Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who defied PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's "presidential decree" to dissolve the Hamas-led government, called for unity among Palestinians and urged people to remain calm as fighters from his Hamas movement consolidated their hold on Gaza. Haniyeh said Hamas was still committed to unity agreements it signed with Fatah. "I still affirm that the road is open and wide to reformulating these relations on a firm nationalistic basis," Haniyeh said, speaking after Muslim Friday prayers in Gaza City.
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Haniyeh promised to restore security to the anarchic and poverty-stricken territory, asked Gazans to display "self-restraint" and urged an end to the widespread looting of the houses and property of Fatah officials.
Earlier, on its first day of full rule in Gaza, Hamas freed 10 senior Fatah leaders it had earlier seized in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Obeideh, a spokesman for the Islamic group who announced the release of the detainees, said it was "a new stage of tolerance and appeasement, commanded by Allah."
The detainees included the commander of Abbas's Presidential Guard, Mohammed el-Presi, his deputy and PA National Security Organization Commander Jamal el-Qaid.
A senior Fatah spokesman, a lawmaker and six other officials were also arrested.
Obeideh said Hamas would "offer amnesty" to all those who are with different opinions. "Our battle is not with Fatah... but with the group that tried to implement an external agenda," he said. "We protect our people's right, everywhere and anyone... regardless of their affiliation to move freely."
However, Hamas also said that a Fatah supporter was thrown to his death by the family of a man he was accused of having killed earlier.
Elsewhere, a senior Fatah official committed suicide after learning he was on Hamas's wanted list, Fatah said.
Obeideh also called for the immediate release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in March and is believed held by a powerful Gaza clan whose members had ties to both Hamas and Fatah. "We will not allow for his continued detention," Abu Obaidah said of Johnston.
Hamas also announced that it had seized weapons and armor, including 100 Kalashnikov rifles, rocket propelled grenades and mortar shells, from Abbas's Preventive Security Force.
Earlier Friday, a Hamas leader in the Strip said that it was "now the end of secularism and heresy in the Gaza Strip."
Niza Il'an, one of the group's Gaza chiefs, told a Hamas television station that the group would "welcome with open arms anyone who repents."
Il'an boasted that he planned to pray Friday in Abbas's compound, which Hamas fighters took over the previous night, adding that the captured Preventative Security headquarters would be turned into a massive mosque.
Another senior Hamas official, Buhir al-Masri, said that Abbas's decision Thursday night to declare a state of emergency "does not solve the crisis but only complicates it."
According to PA officials, Abbas informed representatives of the Quartet of his decision and asked for their backing.
Abbas phoned US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and briefed her on the latest developments in the Gaza Strip, the officials added. They said Abbas was also planning to call for deploying an international force in the Gaza Strip to restore law and order.
"[Chairman] Abbas has decided to fire the government," said one official. "Ismail Haniyeh is no longer the prime minister and soon there will be a new government."
Abbas's decision was made after two days of intensive discussions with Fatah leaders, who exerted heavy pressure on him to fire Haniyeh's government.
Some of the Fatah leaders went as far as threatening to declare an open revolt against Abbas unless he began taking a series of measures in response to Hamas's massive offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas scoffed at Abbas's decision and expressed doubt that he would be able to implement it.
"How can you declare a state of emergency if you don't have a government to enforce it?" asked Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel. "Only a government can enforce a state of emergency."
Bardaweel pointed out that in any case a new government would have to be approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, which is still dominated by Hamas.
He said that the situation in the Gaza Strip was improving now that Hamas was in full control. "Now we can start implementing our security plan for imposing law and order," he said. "We even have no problem coordinating it with Fatah."
According to Israel Radio, Hamas's spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, rejected Abbas's announcement shortly afterward, claiming that according to Palestinian Authority law, Abbas could not set up an emergency government.
The Syrian-based deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said Thursday night there would be no change in Gaza's status, no Islamic rule declared in Gaza and ruled out Hamas separating Gaza from the West Bank.
He said Abbas's decision to fire his Hamas prime minister would complicate matters and that Haniyeh would likely continue on the job.
"Gaza will remain Gaza and there will be no changes in its future and will continue to be linked to the West Bank whether he [Abbas] removed the government or not."
He rejected talk of declaring an Islamic state in Gaza. "This talk has no basis... We are committed to the rules and basic laws organizing the Palestinian Authority," he said.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.