Top Israeli army officials said they have evidence that forces loyal to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement are preparing to do battle with Hamas forces across Judea and Samaria (the so-called "West Bank") in the coming weeks.
One officer told The Jerusalem Post that with Abbas' term as Palestinian Authority "president" coming to an end on January 9, Fatah is keen to ensure that Hamas does not exploit the subsequent political instability to take over in Judea and Samaria as it did in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah-aligned Palestinian Authority paramilitary forces are preparing to launch a broad crackdown on Hamas that will allow Abbas to more smoothly bypass elections and extend his rule, said the officer.
That crackdown appears to have already begun, with many local Hamas leaders being detained in recent days in Judea and Samaria, an act that Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahar said Fatah would pay dearly for.
Israeli officials said they are likely to stay on the sidelines, as Jerusalem has long insisted that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its peace obligations to confront and disarm groups like Hamas. However, they also fear that the violence will spill over into Jewish communities in the disputed territories and into sovereign Israel.