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Jamal Abu Jadian, a top Fatah commander, fled his home in the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday evening dressed as a woman to avoid dozens of Hamas militiamen who had attacked it. He and several members of his family and bodyguards were lightly wounded.
But when Abu Jadian arrived at a hospital a few hundred meters away from his house, he was discovered by a group of Hamas gunmen, who took turns shooting him in the head with automatic rifles.
"They literally blew his head off with more than 40 bullets," said a doctor at Kamal Udwan Hospital.
Abu Jadian, a close ally of Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan and a sworn enemy of Hamas, was the third top Fatah commander to be killed by Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip in the past few weeks. The other two were Muhammad Ghraib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Service, and Baha Abu Jarad, a leading member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing.
All three were killed after dozens of Hamas militiamen surrounded their homes for hours, firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive charges.
Hamas targeted them because it believed they were heads of a Fatah group that has been targeting Hamas officials and activists over the past year. This group, Hamas officials claim, is headed by Dahlan and other senior Fatah leaders who, with the help of the US and Israel, are part of a "plot" to remove Hamas from power.
Three other senior Fatah leaders from the northern Gaza Strip who are allegedly involved in the "plot" have also been targeted by Hamas. But the three - Sameeh Madhoun, Maher Miqdad and Mansour Shalayel - have managed to escape unharmed with their families.
In yet another blow to Fatah, about 200 Hamas gunmen on Tuesday stormed the home of Nabil Sha'ath, a senior Fatah official who was closely associated with Yasser Arafat.
Sha'ath was not at home, but one of his bodyguards was shot and wounded before the Hamas attackers went on a rampage inside the villa.
In addition to attacking Fatah officials, Hamas has also driven many members of the Palestinian Authority security forces out of the northern Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the year, Hamas militiamen there have taken over the headquarters of the PA's General Intelligence, Force 17, Preventative Security, National Security and Military Police.
Earlier this week, Hamas also "liberated" a large mosque in the northern town of Beit Lahiya that was a known Fatah stronghold. Hamas has also taken control of a hospital and several medical centers in the area.
On Tuesday it became clear that Hamas was now trying to extend its "victories" to the rest of the Gaza Strip, particularly Gaza City and the southern towns of Khan Yunis and Rafah.
"Hamas is effectively in control of the northern part of the Gaza Strip," said a senior Fatah official. "Now they are trying to take control of the entire Gaza Strip, and I'm afraid they are close to achieving their goal."
Many Fatah officials in those areas have fled their homes over the past few weeks for fear of being targeted by Hamas. One of them, Rashid Abu Shabak, is Fatah's highest ranking security official in the Gaza Strip. He and his family left the Gaza Strip after Hamas militiamen raided their villa in Gaza City and killed six of his bodyguards.
Dahlan left the Gaza Strip two months ago and has been living in Cairo. At least seven other top Fatah officials have sought refuge in the West Bank after receiving permission from Israel to leave the Gaza Strip.
Reports from the Gaza Strip Tuesday evening indicated that Hamas was close to taking control of Khan Yunis, a traditional Fatah stronghold, which is also Dahlan's hometown. Hamas militiamen occupied the most important symbols in the area - the headquarters of the Fatah-affiliated governor and buildings belonging to different branches of the PA security forces.
A sign of Fatah's predicament in the Gaza Strip was illustrated late Monday night when its leaders announced a unilateral cease-fire, only to be snubbed by Hamas. Fatah leaders also made urgent appeals to a number of Arab governments to interfere to stop the fighting, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears. The Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians - who have, until now, been making huge efforts to end the anarchy in the Palestinian areas - are all fed up with the Palestinians.
Unless the fighting stops in the next day or two, the entire Gaza Strip is likely to fall into the hands of Hamas. All Fatah can do now is vent its anger at the remaining handful of Hamas representatives in the West Bank. The majority of the Hamas leaders in the West Bank are in Israeli jails and the Islamic movement does not have a strong military presence there.
Tuesday night, PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas convened his top aides in the West Bank to assess the situation in the wake of what he has called the "military coup" staged by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
One of the options facing Abbas is to break up the coalition partnership with Hamas and to officially declare war on the Islamic movement.
Whatever decision Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants take, it will be hard to change the new reality that has been created on the ground, especially in the Gaza Strip. As of today, the Palestinians can boast that they have two entities - one in the Gaza Strip run by Muslim fundamentalists and another one in the West Bank under the control of secular Fatah leaders.
"The two-state solution has finally worked," a Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip commented sarcastically. "Today, all our enemies have good reason to celebrate."
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