US to Weaken Hamas, Infighting Kills 7

GAZA CITY — A report that the Bush administration has "creative" means to weaken the ruling Hamas and empower President Mahmoud Abbas of the once dominant Fatah movement coincided Sunday, October 1, with inter-Palestinian fighting that claimed at least four lives.

Washington is looking for interim ways of improving the economic situation and giving Abbas the credit, an Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz daily.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the steps, including the strengthening of the presidential regime and security forces loyal to Abbas, during her visit to Israel this week.

The new strategy includes reviving the plan proposed by US General Keith Dayton for operation of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel by Abbas’ presidential guard assisted by foreign observers.

Rice, due in Israel Thursday, will also be promoting a frozen agreement she mediated last year to facilitate movement between Gaza and the West Bank.

International financial aid was in effect suspended when Hamas assumed the reins of power in March after trouncing Fatah in January legislative elections.

Some 160,000 Palestinian Authority civil servants have received only parts of their salaries since March, and unemployment benefits to those with no jobs have not been paid either. More than half of those living in the Gaza Strip are without work.

Since March, UNWRA has added 100,000 people to lists of recipient of food aid in the Gaza Strip. Some 830,000 people, 60 percent of the population, now receives UN aid.

The World Food Program provides additional assistance to 280,000 people out of Gaza’s total population of 1.4 million people packed into the crowded, impoverished Mediterranean coastal territory.

Infighting

On the ground, at least seven Palestinians were killed Sunday in deadly violence between Hamas and Fatah.

In the deadliest internecine feuding since Hamas’s rise to power, seven people were killed and scores more wounded in the Gaza Strip as security forces loyal to the rival factions engaged in fierce shootouts in the heart of the territory’s main towns.

The bloodiest exchange broke out near the parliament building in the center of Gaza City.

In separate incidents, two members of the security forces close to Fatah were killed in exchanges of fire with members of the Executive Force formed by the Hamas-led interior ministry, police and medical sources said.

A third man, whose identity was not immediately released, was killed in another incident.

Clashes also broke out in the southern Gaza Strip’s main town of Khan Yunis, leaving 23 wounded, medics said.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, hundreds of protestors stormed the government compound and set fire to the headquarters of the Hamas-led government.

The offices of Hamas ministers and MPs were also torched. The blazes were extinguished by late evening.

The protestors included armed members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military arm of Fatah.

They first broke into the Ramallah offices of Hamas MPs before entering the offices of Hamas ministers in a different building in the government compound and damaging them.

Appeals

The violence prompted urgent appeals from other factions for a halt to the internecine feuding which they warned only served the interests of the Israeli enemy.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called on the two main factions to halt the clashes immediately and open negotiations.

"The Fatah and Hamas movements must immediately stop the fighting in Gaza which the Zionist enemy could only pray for," said the movement’s Damascus representative, Maher Taher.

"Dialogue is the way to handle internal disputes, not violence which the Palestinian people reject."

Abbas ordered security forces under his command to return to barracks after the fighting with the interior ministry’s force.

The interior ministry had deployed the troops after police loyal to Abbas joined thousands of civil servants in a month-old strike in protest at the government’s inability to pay their wages as a result of the Western aid freeze.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in a statement that "the participation of members of the security forces in the demonstrations is a violation of the law and threatens the security of all Palestinians."

He also accused "some of trying to block the work of (interior ministry forces) and deliberately opening fire on them, contributing to chaos," and defended the decision to send troops into the streets out of the need to "restore order."

Fatah, on the other hand, accused the government of fueling the fighting.

"It is not up to the (interior ministry) forces to apply the law however they think it should be applied. (The forces) are the cause of the problem and must immediately withdraw from the streets," said Fatah spokesman Maher Maqdad.

It was the latest violence between Fatah and Hamas supporters in the territories, which have been gripped by a severe political and financial crisis since Hamas formed its government.

The two factions had been engaged in talks on forming a government of national unity acceptable to the Western donors who used to bankroll the Palestinian Authority but the violence further overshadowed any hope of a breakthrough.

© IslamOnline.net (October 2, 2006)

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