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Egypt is trying to persuade the Palestinians to establish an army that would comprise members of all Palestinian factions, in a bid to resolve the crisis in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Fatah officials said Tuesday.
Egyptian security officials who have been mediating between Fatah and Hamas over the past few days raised the idea at the request of Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, they added. The mediation efforts resulted in yet another cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah, which went into effect early Tuesday morning.
The Egyptian security team, headed by Burhan Hamad and Ahmed Abdel Khalek, held a series of meetings Tuesday with Hamas and Fatah leaders and strongly urged them to abide by the cease-fire agreement. It calls for withdrawing all militiamen from the streets, releasing all those who were kidnapped from both sides, ending the war of words and preventing the fighting from spreading to the West Bank. It also calls for the arrest of all those who were involved in killings.
Although the cease-fire was generally observed throughout the Gaza Strip, masked gunmen shot and killed 35-year-old Hussein Jamasi, a top commander of Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, in Khan Yunis. Atef Najjar, a 43-year-old member of the PA's Force 17, died of wounds he sustained during the fighting with Hamas on Monday.
The two sides continued to trade allegations about the crisis. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum claimed that Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan was now acting as chairman of the PA in the Gaza Strip.
"President Mahmoud Abbas has delegated all his security powers to Dahlan," Barhoum said. "Abbas is deliberately staying abroad to allow Dahlan to perpetrate more crimes."
PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, who is also a senior Hamas leader in the Strip, confirmed that the Egyptians were trying to persuade the Palestinians to form an army "that would represent all Palestinians."
Representatives of several Palestinian factions welcomed the Egyptian proposal, saying the time had come to reconstruct the PA security forces and end the anarchy in PA-controlled territories.
Hamas's spokesman, Barhoum, said his group supported making major changes to PA security forces.
"We have always called for the creation of a new security establishment," he said. "We want an army that will include members of all the Palestinian factions. This is a positive development."
Fatah spokesman Jamal Nazal said merging all the security forces was exactly what the Palestinians needed at this stage.
"We want to see all the security forces united under one command," he said. "We are not opposed to recruiting Hamas members to the Palestinian security forces. But we oppose a situation where a Hamas security force is financed by the PA."
Sources close to the Egyptian security team in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that the proposal did not specifically mention the establishment of an army.
"Egypt wants to see all the security forces and militias incorporated into a new body that would be under the control of a national security council," the sources said. "The Palestinians interpreted this as a call to form a national army."
Abbas, who held talks in Cairo Tuesday with President Hosni Mubarak, expressed support for reconstructing the security services, his aides said. Abbas said that Hamas's "Executive Force," which operates in the Gaza Strip, was an illegal force. He said he had agreed to its formation on condition that it would be part of the PA security forces and report to the Interior Ministry, and that it would not turn into an independent body.
Commenting on the latest Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Abbas said he was fed up with repeated attempts to violate the truce.
"We're very disturbed by what's happening in the Palestinian arena," he said. "This harms the Palestinian people and their struggle."
Abbas condemned Monday's suicide attack in Eilat, saying it was unnecessary and did not bring anything good for the Palestinians. He expressed hope that the attack would not have an impact on the truce between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.