Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chaos in Gaza Power Vacuum

GAZA STRIP -- Nabil Shaath, one of the most prominent Palestinian officials and a close adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, had his own taste of Gazan chaos the other day. At sunset, on a crowded city street, his green BMW was carjacked at gunpoint.

Shaath was not in the car, only his driver, who had to be treated at a hospital. But the boldness of the gang that carried out the theft was the talk of Gaza.

As Abbas tries to assemble a national unity government that might enable Israeli and Western funds to flow back to the Palestinian Authority, the battling between gunmen affiliated with his Fatah faction and those of Hamas, the radical Islamist party that came to power after January's legislative elections, continues apace.

The fighting is part of a struggle for power in the one part of the Palestinian territories that Israel has largely abandoned. The rivalry has been visible in the murders of prominent officials, in clashes on street corners and in the creation, against the express orders of Abbas, of a Hamas-run "Executive Force," a separate police force dressed in camouflage pants, black shirts and, invariably, beards.

Even in the strikes by civil servants against the Hamas government led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya -- strikes orchestrated by Fatah, but rooted in genuine anger over nonpayment of salaries -- there is an element of armed menace.

"Hamas and Fatah are shooting each other and we, the Palestinian people, are in the middle," said Ghazi Abu Shaban, 59, a math teacher at the Bashir El Rayes High School for girls. Shaban has taught here for 34 years, and has seen the students go from loose hair and tight clothing to the long black cloaks and white head scarves in favor today.

Shaban and the school's headmistress, Nadra Bseisso, joined a brief teachers' strike called by their union over the failure to pay salaries, and then resented it when so-called volunteers were sent by the Hamas government to teach in their place. "We feel abused and manipulated by the president and the government competing against one another," Shaban said.