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Fatah gunmen and Palestinian Authority policemen on Thursday launched a wide-scale crackdown on Hamas figures and institutions in the West Bank. More than 30 Hamas officials and supporters were rounded up in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm.
The crackdown, ordered by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, is seen as an attempt to consolidate Fatah's grip on the West Bank after the Gaza Strip fell into the hands of Hamas.
Unlike the Gaza Strip, Hamas does not have thousands of militiamen. The few Hamas military cells that operate in the West Bank are hardly felt. Most of Hamas's activities in the West Bank are restricted to political, information and charity work.
But while Fatah has many armed groups and policemen in the West Bank, Hamas remains popular in several cities, villages and refugee camps. In the last municipal elections, Hamas candidates scored major victories in Ramallah, Al-Bireh, Bethlehem, Nablus and Kalkilya.
Hamas's West Bank political leadership is currently in Israeli jail. In the past few weeks, the IDF even arrested many of the Hamas mayors there. The Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank began almost immediately after the abduction of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit a year ago.
That's why Fatah is now going after low-level Hamas operatives in the West Bank. Despite the clampdown, there is no evidence that Hamas's popularity among the West Bankers has been severely affected.
In fact, the Israeli and Fatah campaign against Hamas is likely to backfire. The majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank have yet to come out in public to pledge their allegiance to Fatah in its war against Hamas.
It's true that many West Bankers are unhappy with what Hamas has done in the Gaza Strip. But there are still many Palestinians who are fed up with the scores of Fatah armed gangs that have long been running wild in the West Bank.
When Hamas leaders decided to take over the Gaza Strip, they knew that they didn't have much to lose in the West Bank. The most that Fatah can do is shoot an imam of a mosque in the legs or close down Hamas-affiliated institutions or kidnap a handful of supporters of the Islamic movement.
Hamas does not have security bases in the West Bank. Nor does it have armed groups that roam the streets openly.
The Fatah gunmen and security officers may be in control of the streets of the West Bank, but this does not necessarily mean they enjoy the support of the majority of the Palestinian public there.
Fatah's humiliating defeat in the Gaza Strip is likely to undermine it in the West Bank. Pictures of half-naked Fatah officers surrendering to Hamas are certainly not going to boost Abbas's standing among his constituents in the West Bank.
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