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(photo credit: AP [file])
The administration of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank decided Wednesday to suspend studies and close the campus to avoid any further violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas students.
The decision to shut the university is yet another sign of growing tensions between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank in the aftermath of Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip. It came shortly after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas failed to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council because of a Hamas boycott.
The university administration said it would reconsider its decision only if all students abided by a ban on political activities on campus and pledged to refrain from violence.
"The administration has been forced to close the university until further notice," said a university official. "We are insisting that all students stop political activities and gatherings. What happened on campus in the past few days poses a threat to academic freedom."
Tensions have been running high on campus ever since Hamas took full control over the entire Gaza Strip in mid-June.
Students told The Jerusalem Post that Fatah supporters have been harassing and threatening Hamas-affiliated students for the past three weeks. They said that at one stage, the Fatah students raided the offices of the pro-Hamas student list and confiscated computers and documents.
Fistfights and verbal altercations between the two rival parties had also become a daily scene on campus. Last week, a senior PA official invited to attend a ceremony was heckled and threatened by Hamas supporters.
On Wednesday tensions grew even higher as scores of Fatah students attacked a large group of Hamas students. According to witnesses, some 90 Hamas students were holed up for hours inside the Faculty of Science after being attacked with stones and clubs. At least 19 students were wounded in the fighting.
Hamas spokesmen claimed that PA policemen who were summoned to the university joined the Fatah students in their attack.
But Gen. Majed Faraj, commander of the PA's Military Intelligence Force, denied the charges, saying no policemen had entered the campus.
"What's happening in Bir Zeit University is part of a power struggle between rival student lists," he said. "The security forces are not involved in what's happening there."
Also Wednesday, Hamas foiled an attempt by Abbas to hold a special session of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The meeting was called to extend the term of the new West Bank-based emergency government headed by Salaam Fayad.
The term of the emergency government expires in mid-July, a month after its formation, and any possible extension requires parliament approval.
Hamas has a 74-member majority in the 132-seat parliament.
However, 41 Hamas legislators have been rounded up by Israel in the past year, leaving Abbas's Fatah faction in control with 42 legislators.
Hamas legislators boycotted the session, during which a new speaker was to have been elected. With the Hamas lawmakers staying away, the session was called off because those attending did not reach the necessary quorum of 67. The session was supposed to be held simultaneously in Ramallah and Gaza City through a videoconference link.
Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary list, accused Hamas of threatening Fatah legislators who arrived at the parliament building in Gaza City. He said at least four Fatah legislators, Intisar al Wazir, Faisal Abu Shahla, Najat al-Astal and Ashraf Juma'a, were turned back by Hamas militiamen who threatened them with their guns.
The Hamas boycott paves the way for Abbas to extend the term of the emergency government through a "presidential decree" and without requiring the approval of parliament.
"Hamas has destroyed the Palestinian parliament," said a statement issued by Fatah. "As far as we are concerned, the current Palestinian Legislative Council has ceased to exist."
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, said Hamas's boycott of the session was in the context of the Islamist movement's efforts to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. He also accused Hamas of seeking to establish a radical Islamic "emirate" in the Gaza Strip that does not honor democracy and freedom of expression.