Even as members of his Fatah organization flee for their lives from Hamas-controlled Gaza, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has decided to release 200 members of the Islamist Hamas terrorist organization held in PA
Birzeit University was evacuated on Monday in the wake of unarmed clashes.
Abbas gave the order for the mass release during his visit to Tunis last week. Those to be released are primarily Hamas members who were arrested in the days following mass arrests of Fatah members by Hamas forces in Gaza. The PA chairman's move has been seen by analysts in the Arab world as part of his ongoing efforts to bring about a unity government, or at least an agreed deal that will allow him to retain control over the PA areas of Judea and Samaria.
Abbas stated last week that he has ongoing and intense contacts with leaders of several Arab states in an effort to obtain their assistance in brokering a deal between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas said he hopes the efforts of Arab leaders produce a calm atmosphere conducive to internal PA talks.
Each side has already released most of the gunmen from the opposing camp who were taken into custody, but relations between the factions continue to be tense. The Fatah-controlled half of the PA dismissed approximately 1,000 policemen suspected of being members of Hamas, while on Monday Hamas arrested Fatah spokesman Hazem Abu Shanab.
Near Ramallah on Monday, Birzeit University was evacuated on Monday in the wake scuffles between students loyal to rival PA factions Hamas and Fatah.
Fatah Men Seek Shelter in IDF Custody
Approximately 180 Fatah members sought shelter with the IDF in recent days as they fled Hamas-controlled Gaza. The injured among them were treated at Israeli hospitals. On Sunday, at the insistence of Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the IDF began returning the escaped Fatah members to Gaza. Israeli authorities halted the process, however, as they received information that the Fatah men were being arrested by Hamas and that their lives were in immediate danger.
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak ordered an immediate reevaluation of the situation and direct discussions with PA officials. The resulting agreement allowed some Fatah members currently under Israeli control to be transferred to Jericho, while others who so requested were sent back to Gaza.