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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hamas official: Is violence Palestinian "disease?"

A senior figure in Hamas, the Islamist group that heads the Palestinian government, published an article on Tuesday condemning internal violence and questioning whether it had become a "Palestinian disease."

Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas who also acts as the spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said he was disturbed by growing factionalism in the Palestinian territories, including recent deadly clashes between rival political movements.

"Has violence become a culture implanted in our bodies and our flesh?" he asked in the sharply worded article, published in the widely read Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam.

"We have surrendered to it until it has become the master and is obeyed everywhere -- in the house, the neighborhood, the family, the clan, the faction and the university."

It was the second time in recent months that Hamad, who is based in Gaza, had written an opinion piece in al-Ayyam critical of Palestinian in-fighting.

In August, he criticized Palestinian militant groups fighting Israel, saying they were not doing the cause of Palestinian independence any good by launching attacks at moments when it appeared progress was being made.

In the article published on Tuesday, Hamad said the presence of armed men on almost every street, and their attendance at every rally, whether political or not, had created an atmosphere of guns and violence that damaged prospects for calm.

It also meant that television pictures of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broadcast around the world too often showed armed men and images of violence, casting the Palestinian struggle in a poor light, he suggested.

"(Violence) has taken away the language of brotherhood and replaced it with arms ... It has stolen our unity and divided us into two camps, or three, or ten," he wrote.

"Shouldn't we be ashamed of this ugly behavior which scandalizes us before our people and before the world?"

Hamad's article follows a period of intense in-fighting, with some of the worst Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

Earlier this month, at least 15 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in clashes between armed members of Hamas and gunmen from the rival Fatah movement. Long-time observers of the Middle East have raised the possibility of civil war.

Hamad wrote that 175 Palestinians had been killed by "Palestinian gunfire" since the beginning of the year.

Weeks of talks to try to form a unity government, and perhaps put an end to the violence, have so far failed.

"Are we all responsible? Yes. Do we all participate in this great sin? Yes," wrote Hamad. "All of us have the desire not to see arms in the streets except with policemen.

"We want to disown this disease, this cancer, which has damaged our brains and paralyzed our hearts.

"Have mercy on your people. Let us walk in peace, sit in peace, have a dialogue in peace and sleep in calm."
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