Hamas cements its control across Gaza

By
June 17, 2007 13:33

Hamas cemented its control across Gaza on Saturday. Former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ismail Haniyeh replaced Fatah-allied security commanders with his loyalists, and Hamas gunmen searched homes and neighborhoods to round up their opponents' weapons. Two Fatah loyalists were killed by Hamas gunmen, in what Fatah alleged were revenge killings. Also, the bodies of seven Hamas members were found in the basement of the Preventive Security Service headquarters, a Fatah stronghold captured Thursday, and the bullet-riddled corpse of a Fatah field commander turned up in southern Gaza. More than 100 people were killed a week of clashes. In the West Bank, Fatah gunmen attacked Hamas-run institutions, storming the parliament and several government ministries. Chanting "Hamas Out," they planted Fatah and Palestinian flags on rooftops. They attacked Deputy Parliament Speaker Hassan Kreisheh, an independent, but parliament employees prevented the assailants from grabbing him. The gunmen left after warning government workers that those with Hamas ties would not be allowed to return. Hamas has not explained how it would run Gaza without foreign support or contact to the outside world. Israel controls Gaza's borders, wielding tremendous influence over the movement of people and goods in and out of the area. Dozens of Gazans converged on Gaza's Erez crossing with Israel in hopes of fleeing. One man was carried on top of a luggage trolley with his leg bandaged. Hassan, 21, a presidential guard trainee, said he was shot in the fighting. He gave only his first name because he was afraid of retribution. About 150 waited at the gate separating Gaza from Israel. Some carried large suitcases, others held tiny plastic bags. One young man shouted "bye, bye, Gaza," and waved as he walked through the covered walkway that leads to the Israeli side. IDF spokesman Shlomo Dror said only a few people, considered humanitarian cases, were allowed across. By midafternoon, a Hamas checkpoint was erected on the road leading to Erez. Six masked Hamas gunmen, dressed in the blue uniform of the police, stopped cars, checked for IDs and prevented people from going through. About 50 senior Fatah officials and security officers who had fled Gaza earlier reached Ramallah, many gathering in the lobby of the Grand Park Hotel. One of the refugees, Abdel Salam Abu Nada, the general manager of the Fatah-controlled Palestine TV, said he took a harrowing journey to safety, evading Hamas checkpoints, braving Israeli tank fire and crawling 300 meters to Gaza's border with Israel. "Hamas has always targeted me. Once they fired shots are my car. And they wrote on their Web site that I am broadcasting sedition," he said. Recently, he received an ominous text message on his cellphone saying, "Your punishment is coming." Also Saturday, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas Abbas rejected an offer by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa to arrange a meeting between him and Hamas's Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo on the crisis, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post. "President Abbas believes that there is nothing to talk about with Mashaal after the military coup that Hamas staged in the Gaza Strip," the official said. "We will not talk to these Hamas murderers." Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the PA leader would not engage in a dialogue with "killers." Arab League foreign ministers who met in Cairo over the weekend expressed support for Abbas's authority and called for a commission of inquiry into the latest events in the Gaza Strip. Hamas responded by welcoming the Arab League's call for a dialogue with Fatah. The Islamist movement also expressed readiness to cooperate with an Arab League commission of inquiry. Meanwhile, Abbas got a major boost in his increasingly bellicose showdown with Hamas, with a US diplomat saying he expected a crippling 15-month-old foreign aid embargo to be lifted once he appointed an emergency government without Hamas. Also Saturday, a senior Hamas official in Gaza City said his men had captured more than 50,000 rifles and pistols during raids on the headquarters of the Fatah-controlled security forces. Hamas also seized dozens of vehicles and "important" military equipment, according to the official. "You can say that Hamas is much stronger than it was last week," he said. "We have also captured tons of ammunition and thousands of mortars and rocket-propelled grenades." The Hamas-Fatah fighting in the Gaza Strip ended late Thursday after Hamas completed its takeover of all the important PA institutions there, including Abbas's local headquarters and the offices of all the PA security forces. Scores of Fatah security commanders and political leaders fled to the West Bank and Egypt as Hamas announced that it had taken full control of the Strip. Fatah's swift collapse drew sharp criticism from some of the faction's representatives. Hatem Abdel Kader, a top Fatah operative in the West Bank, called for a commission of inquiry to determine who was responsible. Another senior Fatah official in the West Bank launched a scathing attack on Abbas and the Fatah leadership, holding them responsible for the Hamas victory. "We want to know why we lost the battle in the Gaza Strip," he said. "Those responsible for the defeat must pay the price." In response to Abbas's decision to fire him, a defiant Haniyeh said: "Abbas and his advisers did not consider the consequences [of the decision] and its effects on the situation on the ground. They made a hasty decision... We will continue our relations with all factions and continue with a national unity government." Haniyeh rejected the possibility of a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, without the West Bank. In Gaza, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmed Bahar of Hamas called Abbas's attempt to form an emergency government illegal. The US consul general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, met with Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah on Saturday, and said the embargo is set to be lifted once the new government is sworn in. "I expect that we are going to be engaged with this government," Walles said after the meeting. "I expect that early next week. There will be some announcements in Washington, specifically about our assistance and about the financial regulations." But the money is unlikely to reach Gaza, now controlled by Hamas and cut off from the world. In Gaza, panicked residents lined up at bakeries to stock up on bread, fearing growing shortages of food, fuel and other staples as the crossings of the fenced-in strip with Israel and Egypt remained closed. Hundreds of other Gazans rushed to the border crossing with Israel to try to escape Hamas rule, but found gates locked. Israeli troops briefly fired warning shots. Senior officials of Haniyeh's Fatah movement, who had fled Gaza, started reaching the West Bank over the weekend. The head of Palestine TV said he had crawled for several hundred meters to evade gunfire at the Gaza-Israel crossing before making it to safety. AP contributed to this report.


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