Fatah, in disarray, torn by mutual recriminations

Senior official sacked for criticizing Dahlan; Abbas under fire, too.

abbas holding head, good (photo credit: AP)
abbas holding head, good
(photo credit: AP)
A top Fatah leader and adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was fired from his job on Thursday for criticizing senior Fatah officials who were responsible for the defeat of their faction in the Gaza Strip. The dismissal of Hani al-Hassan, a veteran Fatah official and a former PA interior minister, is yet another sign of the growing tensions inside Fatah in the wake of Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip. "Fatah is facing a very dangerous crisis," said a senior Fatah official here. "Many Fatah leaders and activists are unhappy with the way Abbas and the Fatah leadership have been handling the current crisis. If we don't get our act together, we will lose the West Bank to Hamas." Hassan and some old guard Fatah officials believe that the current crisis with Hamas can be resolved through dialogue - something that Abbas and his top aides are strongly opposed to. Abbas is also facing growing pressure from Fatah cadres in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to reform the faction and get rid of all the symbols of corruption. Fatah leaders have openly challenged Abbas's decision to appoint Zakariya al-Agha as Fatah's top representative in the Gaza Strip. Abbas's threats to disarm members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, in the West Bank have also drawn sharp criticism from most of the group's field commanders. Hassan, a political adviser to Abbas, said Muhammad Dahlan, the former Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, was largely to blame for the escalating crisis between Fatah and Hamas. Dahlan and other Fatah leaders and security officials who fled from the Gaza Strip are currently facing questioning by a special commission of inquiry that was formed by Abbas last week. On Thursday, Abbas also decided to dismiss Gen. Abu Nidal Maz'al, a senior commander of the PA Presidential Guard in the Gaza Strip, for surrendering to Hamas. Maz'al is the seventh security official to be fired or demoted for failing to fight against Hamas. Hassan described the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip as a serve blow to US security coordinator Maj.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who has been working toward strengthening Abbas's security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Hassan said the fighting in the Gaza Strip was between Hamas and group of "collaborators" with the US and Israel, and not between Hamas and Fatah. His remarks were clearly directed against Dahlan and a number of senior Fatah leaders. In another interview, Hassan named Dahlan as the "main culprit" behind the crisis. He said Dahlan used his strong influence and Abbas's "blind confidence" to foil any reconciliation bid between Fatah and Hamas after the Islamic movement came to power in January 2006. "He [Dahlan] exploited the strong political influence he wields to implicate all parties, and is fuelling the situation in the West Bank now" he said. Hassan said Dahlan had emerged as powerful and influential thanks to the backing of the United States and Israel. "Dahlan used the money he received from Israel and the US to pay the salaries of up to 2,000 officers and thus control security apparatuses," he said. Hassan also criticized Abbas for the blind confidence he placed in Dahlan. "He [Abbas] named Dahlan as his national security adviser and a supervisor of the security forces despite the fact that he's a member of parliament," he said. "Abbas also took for granted Dahlan's advice to isolate Hamas, which gave the impression that the Palestinian Authority has forged an unholy alliance with Israel to isolate and punish the Palestinian people for voting for Hamas." Following the interview, Fatah gunmen opened fire at Hassan's home in Ramallah. No one was injured. Fatah officials here reacted with fury to Hassan's statements. They said Abbas decided to fire Hassan. Others called for expelling him from Fatah. "Hani al-Hassan has plunged to the level of the Hamas murderers, who staged a bloody coup in the Gaza Strip," said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Abbas aide. "By making such remarks, Hassan has distanced himself from Fatah and has chosen to side with the murderers." Azzam al-Ahmed, head of Fatah's parliamentary list in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said Abbas and the entire Fatah leadership were "very distressed" by Hassan's remarks. "We will form a commission of inquiry to investigate Hassan," he said. "President Abbas has decided to dismiss Hassan from his job. What Hassan said does not represent Fatah." Ahmed also lashed out at Al-Jazeera, describing the pan-Arab network as a "mouthpiece for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood." Samir Mashharawi, a top Fatah official from the Gaza Strip closely associated with Dahlan, branded Hassan as a "traitor." He said some Fatah leaders had betrayed their faction by supporting Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip. "Hassan was one of the Fatah leaders who gave Hamas a lot of information," Mashharawi said. "He was in touch with [Syria-based Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal and convinced him that Fatah was preparing to wage war against Hamas." Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah operative in the West Bank, called on Abbas and the Fatah leadership to expel Hassan from Fatah. "Hassan is a liar," he said. "He has distorted the truth." Munzer Irshaid, a former Fatah security official, criticized the Fatah leaders who fled the Gaza Strip, leaving behind their soldiers and followers. "Since they preferred to run away, why did they leave the young men to face death at the hands of Hamas?" he asked. "What happened to the people who were supposed to defend the Palestinian Authority and Fatah? We are demanding clear answers."