Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Operation

The streets are even more dangerous today. Mohammad, on his way to Laila’s house to meet with us, was fired at by a Fatah gunmen in the street. Everything is in lockdown, and the gunman didn’t want anyone moving on the streets.

Mohammad explains that the controversy that started yesterday as we filmed the tunnel isn’t over. Our fixer, Mohammad, was visited last night by Hamas men, one in particular named Ahmed who asked us for our tape yesterday. He demanded to know how we had known what was about to happen in the house with the discovery of the tunnel. He tried to reassure them that we had nothing to do with him, we were working alone, but they didn’t believe him. They threatened Fida. They said it was “suspicious” that we knew exactly where and when the crowd would gather, and shots would be fired, on that house. But it was just luck.

Mohammad hurriedly calls his contact, the area commander of Hamas forces in the Northern Sector, to explain the situation. Mohammaed puts his phone on speaker and retells the story we’ve been through several times now.
After a brief explanation, he asks “So, is it solved?”
“God willing” he answers.

But there are more problems. The other contact Mohammad had established, a man who has made millions from trading through the tunnels, now refuses to meet with us after news of our mysterious appearance at the house yesterday reached him. Mohammad spoke to him, trying to reassure him that we could be trusted, but it was all over, the man assured us. He would never meet with us now that we were suspicious.

Moments later, Mohammad gets a call from the area commander. There’s a huge Fatah operation planned at the Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold. All Hamas fighters have been ordered there, and ordered to bring whatever weapons they have. It’s said that Fatah will be bringing their tanks. In return, Hamas threatened to blow President Mahmoud Abbas’ house “off the face of the earth” if anything happened to their beloved university.

There are gunmen on top of the buildings. There are gunmen on corners, setting up ad hoc roadblocks, checking ids and searching vehicles. They’re stopping drivers with beards, checking to see who is associated with Hamas. It’s a bad sign, reminding me of descriptions of the Lebanese civil war, when gunmen would check id cards to see who was a Muslim, a Christian, a Palestinian, before deciding whether to kill you.

A shopkeeper around the corner describes how Fatah gunmen stormed through his neighbourhood not long ago, firing into the air and harassing him and others for no reason. Gunmen associated with Fatah have a reputation around here for being crazy – they’ll shoot at the slightest provocation.

As the call to prayer echoes over the empty streets at 4:20pm, I can hear exchanges of gunfire.

At night, Abu Ubaida - a field commander from Hama’s Qassam Brigades - speaks to Al-Quds television, Hamas’ own station. His voice is disguised, he’s wearing a mask. He says they fired several Qassam rockets into Israel to bring attention back to the occupation, away from the factional fighting in Gaza. The screen flashes endlessly repeated images of rockets launching into Sderot, Israeli ambulances racing from a house, its roofs partly destroyed.

In the distance, the sound of Israeli shells falling on Deir El Balah and Maghazi. Maybe also on Bait Lahya near the Israeli border. Helicopters are circling over the town.

It’s a surreal situation. I imagine gunmen fighting on a street level (I can still hear small arms) and then an Israeli air air attack. And Fatah and Hamas sitting on their corners wondering who the Israelis are going to bomb next. Tomorrow morning, they’re going to call it a Fatah-Israeli offensive.

Everything goes quiet for a few minutes. I watch the gunmen on the corner of my street as they sit down again, rest against their guns. A dog barks. Some men are seen walking, maybe trying to get home when they think the streets are safe. Then the crack of a gunshot, return fire, everything starts again. The gunmen on the corner stand up, grip their Kalashnikovs to their chests and press their backs against the wall, straining to look around the corner. The guns get heavier as the night goes on. The distant rumble of a bomb.

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