Abbas considers firing Haniyeh

Tensions between Fatah, Hamas exploded over the weekend in street battles.

IAF copter cool 298.88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
IAF copter cool 298.88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is seriously considering the possibility of firing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and forming an emergency cabinet that would govern until a date has been set for new parliamentary elections, a source close to Abbas said on Saturday. Meanwhile, an Egyptian security delegation met in Gaza City on Saturday with Haniyeh and urged him to resolve his differences with Abbas. The delegation, headed by Ra'fat Shehateh and Muhammed Ibrahim of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, was dispatched to the Gaza Strip following a phone conversation between Abbas and President Hosni Mubarak. Tensions between Abbas and Haniyeh's Hamas movement reached their peak over the weekend, with supporters of both sides fighting street battles in various parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At least 30 people were injured in the clashes, the worst between the two parties ever since Hamas scored a landslide victory in last January's parliamentary election. The source told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas was under heavy pressure from his supporters in the Fatah faction to fire Haniyeh, particularly after Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Friday accused the PA chairman and his aides of plotting with Israel and the US to undermine the new cabinet. Addressing a rally in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Mashaal said: "What is happening in Palestine is a policy carried out by a parallel government, a counter-government which deprives us of our prerogatives and the people of their rights. It is a plot. A certain part of our people is plotting against us. They are carrying out a premeditated plan which is aimed at undermining us." Without mentioning Abbas by name, he added: "We can understand that Israel and America are seeking ways to besiege and starve us, but what about those Palestinians who are plotting against us and who are implementing a carefully studied scheme to make us fail?" Mashaal's remarks drew sharp criticism from Abbas and many Fatah leaders who accused him to seeking to trigger a civil war in the PA-controlled territories. Thousands of Fatah supporters took to the streets in various parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, chanting slogans against Hamas and Mashaal and calling for the replacing the Hamas cabinet. The protesters also accused Mashaal of serving as a puppet for Iran and Syria. In Gaza City, the protests turned violent when hundreds of students affiliated with Fatah attacked Hamas students at a nearby university. The clashes began when Fatah students at the Azhar University chanted slogans condemning Mashaal as a traitor and liar. The students later hurled stones and petrol bombs at rival students from Hamas at the Islamic University. The confrontations escalated when gunmen from both sides interfered, using automatic weapons and hand grenades. Attempts by officials at both universities to halt the clashes failed and the PA security forces did not intervene. In response, the two universities decided to suspend studies until further notice. Fatah leaders reacted angrily to Mashaal's allegations, with some calling on Abbas to dismiss the Hamas cabinet immediately and call new elections. At a series of meetings in Ramallah over the weekend, members of the Fatah central council and the PLO executive committee urged Abbas to take swift action against Hamas. "The situation is very dangerous and we are on the verge of civil war," one of Abbas's aides told the Post. "President Abbas is now seriously considering the possibility of firing the prime minister and his cabinet. Otherwise, there will be a bloodbath on the streets." Former Fatah minister Nabil Amr lashed out at Mashaal, accusing him of inciting against Abbas and Fatah. "President Abbas won't allow anyone to poison the atmosphere," he said. "Mashaal's accusations are baseless and this is not the way to talk about an elected president. We have not exerted any pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel." A leaflet issued by Fatah in the West Bank said Mashaal was "a man whose ambition is and always has been to cause Palestinian blood to flow while he lives in Damascus and benefits from the experiences of certain people to provoke divisions and civil wars." It described Mashaal's remarks as "hysterical", and the speech as "full of plots, calumnies, lies and deception." The crisis has been further aggravated by the Hamas cabinet's decision to create a new security force and to appoint a militia leader to a senior position in the PA Interior Ministry. The decision to appoint Jamal Abu Samhadanah, overall commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, as general inspector in the ministry has enraged Abbas and Fatah. Claiming that he had not been consulted about the controversial appointment, Abbas on Friday issued an order rescinding the appointment of Abu Samahadanah, who is responsible for scores of attack on Israel. "This is an illegal and unconstitutional decision," Abbas said. "The cabinet does not have the power to establish a new security force." The new force is expected to serve as a private Hamas army because of the refusal of the PA security forces, whose members are affiliated with Fatah, to cooperate with the new cabinet. Hamas dismissed Abbas's decision, saying the appointment of Abu Samahadanah and the formation of the new force were legally taken by Interior Minister Said Siam.