Hamas force challenges Abbas
A new Hamas-dominated police force has begun patrols in the Gaza Strip in defiance of a ban by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
On Wednesday about 30 members of the new force, armed and wearing military fatigues, patrolled the market of Nusseirat refugee camp, a Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.
Some wore headbands emblazoned with the name “Qassam”, after Hamas’ armed wing – the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades.
Earlier the interior minister of the Hamas-led government, Saeed Seyam, declared the security service operational after the killings of two Hamas militants in Gaza drive-by shootings in the past two days.
These and other recent cases of infighting have threatened to plunge the Palestinian territories into bloody chaos.
Witnesses said members of the force also deployed along main roads, including the north-south Gaza highway, and some were on mobile patrol.
The Hamas-led government and Abbas have been embroiled in a power struggle since the militant group ousted Abbas’ long-ruling Fatah party in the January parliamentary elections.
Abbas, who directly controls three security forces, appointed an ally as head of the remaining three security branches, which fall under the command of the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
Seyam announced a plan last month to create the new force, which would be solely under his control.
Abbas vetoed the force, which is to number about 3,000 fighters and be headed by Jamal Abu Samhadana, a key player in ongoing rocket attacks on Israel and a suspect in the 2003 bombing of an American convoy in the Gaza Strip.
State of chaos
Ignoring Abbas, Seyam told a news conference on Wednesday that the unit would begin operating immediately.
He said the contingent would tackle a “state of chaos and anarchy and increasing assaults on our people”.
Just hours after the announcement, members of the new force ejected students from the local offices of the education ministry in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, where they were protesting against exam fees, witnesses said.
Tawfiq Abu Khussa, a Fatah spokesman, called on Seyam to “retract a hasty decision that may lead our people to catastrophe”.
The prime minister, Ismail Haniya, later met leaders of his Hamas faction and Fatah to try to calm tensions.
Three gunmen were killed and a dozen people wounded in violence between Abbas’ long-dominant Fatah and Hamas last week.
The clashes were fuelled by a power struggle between the president’s loyalists and Haniya’s supporters.
Seyam said attacks by “armed gangs” were part of “a plot to destabilise the Palestinian territories and match the pressure being applied on the government.”
He said the security services he oversees had been unwilling or unable to implement his orders.
Hamas’ ouster of Fatah has sparked Western aid cutoffs designed to pressure the militants to recognize Israel and disarm.
The sanctions left the Hamas-led government unable to pay government salaries for more than two months.