PA troubles deteriorate into spat

Palestinian Authority FM Mahmoud Zahar accused of spitting in the face of a PA policeman.

A-zahar close up 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
A-zahar close up 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In the latest illustration of the increasing tension between Fatah and Hamas, witnesses accused Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of spitting in the face of a PA policeman on Tuesday at the Rafah border crossing. Palestinian travelers said Zahar spat in the face of the policeman after the latter insulted him. Zahar's aides denied the claim. Zahar arrived at the border with Sinai on his way to an Asian tour that would take him to China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. As soon as the minister entered the terminal, a policeman asked him sarcastically: "Are you going to bring us money?" According to one of the minister's top aides, the policeman's tone was "negative" and was intended to insult Zahar and mock the Hamas cabinet. The incident is the first of its kind and reflects growing resentment among PA security personnel, most of whom are affiliated with Fatah and have not received their salaries for the past two months. Last Friday, PA security officers at the terminal stopped Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri upon his return from an Arab tour. The move came after Abu Zuhri tried to smuggle nearly $1 million in cash into the Gaza Strip. The money, which Hamas said was collected from donations on Arab and Islamic countries, was eventually transferred to the PA Finance Ministry. "When the policeman saw Zahar, he went up to his car and asked him whether he was traveling abroad to bring money," said one eyewitness. "Zahar was deeply offended by the question, opened the window of the back door and spat in the face of the policeman. It was a very embarrassing situation." Following the incident, scores of Hamas gunmen blocked the main entrance to the border crossing, preventing travelers from crossing into Egypt. The gunmen demanded that the policeman who had offended Zahar be handed over, but were turned down. Senior PA security officers at the terminal later apologized to Zahar and told him that the policeman had been suspended and would face disciplinary measures. A source close to Zahar said the suspension was not enough and called for arresting the "rude" policeman and putting him on trial. Efforts are under way to convene a national dialogue conference between Fatah and Hamas in Ramallah on Thursday. The conference is aimed at ending the power struggle between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Abbas met in his office on Tuesday with representatives of various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and discussed ways of ensuring the success of the two-day conference. At another meeting in Gaza City late Monday night, Haniyeh and Abbas's personal envoy, Rouhi Fattouh, agreed to revive the PA's National Security Council, which has been paralyzed ever since the formation of the new Hamas government. Haniyeh told reporters that he did not believe that the Palestinians were headed toward civil war. "Civil war is a term that does not exist in the Palestinian dictionary. I assure our people that these incidents can be overcome," he said. "I tell our people not to be worried, our people are united despite these painful incidents. We are facing a real danger and it is the Israeli occupation." Meanwhile, the director-general of Palestine TV, Muhammad Dahoudi, said he and his staff had received death threats after airing footage of Monday's clashes in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in which a Jordanian embassy driver was killed. Hamas leaders had accused the Fatah-controlled Palestine TV of inciting against Hamas by reporting that the driver was killed by Hamas gunfire. "Hamas spokesmen have accused us of treason and collaboration [with Israel] and this means that our lives are now at stake," Dahoudi said. "Hamas claims that the footage we aired was fabricated, although other news agencies also broadcast it." "Palestine TV is neutral and we don't belong to any faction," he said.