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Palestinian Authority policemen were summoned twice in the past few days to the Ministry for Women's Affairs in Ramallah to break up a fight between the new Hamas minister, Miriam Saleh, and the ministry's director-general Salwa Hudaib, who is a member of the rival Fatah party.
Sources in the ministry said the police were first summoned by the minister on Thursday following a heated exchange with Hudaib. The two women shouted and cursed for more than an hour and were close to a physical confrontation, the sources told The Jerusalem Post.
Fatah and Hamas legislators also rushed to the ministry in an attempt to calm the situation. Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary bloc, asked the police to leave the ministry so that he and his friends could solve the dispute.
On Saturday, the minister once again summoned the police to the ministry, this time accusing Hudaib of bringing armed Fatah thugs to threaten her.
The dispute erupted after Saleh sent a letter to Hudaib reprimanding her for inciting ministry employees against her and Hamas. Earlier, Hudaib accused Saleh of warning employees against dealing with any top official other than her.
During Thursday's confrontation, a Hamas legislator who was sitting in the minister's office tried unsuccessfully to break up the fight. His intervention only aggravated tensions, with Hudaib accusing the minister of bringing Hamas thugs into the ministry.
"The minister keeps bringing people from outside the ministry," Hudaib said. "Since the first day she entered office, the minister hasn't done anything. She's been busy all day receiving guests and well wishers. She has turned the ministry into a Hamas base, with all kinds of unwanted characters walking in and out all the time."
Hudaib added that she was particularly enraged that the new minister had hired as advisers a number of women wearing the traditional Islamic hijab. "She's bringing all these women with head coverings to her office although there is a cabinet decision to freeze all appointments in the public sector," she said.
"This is totally unacceptable, especially when we take into consideration the fact that these advisers are being paid by Hamas while other ministry workers haven't received their salaries."
Saleh accused Hudaib of hiring Fatah gunmen to intimidate her and denied that she herself had brought Hamas militiamen to the ministry. "I'm in my position because I was elected, not appointed like Hudaib," she said, accusing the director-general of spreading lies and rumors.
"Everyone in the ministry saw that she brought the Fatah thugs and that they were drinking tea and coffee in her office. In any case, I'm not going to stoop to her level."
Rahmeh Hamed, one of the minister's advisers, strongly denied the allegations as baseless. "Salwa Hudaib tried to prevent a number of people from visiting the ministry," she said. "They explained to her that they were visiting to express their solidarity with the workers."
Newly installed Hamas ministers are being openly challenged by senior officials in their ministries who belong to Fatah.
Several ministers who tried to replace these officials have received threats from Fatah militiamen in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Last week, the director-general of the Education Ministry, Jihad Zakarneh, rejected the minister's decision to dismiss him, saying he wouldn't accept instructions from a Hamas minister. Similar incidents have been reported in the ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs.