Hamas under fire in Kalkilya

Group's leaders cite conspiracy to oust them from the city's municipality.

gunmen in office 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
gunmen in office 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Following a spate of violent incidents, including assassination attempts, Hamas leaders in this city warned Thursday of a conspiracy designed to oust them from the municipality, which they have been controlling for nearly eight months. Earlier this week, unidentified gunmen opened fire at the car of Acting Mayor Hashem al-Masri as it was parked outside his home. No one was hurt in the attack, which was believed to be part of a severe power struggle that has been raging between Hamas and Fatah for months. A few days earlier, Masri was beaten on the head with a club as he left a mosque. Hamas officials have accused Fatah supporters of being behind the attacks. "Ever since we won the municipal election, we have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and incitement by Fatah activists," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "These people just can't accept the fact that they lost." For some residents, the events here are an indication of what awaits Hamas after it forms the cabinet and takes control of the Palestinian Authority. Many are convinced that Fatah members would do their utmost to undermine Hamas's control, pointing out that the tensions here are a microcosm of the power struggle between the two parties. "The attacks on the acting mayor and other municipality installations are an act of cowardice," said Imad Nofal, a legislator from the Kalkilya area. "We call on the PA security forces to take drastic measures against the perpetrators." Although Hamas won the municipal election, its representatives lost to Fatah in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in the Kalkilya district. Fatah supporters said the Hamas defeat was the result of disillusionment with the Hamas-controlled municipality, which has failed to make good its promises to carry out economic projects and improve the living conditions of the city's 41,000 residents. Hamas leaders, however, dismissed the theory as "nonsense," pointing out that a combination of odd political alliances and clan rivalries were responsible for their defeat. Tensions are running so high that shopkeepers in the open vegetable market almost engaged in a fistfight when asked about the performance of their new municipality. "We haven't seen any new projects," complained Yusef Shawar, owner of a poultry shop. "They say they have many projects, but they haven't done anything until now, although they have been in office for about eight months. They promised to build a big shopping mall downtown, but they still don't have the funds. I don't think they will ever be able to fulfill their promises." His neighbor, Abu Nihad, who owns a small gift shop, angrily pointed out that municipal inspectors have been waging a "campaign" against him and many of shopkeepers. "Not only has this municipality failed to fulfill its promises, it is harassing us on a daily basis," he said. "It is preventing us from displaying our goods in front of our shops, and this is very bad for business." A plainclothes security officer, who described himself as a "senior general" but refused to give his name, said many residents were "depressed" because of the poor performance of the Hamas-run municipality. These guys don't know how to govern," he argued. "Many people here even regret that they voted for them in the municipal election. Hamas does not have money because it is not realistic. It doesn't want to recognize the PLO and the agreements with Israel. It is turning the international community against us." Adnan Marouf, a plantation owner who was recently hired as a part-time employee of the PA's Preventative Security Service, added: "People here were pinning high hopes on Hamas. But today most of us are disappointed. We expected them to do many things for the city, but they have failed. How will they run the affairs of the entire Palestinian people when they can't even provide good services to a small city like Kalkilya?" Others accused the municipality of hiring only people who were affiliated with Hamas, an allegation strongly denied by the acting mayor and his aides. But not all the residents here shared the feeling of discontent. Most of the complaints, some said, were aimed at showing the world that Hamas can't deliver. "The new municipality has done many good things for the city," stressed pharmacist Salim Nassar. "Although they have been in office for less than nine months, they have made some achievements, especially with regard to overhauling the city hall bureaucracy and eliminating waste in municipal procurement." According to Nassar, the municipality's biggest achievement has been to pay a NIS 6 million debt to Israel Electric. "The problem is that people are impatient and want to see tangible results on the ground in a very short period," he explained. "They don't understand that the municipality has already implemented major internal reforms." Nassar, like many Hamas supporters here, is convinced that the Islamic movement lost the PLC election mainly because Fatah bought the vote. "I saw with my own eyes Fatah candidates buy votes," he said. His allegation immediately drew sharp criticism from Fatah-affiliated merchants and passersby. "Don't believe him!" shouted one shopkeeper. "He's defending the municipality because his brother-in-law works there." Municipality officials said the campaign against them was being initiated mostly by disgruntled Fatah activists who can't stand the idea that their city, once known as a Fatah stronghold, was being run by Hamas. In recent weeks, they noted, Fatah members have damaged a new public park and sewer systems in various parts of the city in a bid to disrupt the work of the municipality and turn the residents against it. "These attempts will fail," said a senior municipality official. "The majority of the people here know that it will take some time before they see real changes. Hamas won't disappoint those who voted for it."