GAZA (Reuters) - For many Gaza residents, the chilling point of no return in the struggle between Hamas and Fatah came when some clerics started issuing religious edicts on the radio telling Palestinians it was okay to fight one another.
Two months after ruling Hamas Islamists and President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah faction formed a unity government, any goodwill that existed between the long-time rivals has been replaced with anger and fear.
Many Gazans have little faith in the latest ceasefire agreed on Saturday and some openly question whether the factions will ever be able to reconcile their differences, let alone stop the current round of fighting.
Even Gazans who have endured years of bloody conflict with Israel were shocked by the extraordinary flashes of brutality exhibited by Hamas and Fatah gunmen over the last nine days of street fighting.
Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities, including summary executions of the injured and torture. Some dead bodies were found mutilated.
“I am afraid that the fighting will continue for longer than anyone would have expected because neither side has any desire to stop it,” lamented 45-year-old Khaled Aboud, a Gaza City shop owner.
It is taboo in the Muslim faith to fight a fellow Muslim. Killing a fellow Muslim, many religious Palestinians believe, means eternal damnation.
“It would be very dangerous for someone to believe he would go to paradise if he killed his Muslim brother,” said Aboud.
In one recent radio broadcast, senior Hamas lawmaker Younis al-Astal sought to assuage the concerns of Hamas gunmen, saying they could be rewarded by Allah (God) if they confronted the enemies of the Hamas-led government.
Al-Astal accused Fatah of conspiring with the United States and Israel against Hamas.
Fatah officials decried al-Astal’s edict, saying it meant Hamas could treat Fatah like “infidels, no different from how Hamas views the Israeli army”.
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.
“The Zionist-American forces of Abbas ... have executed our fighters,” Hamas’s Voice of al-Aqsa said in one broadcast.
Fatah’s al-Shabab radio accused Hamas of summary killings, dubbing its Executive Force the “black militia” and accusing the group of acting in Iranian interests.
To counter attacks on Abbas, Mohammed Abu Jamea, a pro-Fatah cleric, sought to portray him as the Palestinian “Imam”, a term that can mean leader of the nation. For religious Muslims, it is forbidden to disobey an Imam.
Palestinian political analyst Talal Awkal said these religious edicts “are like orders to open fire”.
Mustafa, who lives in Gaza City, said the intervention of religious leaders on both sides marked “a very grave” escalation.
“I view myself as a good Muslim but I disagree with these edicts. They are only meant to fuel hatred among the fighters,” he said.