'Gaza is a ghost town'

Political analyst and legislator say people in area "afraid to go out at night as they might be killed in crossfire."

gaza onlookers (photo credit: )
gaza onlookers
(photo credit: )
Hamas and Fatah gunmen battled each other in the streets of Gaza on Sunday, sending civilians fleeing from their homes in an increasingly bloody power struggle. The latest round of fighting began late Thursday after a Hamas activist was killed in a bombing. By Saturday night 25 Palestinians, including two boys ages two and 12, had been killed and at least 76 were wounded, cutting short efforts to unite the two rival factions in a coalition government. The atmosphere in the city is tense. Gaza residents are praying for intervention. Ala Masharawi, a political analyst and senior journalist, who lives in Gaza, is on the edge of his seat. "No one goes outside, no one moves without thinking twice," he said. "Gaza's streets have become terrible streets, especially at night. Gaza is a ghost town." There is a lot of pressure on Fatah and Hamas to stop the fighting, he added, but in the meanwhile, day-to-day life is completely disrupted. "The people of Gaza are afraid - afraid to drive and afraid to go out at night, as they might be killed in crossfire," Masharawi said. "It is very dangerous, the clashes have become out of control. If we don't control [the situation] then we are headed for civil war," he added. An explosion early Sunday morning rocked the Gaza City home of a bodyguard of Fatah strongman and former Palestinian Authority security chief Muhammad Dahlan, but the guard was not in the building and no casualties were reported. In another incident Sunday, gunmen abducted at least 11 hostages, three of whom were Hamas loyalists. In the West Bank, some 15 Fatah-affiliated gunmen stormed a bank and snatched a local Hamas leader in Nablus. Residents of areas where the fighting was fiercest took refuge with relatives, and bullet holes pocked many of the buildings. Others were holed up inside their homes, afraid to be caught in the path of flying bullets. Independent legislator, Rawya Shawa, said she was not surprised that the situation had come to this. "This fight has no end," she said. "One group won the election; the other doesn't want to believe they have lost. The feeling on the street is that these two groups are preparing for a real battle. People feel that on every corner, one is waiting for the other." "Gaza people are very tough people," Shawa added. "We don't miss the beautiful life because there has never been a beautiful life. We are very experienced with misery. But now, we are very afraid. It is very bad when it comes from your own people. We never expected something like this to happen. But now, one expects anything at any time. "Personally, I cannot go out at night. In the day, I go to my office but I follow the instructions closely." "We have a few groups working under the table" Shawa said. "Ready to make things worse. Pulling towards a civil war. In one family you can find supporters of Fatah and supporters of Hamas. It is a very complicated situation." Some 60 people have died in Gaza since early December, following PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's pledge to call early elections if coalition talks between Hamas and Fatah fail.