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(photo credit: AP [file])
Fatah is preparing for a major showdown with Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the Muslim feast of Id al-Fitr, Palestinian sources said on Tuesday.
The sources said that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has instructed his loyalists in Fatah and the PA security forces to be prepared for a "major security operation" in the Gaza Strip in the coming days.
They said the decision was made in the wake of the growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah and the killing of five Fatah activists and security officers over the past few days.
"Thousands of Palestinian policemen and Fatah gunmen will be deployed in the streets of the Gaza Strip after the feast," the sources told The Jerusalem Post. "The measure is designed to halt the anarchy in the Gaza Strip and to show Hamas that the PA leadership is determined to protect its representatives."
Abbas, who met in Amman on Tuesday with Jordan's King Abdullah, is under immense pressure from his Fatah party to dismiss the Hamas government and call early elections. Some Fatah leaders have gone as far as urging Abbas to stage a coup against the Hamas government under the pretext that it has failed to carry out its duties.
Former PA security chief Muhammed Dahlan called on Abbas to use his constitutional powers to resolve the crisis with Hamas.
Accusing Hamas of carrying out systematic assassinations against Fatah operatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Dahlan also accused Hamas of violating a cease-fire agreement with Fatah that was reached under the auspices of Egypt.
"Hamas's actions are leading us to civil war," he cautioned. "We call on President Abbas to assume his responsibilities and take decisive measures to end the crisis."
Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who met earlier this week in Doha with Qatar's emir, Hamad bin Khaifa al-Thani, was reported to have warned that his movement would foil any attempt by Abbas to replace the Hamas government.
Mashaal, who was summoned to Qatar for urgent talks on the Hamas-Fatah crisis, is expected to visit Cairo in the coming days to seek ways to avoid an all-out confrontation with Abbas's Fatah party.
Both Qatar and Egypt have been exerting heavy pressure on Hamas to agree to Abbas's plan to form a technocratic government that would convince the international community to resume financial aid to the Palestinians.
But in an interview with Al-Jazeera, Mashaal categorically rejected the idea, saying a "technocratic" government was good in Europe, but not in a place like the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mashaal was also reported to have rejected a Qatari initiative calling for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit in return for a few hundred Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Egypt, Qatar and Jordan have warned the Palestinians that Israel is preparing a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip in the event that efforts to release Shalit fail, a senior PA official told the Post. He said that such an operation would play into the hands of Hamas and undermine Abbas's efforts to replace the Hamas government.
"The countdown for an Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has begun," the official claimed. "Such an operation will have devastating effects on the people in the Gaza Strip and could result in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority."
In a separate development, PA Interior Minister Said Siam of Hamas returned to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday through the Rafah border crossing after visiting Syria, Iran and Egypt.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz had called on the government to prevent Siam from returning to the Gaza Strip because of his meetings in Damascus and Teheran, but the request was turned down by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.