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(photo credit: AP [file])
Two senior Hamas officials have moved to Syria in protest against their movement's decision to form a unity government with Fatah, Fatah legislator Jamal Tirawi said Monday.
The two, Interior Minister Said Siam and Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, are said to be strongly opposed to the Mecca agreement that was reached last month between Fatah and Hamas.
If true, the report about the departure of the Hamas officials reflects deep divisions among the movement's top brass over the proposed unity government.
"There is a split inside Hamas," Tirawi, who represents the Nablus district in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said. "Siam and Abu Zuhri, who have moved to Syria, represent the radical trend, while [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Ismail Haniyeh and [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal belong to the moderate side."
Tirawi said Fatah was also witnessing a power struggle, though it is of a different nature.
"The rivalry in Fatah is between representatives of different generations," he said, referring to the long-standing power struggle between the old guard and young guard.
The divisions inside Fatah and Hamas were partially responsible for the delay in the formation of the PA unity government, sources close to the two parties said.
"Haniyeh is not able to make decisive decisions because of the opposition he is facing from top Hamas leaders and activists, who don't want the partnership with Fatah," one source said. "Abbas, on the other hand, is facing many difficulties inside Fatah, where representatives of the young guard are demanding a larger role in power."
The sources denied reports in the Arab media about an agreement in principle between Abbas and Haniyeh on the identity of most of the ministers who are expected to serve in the new Hamas-led coalition.
Hamas officials expressed dismay over what they described as Abbas's continued refusal to accept their candidate for the Interior Ministry portfolio, Hamoudeh Jarwan. Abbas made his position clear during a three-hour meeting with Haniyeh in Gaza City Sunday night.
"It's not clear to us why he is strongly opposed to the appointment of Jarwan to the post, although Jarwan is closer to the PLO than Hamas," one Hamas official told The Jerusalem Post. "We believe that some people around Abbas are actually trying to prevent the establishment of a unity government and that's why they are giving him bad advice."
According to the official, Abbas and Haniyeh also failed to reach agreement on the powers of the new deputy prime minister who, according to the Mecca agreement, will be from Fatah. The two met again Monday night in another bid to resolve their differences.
"Hamas does not care as much about the identity of the candidate as it is worried about his responsibilities," the official told the Post. "Haniyeh's position is that his deputy should not have the power to convene the cabinet on his own and without seeking permission form the prime minister. Also, Haniyeh made it clear during the meeting with Abbas that the deputy prime minister will not serve as acting prime minister when Haniyeh is out of the country."
Reflecting the sense of a looming crisis, Haniyeh said Monday he did not expect the new government to be announced in the coming days.
"Some national issues are preventing us from completing the consultations over the formation of a unity government," he told reporters. "I don't think the government will be announced before the end of next week."
Haniyeh did not say what he meant by "national issues," but his aides said he was hoping that Abbas would reconsider his position and come up with new ideas to facilitate the formation of the coalition.
The crisis coincides with renewed tensions on the ground between the two parties. Gunmen belonging to Fatah and Hamas exchanged gunfire in some locations in Gaza City on Monday, but no casualties were reported. The fighting was the worst since the signing of the Mecca deal. PA security sources said the fighting erupted after Hamas militiamen occupied a building belonging to one of the PA security forces.