Fatah has several hundred militiamen in the Gaza Strip, some of whom are members of the Palestinian Authority security forces, who continue to receive their salaries from Western governments.Palestinian Authority President and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas on Monday called for an "immediate cessation" of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
At least two Fatah armed groups announced that they had started firing rockets at the "settlements" of Ashkelon and Sderot, cities inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel, with another Fatah group claiming responsibility for firing 35 rockets into Israel since Sunday.
So far as Abbas is concerned, "it all started when Israel fired back" in response to hundred of rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip during the last few days. He seems concerned that if the world hears about the role of Fatah in the rocket attacks, the news will affect Western financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, which dominated by Fatah.
But Abbas stopped short of calling for an end to rocket attacks on Israel, an omission of what triggered the current round of fighting.
Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system launches a missile to intercept a rocket fired from Gaza. (Image source: IDF)
So as far as Abbas is concerned, "it all started when Israel fired back" in response to hundreds of rockets that were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip during the past few days.
Why did Abbas refrain from condemning or calling for an end to the rocket attacks?
First, Abbas does not want to anger Hamas by issuing a condemnation of its rocket attacks. Such a condemnation would certainly lead to the collapse of the "reconciliation accord" that his Fatah faction signed with the Islamist movement last April.
Second, condemning Hamas would be seen as an admission that the "national consensus" government bears responsibility for the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip. After all, this is a Fatah-Hamas government, although its ministers are described as "independent technocrats."
Third, Abbas is fully aware that the Palestinian public would not accept such a condemnation, especially in the wake of increased tensions with Israel in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of the Jerusalem teenager, Mohamed Abu Khdeir.
Abbas is already facing a smear campaign waged by many Palestinians for condemning the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month.
Photos depicting the embattled Abbas as a "Jewish rabbi" and "settler" have been circulating on social media over the past few weeks.
Several senior Fatah officials have also joined the anti-Abbas campaign, some openly calling for his removal from power for denouncing the murder of the three Israeli youths and saying he would pursue security coordination with Israel.
Fourth, Abbas is not willing to condemn the rocket attacks because his own Fatah loyalists in the Gaza Strip are also participating in the fighting against Israel.
Fatah has several hundred militiamen in the Gaza Strip who belong to various armed groups. Some, according to sources in the Gaza Strip, are former members of the Palestinian Authority security forces, who continue to receive their salaries from the Western-funded Palestinian government in Ramallah.
Shortly after Israel launched air strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday, Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Aitah issued an urgent call to his men to take part in "defending the Gaza Strip against Israeli aggression."
Echoing the Fatah argument that "it all started when Israel fired back," the spokesman accused Israel of "violating international laws" by targeting terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Aitah's call for joining the fight against Israel did not fall on deaf ears. Within minutes, at least two Fatah armed groups announced that they had started firing rockets at the "settlements" of Ashkelon and Sderot, cities inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel.
One group, called Jaish al-Karamah [Army of Dignity], published a statement entitled, "Gone are the Days of Defeat; Victory is Close."
The group even admitted that one of its "rocket units" had narrowly escaped an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip.
Another Fatah group, called "Brigades of Martyr Abdel Qader Husseini - Armed Wing of Fatah," also took credit for firing two rockets at Israeli towns and cities.
A third Fatah group, called Jaish al-Asifah [Army of the Storm], distributed leaflets in which its members claimed responsibility for launching 35 rockets at Israel since Sunday night.
The Fatah militiamen in the Gaza Strip were also acting at the request of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who called on all Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip to close ranks in order to fight against the Israeli enemy.
The involvement of Fatah in the rocket attacks against Israel shows that the "reconciliation" pact with Hamas is much more than a political partnership. Obviously, Hamas and Fatah militiamen are working together on the ground to carry out attacks against Israel.
What is happening in the Gaza Strip these days is not just another confrontation between Israel and Hamas. It is a confrontation between Israel on the one hand and Hamas and several armed groups, including Fatah, on the other hand.
That is why Abbas finds it difficult to condemn the rocket attacks on Israel. Such a move would put him on a collision course not only with Hamas, but also with Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Movement and at least 10 other jihadi cells operating in the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, Abbas seems to be concerned that if the world hears about the role of Fatah in the rocket attacks, the news will affect Western financial aid to his Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah.