By Ola Attallah – Gaza City
A tit-for-tat campaign of arrest involving Hamas and Fatah members in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank is sending a shockwave among Gazans fearful it would drag the two rivals to a new bout of infighting.
"We can brave the suffocating Israeli siege, we can survive illness and hunger but we can not tolerate infighting again," Abu Khalil, a Gazan elder, told IslamOnline.net.
With a heavy heart, he was following up on the radio reports regarding the arrest of tens of Hamas and Fatah members in Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Palestinian security forces arrested Monday more than 50 Hamas members, include several prominent local leaders and university professors, in and around the northern West Bank town of Nablus.
Security sources say about 150 people, most of them Hamas members, had been arrested in the past week.
The campaign is seen as an apparent tit-for-tat action after Hamas rounded up hundreds of Fatah rivals in the Gaza Strip in the past three days.
Hamas is linking the arrests to a beachside Gaza City bombing on Friday that killed five senior fighters and a five-year-old girl. Fatah has denied any involvement in the attack.
The two main factions have been bitterly divided since Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after driving security forces loyal to Fatah from the impoverished territory in a week of bloody street battles.
Khaled, a young Gazan, regrets that the beach bombing and the ensuing arrest waves are undermining hopes for unity.
"The bombing was painful but equally so are the traded accusations and arrest campaigns," he told IOL.
"They are acting as if preparing for an open war. Quite frankly, we do not want any of this. It must stop."
Um Ahmed laments that even the media is enflaming the situation.
"Incitement to hatred is back on the Palestine TV and Al-Aqsa channel," she said referring to two satellite channels loyal to Fatah and Hamas respectively.
Palestinian media and rights groups have appealed to the two channels to work for fostering unity.
Hamas has also prevented the distribution of Al-Ayyam, Al-Quds and Al-Hayat Al-Jedida newspapers.
The latest escalation comes as Egypt is preparing to extend official invitations to the two rivals to pursue national dialogue to settle their differences.