Hamas armed force readies for action

Will tackle illegal land grabs, confiscate weapons; but not from terror groups.

hamas rally . funny sign (photo credit: AP)
hamas rally . funny sign
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas's new security force is expected to start operating in the Gaza Strip next week, sources in the Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry said on Saturday. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders warned over the weekend of a new intifada and said they would "chop off" the head of anyone who works to bring down their cabinet. The warnings were made during huge demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of the Hamas cabinet and in protest against the US-led sanctions on the Hamas cabinet. The 3,000-strong force, which consists largely of Hamas militiamen, was established last month by Interior Minister Said Siam to help PA security forces enforce law and order in the Gaza Strip. The decision to establish the new force has enraged PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who responded by issuing a "presidential decree" forbidding the Interior Minister from pursuing his plan under the pretext that the move was "illegal." However, the Hamas cabinet, which has ignored Abbas's decree, managed to recruit hundreds of militiamen to the new force. Abbas and his aides have expressed fear that Hamas was trying to undermine the PA security forces, whose members are all affiliated with Fatah. Khaled Abu Hilal, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the new force would officially start operating on May 14 by participating in a major security operation against illegal construction along Gaza City's beach. He said a joint operations room comprising members of all the PA security forces had been set up to supervise the campaign, which is also aimed at "liberating" public land illegally seized by Palestinians over the past few years. Many families, armed groups and senior PA officials are reported to have exploited the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip to grab public lands and to build houses and businesses on them. Abu Hilal said the new security force, whose members will wear special uniforms, will assist the various branches of the PA security forces during the operation, the first of its kind since Hamas formed the cabinet last March. He revealed that the Interior Ministry was also preparing to launch a similar campaign to confiscate "illegal" weapons in the Gaza Strip and was seeking the backing of large clans for the drive. Leaders of several clans have already agreed to cooperate with the ministry by signing a document prohibiting the use of weapons in local disputes. The spokesman, however, stressed that the campaign was not directed against militias that are fighting against Israel. "We want to end the chaos of weapons," he said. "The only ones who will be allowed to carry weapons are the policemen who are in charge of law and order and members of the resistance groups who are confronting Israeli aggression." On Friday, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against the international sanctions against the Hamas cabinet. The protests were held under the motto, 'Yes to starvation, no to capitulation." In Ramallah, local residents donated over $60,000 in cash and two kilograms of gold to the Hamas cabinet. Interior Minister Siam threatened to "turn the table over the heads of all those who are trying to foil the Hamas cabinet." Addressing supporters in Khan Yunis, he reiterated his Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. "We can't accept the existence of the criminals, executioners and murderers on our blessed lands," he said. "We won't change our position." Hassan al-Safi, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, warned that the international sanctions would lead to a "third intifada." He added: "This time it will be a regional intifada which will change the balance of power in the region." Addressing US President George W. Bush, Safi said: "We will chop off the head of anyone who tries to bring down our cabinet. The US wants us to succumb and become its slaves, but we won't give in because we are free and sovereign."