Saturday, June 16, 2007

The grisly scenes of death accompanying the Hamas coup in Gaza are a reminder of the dark vision that radical Islamists backed by Iran and Syria have in store for the Palestinians and Muslims throughout the Middle East. And they also should serve as a warning of what the region will look like when these Islamists perceive the United States and the West to be too weak to project power and defend their interests. Today, Hamas, which gets financial support, weapons and military training from Iran, and marching orders from Secretary-General Khaled Meshal in Damascus, has complete control of Gaza, having eliminated all vestiges of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.

What does a jihadist “democracy” look like? In Gaza City, a correspondent for this newspaper watched Thursday as Hamas gunmen pulled a Fatah commander out of a building and shot him in the street before bystanders spat on the body. Witnesses described Fatah security operatives being dragged out of what had been a redoubt of Abbas loyalists: the Palestinian Preventive Security Service headquarters. The Fatah men were led out in their underwear or shirtless, and executed as their wives and children watched. Elsewhere, Hamas death squads roamed through Gaza City neighborhoods looking for Fatah rivals, and they were seen parading through a refugee camp carrying the corpse of a senior Fatah operative they had just killed.

As the coup began, Hamas made radio announcements telling Fatah rivals: “Stay at home and you will be safe.” That was a lie, and it soon became apparent that there was no safe place to be a Fatah member in Gaza. Palestinians were shot in hospital wards, thrown off of rooftops or executed at point-blank range. Among the dead were three women and a 14-year-old boy who were killed when Hamas gunmen stormed the home of a Fatah security officer.

Then there was the sad case of a Fatah commander named Jamal Abu Jediyan, and his brother, who talked on the phone with a Palestinian radio station as Hamas laid siege to their house. “They’re firing at us, firing RPGs, firing mortars. We’re not Jews,” the brother pleaded. A few minutes later, the Jediyan brothers were dragged out of the house and fatally shot.

The Hamas coup is a black eye for U.S. foreign policy. Washington has tried to prop up Mr. Abbas as a “moderate” alternative to Hamas, a point underscored by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call to Mr. Abbas on Thursday to emphasize continuing U.S. support. Hamas gunmen made a “telephone call” of their own yesterday in response: the Associated Press ran photographs of three masked Hamas thugs making themselves at home in what used to be Mr. Abbas’ office, smashing pictures and declaring victory in a mock phone call to Miss Rice.

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