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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday threatened to dismiss the Hamas cabinet unless it agreed to negotiate with Israel.
Abbas's threat came less than 48 hours after a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas was seriously considering firing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and calling new parliamentary election. Abbas's press secretary, Walid Awad, denied the report, saying it was "unfounded and totally untrue." However, Abbas, in an interview with Turkey's CNN TV station, said he did not rule out the possibility of dissolving the Hamas cabinet. "The constitution authorizes me to dismiss any cabinet, but for now I don't want to use my powers," he said. "Everyone must know that, according to the law, I have the power to do so."
It was the first time that Abbas had issued such a public threat since Hamas won the parliamentary election last January. The threat is yet another indication of growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah.
In the interview, Abbas said Hamas "must face the reality" and negotiate with Israel. "Otherwise, they will leave the Palestinians to starve to death because of the decision to cut off financial aid," he cautioned. He also expressed fear that conditions would deteriorate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians would not be able to survive without foreign aid.
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas cabinet, dismissed Abbas's threat as "inappropriate." He pointed out that the threat came at a time when the new cabinet was facing increased pressure from the international community. "These threats will only intensify the pressure and increase the isolation of the Palestinians," he said.
"I don't think it's wise to issue such threats against a cabinet that has been in power for only three weeks. We were hoping that Abbas would support the cabinet's efforts." In response to Abbas's demand that Hamas recognize Israel, Hamad said: "President Abbas has a lot of experience in this field. He negotiated with the Israelis, who failed to meet their obligations. He has a bitter experience with Israel."
In a related development, Haniyeh on Monday appealed for calm and condemned recent attacks by Fatah gunmen on public institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "My government respects President Abbas and all our leaders, including [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal, who is one of the leaders of the Palestinian people," he said during a tour of two universities in Gaza City where Fatah and Hamas students fought each other over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip expressed outrage over Hamas's new security force and called for its dismantlement. The new force, which consists of Hamas militiamen, was established by Interior Minister Said Siam. Members of the force on Sunday arrested several Fatah gunmen who raided the Health Ministry in Gaza City and threatened the minister, Bassem Naim.
Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak [Fatah] met with Siam on Monday to discuss the issue and ways of ending tensions between the two sides. Maher Mikdad, a spokesman for Fatah, said his party was extremely concerned about the new force, which he said was trying to replace the official security services.
He warned Hamas's military wing, Izzaddin al-Kassam, against undermining the role of the security forces and taking the law into their hands. He urged the Interior Ministry to dismantle the Hamas force whose members, he said, were behaving like thugs and trying to intimidate the people.