" policy against Hamas since the beginning of the military offensive.
On the instructions of the PA leadership in Ramallah, protesters are banned from expressing solidarity with Hamas by hoisting the movement's flag or chanting slogans in its favor.
The PA has also banned demonstrators from marching toward IDF checkpoints or settlements to avoid friction.
In the past three weeks, dozens of Hamas supporters have either been detained or summoned for investigation by the PA's much-feared Preventive Security Force and General Intelligence Service.
Hamas claims that the PA had already arrested more than 400 of its supporters in the West Bank prior to the IDF offensive in Gaza.
In the Nablus area alone, more than 200 Hamas supporters were rounded up by the PA in the past two weeks, a Hamas representative in the West Bank said.
Most of the detainees were university students affiliated with pro-Hamas tickets in campus political races, he said.
The PA has also banned pro-Hamas activities at universities and schools. According to sources close to Hamas, the PA Education Ministry recently fired a number of teachers who voiced sympathy with Hamas.
Several Palestinian journalists have also been targeted by the PA security forces in recent weeks. In Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah, policemen beat a number of Palestinian reporters and photographers who were covering protests against the IDF operation. Other journalists have been receiving threats almost on a daily basis from the PA security forces in the West Bank.
One journalist said he was told by PA security officers that they would break his arms and legs if he dared to report about pro-Hamas demonstrations. Another journalist complained that policemen confiscated his camera and assaulted him while he was covering a demonstration in Bethlehem.
In Ramallah last week, the PA deployed more than 1,000 policemen to stop a relatively small number of demonstrators from identifying with Hamas.
In Tulkarm, PA security officers detained a Hamas spokesman shortly after he appeared on an Arab satellite TV station. In Hebron, several demonstrators who hoisted Hamas flags during a recent protest were dispersed by policemen who fired tear gas at them.
Some Hamas members who are being held in PA prisons told their relatives that they were severely beaten by policemen and security officers who were "celebrating" the beginning of the IDF operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians said the PA policemen responsible for the massive crackdown received special training in Jordan and the West Bank as part of a security plan engineered by the US. They claimed that these forces report directly to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, and not to Abbas.
The anti-Hamas campaign in the West Bank is taking place not only on the ground, but also in the PA-controlled media that continues to blame Hamas for the "massacres" in Gaza.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, on Thursday accused Hamas of holding the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip hostage. "Hamas is attempting to become the main decision-maker on the Palestinian arena," he said. "Hamas is exploiting the Israeli massacres against our people to strengthen its position."
Abdel Rahim expressed hope that Hamas would not be invited to any Arab summit or gathering to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip. "Hamas launched a coup against the legitimate authority of the Palestinians and as such it does not have the right to represent the Palestinians at any summit," he said.
The PA's psychological war against Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of senior officials in Ramallah began talking about a split between the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and their colleagues in Syria.
Several Fatah-controlled news Web sites also carried reports about how Hamas militiamen were stealing fuel and food in the Gaza Strip. They also mocked the Hamas leaders for abandoning their constituents by going underground.
On Thursday, Hamas called for a "day of rage" in the West Bank against the ongoing IDF offensive. Hamas is hoping that large-scale protests will embarrass or perhaps undermine the PA leadership and hasten its collapse.
So far, the PA security forces have been successful in containing the protests inside the cities, which are under its control. Most of the clashes between Palestinians and the IDF have been taking place in the rural areas of the West Bank, where overall security is in the hands of Israel.
The IDF has also been helping the PA security forces by arresting dozens of Hamas men in the West Bank.
In some cases, Hamas members were detained by the IDF only hours after they were released from PA detention centers, in what appears to be a clear sign of security coordination between the PA and Israel.
Just last week, the IDF arrested three top Hamas representatives: legislators Abdel Jaber al-Fukaha and Basem al-Za'arir and former Hamas minister Issa Ja'abari.
PA and Fatah officials in Ramallah said on Thursday they had evidence that Iran and Syria were pushing Hamas to continue fighting Israel. Damascus and Teheran were also trying to incite the Palestinians in the West Bank against the PA leadership, they added.
They pointed out that Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, based in Damascus, has repeatedly appealed to the West Bank Palestinians to launch a third intifada against the PA leadership.