(photo credit: AP [file])
A Hamas minister submitted his resignation to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday amid reports that President Mahmoud Abbas is considering calling early elections for the parliament and the presidency to resolve the ongoing crisis in the PA territories.
The resignation of Jamal Khudari, minister of communications and technology, is the first of its kind since Hamas took power last March. Earlier this year, PA Tourism Minister Judeh Murqus resigned after receiving threats from Fatah gunmen in Bethlehem. He withdrew his resignation after receiving assurances that he would not be harmed.
In a letter to Haniyeh, Khudari hinted that his decision to quit was related to the failure of Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party to reach an agreement on the formation of a national-unity government. Abbas and Haniyeh held five meetings in Gaza City over the past few days to discuss the national-unity government, but failed to reach an agreement.
"It is our wish, and that of all Palestinians, to see a national-unity government," Khudari wrote. "To support this effort, which undoubtedly requires that some ministers leave their posts, I place at your disposal the portfolio of Communications and Technology with the hope that you would succeed in uniting our people."
The resignation is seen as a serious embarrassment for Hamas and the Haniyeh government. PA officials in Ramallah said they saw the resignation as marking the beginning of the end of the Hamas-controlled government.
"Let's hope they will all resign and return to their homes," said a senior official in Abbas's office. "This government is a catastrophe and it is responsible for the economic and political deterioration in the Palestinian territories."
Another PA official said he expected more ministers to submit their resignations soon. "This proves that there are people in Hamas who don't support its agenda," he said. "Hamas must start listening to these voices that are coming from within its own camp."
The resignation comes one day after PA civil servants declared an open-ended strike in all government institutions, including schools and universities. The strike was organized by several Fatah-run unions, a fact that prompted Hamas leaders to talk about a "conspiracy" by Fatah and Abbas to bring down Haniyeh's government.
The strike continued Sunday, with most schools throughout the West Bank remaining closed, some by force.
At least three masked men stood outside a school in Nablus and fired into the air to keep children away, witnesses said.
Stray fire hit Issam Ghannam, 12, in the abdomen, witnesses said. He was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent surgery.
"The boy is in stable condition. He has passed the danger zone and is now resting in intensive care," said Dr. Khaled Qadiri, a doctor at Rafidya Hospital in Nablus.
The child's family, Fatah loyalists, refused to condemn the gunmen. "There were unknown men with weapons, preventing the students from going to school," said the boy's uncle, Ghannam Ibrahim Ghannam. "They fired, and as an unintentional result of the shooting he was hit."
The strike has triggered an unprecedented war of words between Fatah and Hamas, with each side holding the other responsible. Fatah leaders said the financial crisis in the PA was the direct result of Hamas's presence in power, while Hamas spokesmen accused Fatah of colluding with Israel and the US to topple the democratically elected government.
Fatah spokesman Jamal Nazzal said the Hamas government was still living in an "isolated and backward cycle." He accused the government of dragging the Palestinians toward a "real crisis that threatens the very existence of the Palestinians."
Upon returning from the Gaza Strip, Abbas chaired an urgent meeting of the PLO executive committee in his office in Ramallah to discuss the latest crisis with Hamas and the strike. Abbas told the committee that Hamas was "not serious" about the establishment of a national-unity government, one of the members told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the member, Abbas said that the only way out of the current crisis is to hold early elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA presidency. "I'm fed up with Hamas's games and tricks," he quoted Abbas as saying. "I see no other solution but to announce a state of emergency and dissolve the parliament. I'm also prepared to resign so that we could have new elections and allow the people to decide on their future."
In a statement issued after the meeting, the executive committee accused Hamas of "procrastination" in forming a national-unity government. It said Abbas's talks with Haniyeh over the past few days failed and warned that the crisis would increase the isolation of the Palestinians on both the regional and international fronts.
AP contributed to this report.