Gaza Infighting: Haniyeh Defiant, Crisis Deepens

GAZA CITY – The Palestinian crisis deepened Friday, June 15, as Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas, vowed that his government would continue to function as the US and Israel are backing a Fatah government in the West Bank. 

"The existing government will carry out its tasks in the best possible way," Haniyeh said in a broadcast, reported Reuters.

"I order security forces to maintain law and order from now on," he said one day after Abbas sacked the government and declared a state of emergency after six days of bloody faction fighting.

Calling Abbas’s dismissal of the government "premature," Haniyeh said Hamas will not declare a "state" in Gaza where it overran its Fatah rivals. 

"The Gaza Strip is an indivisible part of the homeland and its residents are an integral part of the Palestinian people. No to a state in the Gaza Strip only because the state is a whole that cannot be divided," he said.

"I call on my brothers in Hamas to declare a general amnesty and to guarantee people’s lives," Haniyeh added.

He blamed the past week’s violence on security chiefs from President Mahmoud Abbas’s  Fatah faction in Gaza and accused them of having persecuted Hamas members.

"They have committed crimes … They have killed people just because they were bearded and because of their affiliations. They have abducted men and executed them before the eyes of their families," Haniyeh said.

"The situation reached an intolerable level and they have pushed people into reactions that have brought things to where they are now."

He also left a door open to talks, although Hamas officials have said previously this week that a condition for discussions with Fatah is that Hamas should have a leading say in security decisions for the Palestinians.

"I call for a national and comprehensive dialogue to begin immediately and on the basis of national rights," Haniyeh said.

Gaza became increasingly anarchic as lay people fear that a civil war between Hamas and Fatah had actually materialized over the past few days.

Hamas gunmen are controlling now the entire Gaza Strip after seizing the presidential compound, the last bastion of Abbas’s authority in the territory.

Hamas gunmen hoisted green flags over Fatah buildings and pounded Abbas’s Gaza compound with heavy weaponry.

Medics said at least another 30 people were killed on Thursday, June 14, taking the death toll since Saturday to over 110.

Exact casualty figures were unclear, as was the fate of Fatah fighters seen led away, bare-chested, after surrendering. There were unconfirmed reports of prisoners being shot.

Some Fatah gunmen retaliated against Hamas in the West Bank, shooting and wounding a Hamas man near Ramallah, seizing Hamas supporters in the towns of Jenin and in Nablus, where they also stormed a Hamas office and hurled its computers out of the window.

Even businesses owned by Hamas supporters were targeted by angry crowds in the territory occupied by Israel.

The Palestinian unity cabinet that took office on March 17 in a Saudi-mediated power-sharing deal was supposed to end factional fighting that killed more than 100 people in December and January. But tensions between the two rivals continued to simmer, stoked by disagreements over cabinet posts.

Two Governments 

Experts say Abbas’s declaration of an emergency cabinet in the West Bank holds out the prospects of two cabinets and finally early elections, an option staunchly opposed by Hamas.

They say the US and Israel, both announced their full support for Abbas Thursday, would work now on consolidating "Abbas’s government" in the West Bank.

According to Friday’s edition of The Washington Post, US officials signaled that they will move quickly to persuade the Quartet to lift aid restrictions on the emergency government, allowing direct aid to flow to the West Bank-based cabinet that Abbas will lead.

"There is no more Hamas-led government. It is gone," a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post.

The official said the dissolution of the Hamas-led government is a singular moment that will allow the United States and its allies to create a "new model of engagement."

 The United States on Thursday endorsed Abbas’ decision to declare an emergency government in the West Bank.

"President Abbas has exercised his lawful authority as president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Palestinian people," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Israeli officials further suggested that Israel would work with Abbas and a Fatah government in the West Bank, and could gradually hand over to it the remaining Palestinian tax moneys, about $562 million, withheld since Hamas took power a year ago in March, The New York Times reported Friday.

"To give the money to a Hamas government would be reckless," one senior Israeli official said.

"To give it to a Fatah government is an opportunity."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged support for Abbas Thursday.

"I call on my friend Abu Mazen (Abbas’s alias) to take the opportunity, now that almost the entire world understands the viciousness, the brutality of Hamas, to exercise his authority as the leader of the Palestinian people," he said.

In an interview with The New York Times, Olmert said Israel would be "helpful and supportive of the Palestinian people in every possible way, including economic cooperation and security cooperation."

In fact, even in relatively peaceful times, Gaza has been almost totally separated from the West Bank.

The comprehensive agreement which Rice thought she had brokered in November 2005, and which included provisions for "safe passage" from Gaza to the West Bank, has not been implemented. Israel retains control of Gaza’s crossings, territorial waters, and airspace.

Unwise 

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) dismissed Abbs’s move on Friday as unwise, saying it would complicate the crisis further.

"It’s like giving a good excuse to Israel and to those who say there’s no need to implement the peace plan," Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the pan-Islamic group, told reporters.

"It will frustrate the goal to create a Palestinian state."

Syed Hamid said the OIC is hopeless to end the crisis.

"The OIC is in the state of hopelessness. We got limits to what we can do," he told reporters.

Syed Hamid, who later met OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in the Malaysian capital, said it was up to the Hamas and Fatah factions to resolve their differences.

"Malaysia is disappointed and sad. The OIC has taken several steps but that does not mean we will forget about the struggle of the Palestinians. We hope they will have a give-and-take, and reopen a dialogue," he added.
 
(IslamOnline.net – June 15, 2007)

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