(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority on Saturday dissolved the Hamas-controlled municipal council in Kalkliya, in a move that has drawn strong condemnation from the Islamist movement.
Hamas warned that the move would damage Egyptian efforts to resolve differences between the movement and Fatah.
In recent days there have been signs that the two parties are closer than ever to signing a "reconciliation" accord that would give Hamas a say in political and security-related matters.
Last December, The Jerusalem Post revealed that the PA was planning to replace all Hamas-controlled municipalities in the West Bank, in a bid aimed at undermining the movement's standing there.
The PA's decision to get rid of all the Hamas municipalities was taken in the frame of understandings reached between Israel and the PA government headed by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
The decision to dissolve the Kalkilya Municipality was signed by PA Minister for Local Government Khaled Qawasmeh.
Qawasmeh said the decision was made because of the municipality's debts and had nothing to do with the fact that it's run by Hamas figures.
He said in a statement that the mayor, Wajih Qawas, has been replaced by Samir Dawabsheh, a Fatah official working for the Ministry for Local Government.
The minister held Qawas, a Hamas representative who was elected in 2005, responsible for the financial crisis in the municipality. He pointed out that the municipality's debts had grown since 2005 from NIS 17 million to about NIS 80m.
The minister also accused the mayor of failing to implement a reform plan to prevent the city from going bankrupt.
He added that the mayor and his 15-member municipal council were responsible for "anarchy" in the municipality with regards to employing new workers.
Qawasmeh claimed that the decision to replace the council has won the backing of many residents and institutions in the city.
Hamas reacted furiously to the decision, saying it was in the context of the PA's "repressive measures against democratically elected mayors and council members."
Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said that the PA has dismissed dozens of civil servants, particularly teachers, under the pretext that they were affiliated with Hamas.
He said that the PA security forces arrested 39 Hamas supporters in the West Bank over the weekend.
The Hamas official called on the Kalkilya mayor and his council members to ignore the decision to fire them and to report to work as usual.
This was not the first time that the PA had targeted the Kalkilya Municipality. Earlier this year, the PA dismissed three council members without giving any reason.
The three were Dr. Hashim al-Masri, the deputy mayor, journalist Mustafa Sabri, and Asma Hammouda.
Sabri has since been in a PA prison without trial on the grounds that he is affiliated with Hamas. At least 20 other elected council members from other cities have also been rounded up by PA security forces in the past few months for the same reason.
Hamas scored a significant victory in municipal elections that were held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 2004 and 2005. Hamas candidates and lists managed to take control of major West Bank cities such as Nablus, Ramallah, al-Bireh, Kalkilya and Bethlehem.