Hamas tourism minister quits cabinet

Mob sets Cabinet building in Ramallah ablaze; Hamas MP briefly abducted.

Hamas abu marzouk 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas abu marzouk 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas Tourism Minister Judeh Murqus resigned late Monday night in protest of the rampant violence in several Palestinian cities. Earlier, Fatah gunmen said they abducted a Hamas lawmaker during a violent rampage against the Hamas-led government. In a phone call to The Associated Press, the gunmen said they seized Khalil Rabei after attacking Hamas offices in Ramallah. The gunmen said they destroyed the office and set it on fire. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a pro-Fatah militia, later issued a statement saying Rabei had been released. There were no immediate details on his condition. Palestinian gunmen also open fire at legislative offices in Nablus. Hundreds of Palestinian security forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas riddled the parliament and Cabinet buildings in Ramallah with bullets to protest an attack against their comrades in the Gaza Strip by Hamas gunmen. The security men shot out the windows of the parliament before storming the two-building Cabinet complex, where they smashed furniture, destroyed computers and scattered documents. No casualties were reported. But the mob set fire to one of the Cabinet buildings, causing heavy damage as flames quickly spread. "Every time they touch one of ours in Gaza, we will get ten of theirs in the West Bank," said one member of the Preventive Security force, which is loyal to Abbas' Fatah movement. Dozens of gunmen from Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades joined the security men. At least two people were killed earlier on Monday when a fierce gun battle erupted in Rafah and Khan Yunis between Hamas militiamen and members of the Preventative Security Service. As a result of the renewed violence, Abbas called on a heightened state of alert in Palestinian cities throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah moved to the chamber of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which held a stormy session on Monday to discuss Abbas's decision to hold a referendum over a document drafted by some Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The Hamas-led Palestinian parliament eventually put off the vote on the referendum plan until June 20. Hamas leaders said the move was aimed at giving ongoing negotiations with Abbas a chance to succeed. Questioning Abbas's right to call a referendum, Hamas called for the PLC to hold an emergency meeting to determine whether the move was in accordance with the law. The PA's Basic Law does not make any mention of a referendum - a fact that is being used by Hamas to justify its opposition to Abbas's initiative. Fatah, on the other hand, argues that the referendum is legal since there is nothing in the Basic Law that prohibits it. Many of the Fatah legislators questioned the PLC's right to debate the referendum and called for canceling the session. "This is a black day for Palestinian democracy," said Fatah's Saeb Erekat. "All the Palestinian factions have the right to resort to various political methods to reject or support the referendum," he added. "But that has to be done within the frame of the law." Erekat insisted that Abbas had the power to call a referendum and that the PLC did not have the right to vote against it. "Anyone who opposes this move is entitled to challenge it in court," he said. "We are here to discuss a political issue, not a legal matter." Erekat begged the speaker of the PLC, Aziz Dweik, to call off the session to avoid internal strife. He reminded Dweik that "75% of the Caliphs (Prophet Muhammed's successors) were killed at the hands of Muslims. Therefore, we must pay allegiance to one Caliph to prevent dissension." Fatah legislator Issa Karaki, also invoked Islamic history to justify the referendum. "The Koran and the shari'a (Islamic religious law) mention the referendum and shura (consultation of the people in the management of religious and worldly affairs)," he said. "President Abbas's decision to hold a referendum is legal and is aimed at strengthening the status of the people." Another Fatah legislator, Ibrahim al Masdar, said he saw no reason why the Hamas government should be afraid of a referendum. "The referendum won't affect the work of the government," he said. "In the absence of alternatives, the president has the right to call a referendum on the prisoners' document." Opponents of the referendum warned that in addition to being illegal, it would escalate tensions among the Palestinians and lead to internal fighting. Deputy speaker Hassan Khraisheh expressed deep concern over the ongoing dispute over the referendum and called for resuming "national unity" talks between Hamas and Fatah. "The referendum will only deepen divisions," he cautioned. "We hope there will be more talks between the factions. We must find a solution to the crisis." Hamas legislator Fathi Hammad condemned the planned referendum as an attempt to assassinate the "national dialogue." He pointed out that two thirds of the Palestinians were planning to boycott the referendum. "The referendum endangers unity and widens the gap between all the factions," he added. "It will allow less than one-third of the people to impose their will on the others." His colleague, Samira Halaikah, called for channeling the funds earmarked for the referendum to pay the salaries of the PA civil servants, who haven't been paid for nearly four months. Shortly after the beginning of the session, scores of Fatah supporters tried to storm the chamber, chanting slogans in favor of the referendum. Other protesters gathered outside the council calling on the PA to pay them their long overdue salaries. In Rafah, Hamas activist Hamad Abu Jazar was killed on when members of the Preventative Security Service opened fire at mourners participating in the funeral of a Hamas man, eyewitnesses said. Following the incident, dozens of Hamas militiamen launched an attack on the headquarters of the Preventative Security Service in the town. The attackers fired several rockets at the building and called on all those inside to surrender or face death. One officer was killed and three others injured. The attack was the largest of its kind on a PA security installation since Hamas took over the government. The clashes between the two sides later spread to Khan Yunis, where Hamas militiamen attacked a hospital where a security officer was being treated for his wounds. In Gaza City, a senior officer belonging to the General Intelligence Force was seriously wounded when Hamas gunmen opened fire at him early Monday morning.