Abbas appoints new security chief

Appointment of loyalist meant to prevent Hamas take-over of security forces.

pa police marching 298  (photo credit: AP [file])
pa police marching 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
In yet another move designed to undermine the new Hamas cabinet, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday decided to appoint one of his loyalists to a key security post. The latest move, which has been strongly criticized by Hamas, follows a series of decisions that were taken by Abbas over the past few weeks with the clear intention of cutting the powers of the new cabinet, which was sworn in last week. Sources close to Abbas admitted that the decision to appoint Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, the commander of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to the newly created post of director-general of internal security was aimed at preventing the Hamas cabinet from taking control of the PA security forces. The sources said Abbas's decision was based on the powers handed to him by the previous cabinet shortly after Hamas won the parliamentary election in January. The cabinet of outgoing Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, in a bid to undermine the Islamic movement, gave Abbas expanded powers over financial and security affairs. Abu Shabak, who is also a top Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, was appointed to the new job on the basis of a "presidential decree" issued by Abbas less than 24 hours after the Hamas cabinet held its first meeting in Ramallah and Gaza City via videoconference. Abu Shabak is a close ally of former PA minister and security chief Muhammad Dahlan, a sworn enemy of Hamas. "Abu Shabak will now be in charge of the security forces," a top Abbas aide told The Jerusalem Post. "He is the de facto interior minister and Hamas will have to live with this." According to the aide, Hamas's interior minister, Said Siam, is responsible only for the Civil Police and Civil Defense. "Siam has no power over most of the security forces, especially General Intelligence, Force 17 and Military Intelligence," he explained. "Hamas is responsible for directing the traffic and recruiting firemen." On Wednesday, just hours after the new cabinet ended its meeting, Abbas issued another "presidential decree" placing the border crossings under his direct control. Abbas also decided to keep Gen. Abdel Kader Muhana in his job as Director of the General Administration of Border Crossings. Last month Abbas, in another "presidential decree," placed the PA electronic and print media under his exclusive control. The decision gives Abbas and his Fatah party full control over the PA's TV and radio stations, as well as two newspapers published in Ramallah: Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda. That decision, according to Abbas's aides, was aimed at preventing the new Hamas cabinet from taking control over the Palestinian media. "In the end, Hamas will discover that they have nothing left to run," said a former Fatah legislator here. "Abbas and Fatah are actually engaged in the process of hijacking the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that we lost the election." Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday rejected Abbas's decision to appoint a new security chief and take control over the border crossings, accusing the PA chairman of seeking to cut the powers of the Hamas cabinet. "Our cabinet was democratically elected and not appointed," Haniyeh told reporters. "Brother Abu Mazen [Abbas] has repeatedly stressed that he won't undermine the powers of the cabinet." Haniyeh said he was planning to raise the issue with Abbas during their meeting in Gaza City late Thursday. "I think we're going to have two cabinets under the pretext that we need to face [outside] challenges," said political commentator Talal Okal. "Israel closed the [Karni] border, so Abbas decided to place it under his jurisdiction. Is this what he will do each time Israel closes something?" Relations between Hamas and Fatah have further been strained by the new cabinet's decision to freeze all appointments and promotions made by the former cabinet after the January election. Fatah leaders on Thursday condemned the decision as "irresponsible" and called on the Hamas cabinet to cancel it.