(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority officials here on Wednesday accused Hamas of seeking to undermine PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas by launching a new security force in the Gaza Strip and warned that the move was tantamount to a declaration of war on Abbas's Fatah party.
Abbas responded by ordering the deployment of hundreds of PA policemen in the streets - a move that is likely to aggravate tensions between the two parties.
Said Siam, interior minister of the Hamas cabinet, announced that the new force, which started operating on Wednesday, consists of members of various armed groups. He said the 3,000-strong force had been entrusted with fighting lawlessness and anarchy, pointing out that the PA security forces had failed in carrying out their duties.
The force is led by Jamal Abu Samhadanah, a former commander of the Popular Resistance Committees who has long been wanted by Israel because of his involvement in terrorism.
Siam said the force was needed to fight against gangsters who are targeting members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and who are working against the Hamas government.
"These gangs are working according to a scheme that is directed against the government," he said, in a clear reference to Fatah militiamen.
PA officials said the new force was actually a Hamas army, noting that over 90 percent of its members belonged to Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam. The officials said the PA would not recognize the new force because the Hamas cabinet did not have the power to establish a security force.
"President Abbas is the only one who has the authority to establish a security force," said one official. "He has already issued a presidential decree banning the establishment of the new force."
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, urged Hamas to rescind its decision, which, he said, was clearly aimed at undermining the PA security forces.
"This force won't serve the security of the Palestinians," he said. "Rather, it will increase tensions among the people."
Fatah legislator Abu Ali Shaheen strongly condemned the decision, dubbing the new force as a "black militia." He added: "This Hamas militia can never protect the Palestinians and the homeland. It will never serve as an alternative to the Palestinian security forces. We say no to this black militia and masked gunmen and yes to the rule of law. Our people must tell these militiamen and murderers that they must return to their homes."
Shaheen and scores of Fatah supporters later staged a demonstration in Gaza City to protest against the formation of the new security force.
Maher Mikdad, a top Fatah operative in the Gaza Strip, said the Palestinians would not allow Hamas to intimidate them through its militia. "The interior minister is acting against the law," he said. "He wants to undermine the security forces and rule the Palestinians through a militia that will intimidate and terrorize them. Today Hamas issued a death certificate for the Palestinian security forces."
In response to Siam's claim that the new fore was needed to enforce law and order, Mikdad said members of the new force were responsible for the growing state of anarchy in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials dismissed the allegations, holding Abbas's security forces responsible for the deterioration.
"The members of the new force are all good guys," said Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel. "The people have lost their confidence in the security forces, which are part of the anarchy and lawlessness."
The launching of the new force comes amid mounting tensions between Hamas and Fatah, whose supporters have been fighting almost daily battles in various parts of the Gaza Strip. Two Hamas gunmen were killed in separate incidents in the area over the past 48 hours. Hamas gunmen are believed to be responsible for a series of shooting attacks on the homes and cars of several PA security officers over the past few days.