Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has ordered the PA security forces to thwart Hamas's plan to deploy members of its "Executive Force" in the West Bank, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said on Saturday.
PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, who is also one of the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, announced on Friday that his movement had plans to deploy members of the Executive Force in the West Bank to protect Hamas officials and institutions.
"We will increase the number of the members of our Executive Force," Zahar told supporters in Khan Yunis. "We will establish a similar force in the West Bank so that no one will torch the offices of the prime minister or attack our ministers and legislators."
The controversial Executive Force was established earlier this year by Interior Minister Said Siam to help the PA security forces impose law and order in the Gaza Strip. But the 3,000-strong force has been strongly condemned as "illegal" by Abbas and members of his Fatah party. They have repeatedly argued that the force's presence on the streets was the main reason behind increased tensions between Fatah and Hamas.
Although Hamas is less popular in the West Bank than the Gaza
Strip, PA officials expressed fear that the Islamic movement was in the early stages of setting up a new security force in the northern part of the West Bank.
The officials were surprised over the weekend when Hamas managed to bring hundreds of its gunmen to a paramilitary march in the streets of Kalkilya. On Thursday, hundreds of Hamas gunmen participated in the funeral of a top Hamas operative, Ammar Taher, who was assassinated as he walked out of a Nablus mosque.
"President Abbas has issued firm instructions to the Palestinian security forces to prevent Hamas from deploying members of its militia in the West Bank," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "Armed Fatah groups have also been ordered to foil the Hamas plan."
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah, said the presence of Hamas militiamen in the West Bank would pose a real threat to political and social stability.
"We will do everything to thwart the Hamas initiative," he vowed. "This force has done awful things in the Gaza Strip and we don't want them here. They are responsible for the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip."
Another Fatah representative, Samir Nayfeh, warned that the deployment of a Hamas force in the West Bank would escalate tensions between the two sides and result in civil war. "We urge Hamas to stop its provocations," he said. "The presence of a Hamas militia in the West Bank will not contribute to calm. In any case, Fatah is not afraid of this force."
Meanwhile, Abbas returned to Ramallah on Saturday after a brief visit to the Gaza Strip, where he met with representatives of various PLO factions to discuss his idea of establishing a new government dominated by technocrats and independents. In a sign of continued tensions with Hamas, Abbas did not meet during the visit with any representative of the government or the Islamic movement.
Abbas's aides said he decided not to meet with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh after the latter reiterated over the weekend his opposition to the formation of a technocratic government. They added that Abbas was also enraged by charges by some Hamas leaders that he was receiving millions of dollars from the US to overthrow the Haniyeh's government.