Hani al-Hassan, a former interior minister in the Palestinian Authority, escaped an assassination attempt on his life Tuesday night when a group of masked men fired several shots at him during a visit to Nablus.
Hassan, who is a member of the Fatah central committee, was not hurt. Sources in the city said the assailants belonged to Fatah's armed wing, Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
Hassan had arrived in Nablus to discuss preparations for next January's parliamentary elections. The attack took place as he was preparing to meet with local Fatah leaders to discuss the vote.
The Aksa Martyrs Brigades have issued several threats against Hassan in the past, accusing him of suspending their salaries when he served as interior minister under Yasser Arafat.
The group also warned Hassan against entering Nablus, saying its members would not hesitate to attack him.
The assassination attempt is yet another sign of growing tensions in the ruling Fatah party ahead of the parliamentary elections. The party has been witnessing a bitter power struggle between veteran leaders who came with Arafat from Tunis in 1994 and grassroots activists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip representing the young guard.
Moreover, the incident comes on the heels of the assassination of Gen. Moussa Arafat, the former commander of the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces in the Gaza Strip and a cousin of Yasser Arafat. The general was killed in the context of what Palestinians described as a power struggle between Fatah-affiliated warlords in the Gaza Strip.
Further evidence of the deepening crisis in Fatah was provided on Wednesday by the mass resignation of the party's local leaders in the central Gaza Strip. The resignations came in protest against an attack by scores of Fatah gunmen on the offices of the party.
Ibrahim Tahrawi, one of the Fatah leaders who resigned, said that there was a sharp increase in cases of anarchy and lawlessness in PA-ruled areas. He accused the PA cabinet of failing to impose law and order and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
In Tulkarm, dozens of Fatah gunmen on Wednesday blocked all entrances to the local refugee camp, preventing Palestinian policemen from entering the area.
Sixteen Palestinian legislators have signed a petition calling for the resignation of Qurei in the wake of growing anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Legislative Council is expected to meet next week to discuss the legislators' demand to hold a no-confidence vote against the cabinet.
PLC Speaker Rouhi Fattouh lashed out at Qurei's cabinet for failing to restore law and order and threatened to take "legal action" against those responsible. "We are in a state of crisis because of the ongoing chaos," Fattouh complained. "We can no longer sit on the side and watch the deterioration. Enough is enough!"
Fattouh called for the formation of a temporary emergency cabinet that would run the affairs of the Palestinians until the parliamentary elections. "The cabinet is paralyzed and in a chaotic state," he added. "Although the prime minister is formally in charge of the security forces, we see that he's not involved in security-related matters at all."
Qurei told reporters in Ramallah that he was prepared to accept full responsibility for the anarchy. "We're not going to hide our heads in the sand," he said. "We are all responsible for the chaos, including the cabinet, the security forces and the Islamic and national forces."