GAZA (Reuters) - For Gaza taxi driver Tamer Ammar, the internal fighting became all-out civil war when militants started killing their rivals by throwing them off 15-storey buildings and mutilating their bodies.
“I think we are in Iraq, not in Gaza,” said Ammar, a 40-year-old father of six.
“Snipers on rooftops killing people. Bodies mutilated and dumped in the streets in very humiliating ways. Houses bombarded and civilians killed. What else does civil war means but this?”
A surge in factional fighting between ruling Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah faction has killed at least 20 Palestinians in the last four days alone.
Well over 600 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas came to power in March 2006 after defeating Fatah in parliamentary elections, according to one prominent Palestinian human rights group.
Ceasefires have frequently been declared but never honored for long.
Interspersed with drive-by shootings and rocket-propelled grenade attacks, both sides have shown extraordinary flashes of brutality in recent days.
A member of Abbas’s Force 17 security service was the first to be thrown off a 15-storey building. A few hours later, Hamas accused Fatah of throwing a Hamas supporter off another building.
Fatah supporters gunned down a Hamas cleric outside his mosque. In another extraordinary attack, a top Fatah militant with ties to President Mahmoud Abbas’s national security adviser, Mohammad Dahlan, was dragged out of his home and shot 40 times by Hamas gunmen, medics said.
Mohammad Ahmed-Hassan, a 35-year-old teacher, said “Gaza is finished”, calling the rash of killings “genocide”.
Many of the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip took shelter from the fighting by staying home. Thousands have sought to flee through neighboring Egypt.
But for the vast majority of residents of the coastal strip, there is no way out.
At tense roadblocks across Gaza City, gunmen size up passing drivers, trying to pick out who is who by their clothes, family names, facial hair.
“Gunmen ask bearded people if they are Hamas and sometimes they take them away even if they deny it,” said one of Ammar’s passenger, who did not give his name.
At Hamas-manned checkpoints, gunmen demanded to see ID cards to identify who was a member of a Fatah-led security force before taking them away.
Hamas radio stations have taken to openly describing Abbas as a collaborator, comparing him to General Antoine Lahd, who once commanded Israel’s proxy army in south Lebanon.
A Fatah radio station accuses Hamas of following orders from Iran.
One Gaza doctor, who has examined the bodies of hundreds of Palestinians killed in fighting with Israel, said the level of cruelty in the factional fighting was “beyond our imagination”.
“Israeli missiles can dismember bodies... but such brutality cannot be between people who are supposed to be brothers in arms,” the doctor said.
Khaled Abdallah, a construction worker, said attacks by rival gunmen on the homes of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Abbas could mark the point of no return.
“I do not think they will ever reconcile. It is like pouring sand on a fire. It does not die out. Once some wind takes away the sand, the flames rise up again,” he said.