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The Palestinian Authority has fired hundreds of security officers who refused to participate in the recent fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas announced that it was "premature" to talk about the resignation of his government. Haniyeh was expected to submit his resignation on Tuesday to pave the way for the formation of a Palestinian unity government. Haniyeh did not offer any reason for his decision to delay the resignation, sparking speculation of renewed tensions with Fatah.
Fatah officials admitted on Tuesday that they were facing "certain difficulties" in persuading the US and EU to accept the agreement that was reached with Hamas in Mecca last week.
PA security officials told The Jerusalem Post that the officers were dismissed for "failing to fulfill their duties" during the armed clashes with Hamas militiamen. The officials described the behavior of the security officers as a "form of mutiny." They said most of the officers were fired after they refused to defend senior PA and Fatah officials who came under attack from Hamas.
In one incident, scores of officers refused to confront Hamas gunmen who besieged the home of Gen. Muhammad Ghraib of the Preventative Security Service in the northern Gaza Strip for eight hours before killing him.
The fired officers belonged to the Preventative Security Service, Military Intelligence and Force 17.
According to the officials, the officers are suspected of sympathizing with Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed groups in the Gaza Strip.
"If they want to work with Hamas and other groups, they should not stay in the Palestinian security forces," the officials added. "Some officers from the West Bank who also refused to obey orders have been fired."
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel strongly condemned the decision to dismiss the officers, saying it was "politically motivated." He said the decision was also a "blow" to the unity government agreement.
At least 150 officers belonged to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Presidential Guard, while another 320 worked for various PA security services, Bardaweel said.
"Many of them were fired for just sympathizing with Hamas," he claimed. "We will bring their case to the attention of the Palestinian Legislative Council and we will do our utmost to end this injustice."
Dozens of the dismissed officers staged a sit-in strike outside the PLC compound in Gaza City, calling on the PA leadership to rescind the decision.
Sources close to Hamas told the Post that the movement was now considering recruiting the officers to its paramilitary "Executive Force." They said representatives of the officers met earlier this week with Interior Minister Said Siam of Hamas, who is formally in charge of the PA security forces, and received a promise from him that they would be merged into the Hamas force.
In a related development, Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Executive Force, announced that Hamas was opposed to any attempt to incorporate the force into the PA security services. Fatah representatives who participated in the Mecca summit claimed over the weekend that Hamas had agreed to merge its force into the PA security forces.
"The status of the Executive Force will remain unchanged," Shahwan said. "We belong to the Ministry of Interior and we are part of the police force in the Gaza Strip although we work independently."