(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of rioting Palestinian policemen broke into the Palestinian Authority Parliament compound in Gaza on Tuesday.
The demonstration, one of several scheduled in various parts of the Gaza Strip, took place to protest against unpaid salaries and the failure of the Hamas government to improve the economic situation.
The demonstrators fired in the air and smashed windows.
The demonstration took place under the authorization of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who, in the context of his efforts to undermine the Hamas government, gave permission for the demonstrations.
"This is a legitimate protest by the security forces because their members haven't received full salaries for the past six months," said one official prior to the protest. "They asked for permission to demonstrate and President Abbas, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Palestinian security forces, approved the request."
The demonstrations came after a general strike declared by tens of thousands of PA civil servants entered its third day on Monday. The strike has left most government institutions and schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip closed.
The overwhelming majority of PA policemen belong to Abbas's Fatah party. Gunmen belonging to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, are expected to join the demonstrators, sources in Gaza City said.
On Monday, Hamas's Interior Minister Said Siam expressed deep concern over the intention of policemen to demonstrate against the government, saying the move could lead to armed confrontations. He warned the policemen against chanting slogans against the government or attacking government institutions.
"These demonstrations are an attempt to tamper with the rights of our people and to exploit their suffering," Siam said. "This is a free service to the enemies of the Palestinians."
He warned that such protests would only increase tensions between Hamas and Fatah, and called on Abbas to cancel the demonstrations immediately. A senior advisor to Abbas said late Monday night that he may cancel the protests to avoid violence.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh lashed out at Abbas's senior aides and members of the PLO executive committee (one of the key decision-making bodies headed by Abbas), accusing them of inciting against the Hamas government.
Haniyeh's remarks, made during the weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza City, marked yet another escalation in tensions between Hamas and Fatah, after the two sides failed over the weekend to reach an agreement on the formation of a national-unity government.
"There is a trend that is trying to undermine the government," he charged. "Otherwise, what does it mean that some people are shooting at schools and threatening teachers to abide by the strike? And what does it mean when some close down the Palestinian Legislative Council and threaten its workers?"
Haniyeh was referring to reports that Fatah officials and gunmen had been threatening civil servants and teachers to stay away from work. According to some reports, Fatah gunmen raided a number of schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and kicked out teachers and students.
On Saturday, the PLO's executive committee held an emergency meeting in Ramallah, during which it expressed its full support for the strikers and their demands. In response, Haniyeh described the committee's announcement as "irresponsible," saying it would lead to more anarchy and tensions among the Palestinians.
"The executive committee is continuing to incite against the government," he said. "We also have information that some circles [in Fatah and the PLO] are inciting the security forces to take to the streets tomorrow [Tuesday] as part of a plan to weaken the government. This is a very serious development and will have grave repercussions."
Haniyeh also announced during the cabinet meeting that Jamal Khudari, the minister of communications and technology in the Hamas government, had withdrawn his resignation less than 24 hours after he submitted it. Khudari said on Sunday that he was quitting because of his desire to see a national-unity government that would bring Hamas and Fatah together.
Meanwhile, PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is closely associated with Abbas, confirmed that the PA president was considering the possibility of forming an emergency government in the wake of Hamas's failure to govern.
"This is an irresponsible government," he said. "There is a strong possibility that we will have an emergency government instead of a national-unity government."
In a separate development, the PA Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar was attacked by Fatah members during a visit to the Jabalya refugee camp Sunday night. The ministry said Zahar, who is one of the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was verbally and physically abused when he arrived at the home of one of his aides to offer condolences over the death of a relative.
When Zahar left the area together with his bodyguards, his car was stoned and its rear window was smashed, the ministry added. No one was hurt.
According to the ministry, the assault was part of a campaign of incitement that is being waged against Zahar and the Hamas government by Fatah leaders and Palestine TV, which is under the control of Abbas's office.
A sharp dispute erupted recently between Zahar and Ahmed Suboh, a senior Fatah-affiliated PA Foreign Ministry official. Suboh has openly challenged Zahar's credentials to serve as foreign minister and, at one stage, shouted at Zahar that it was "unjust that someone like you should become the foreign minister of Palestine."