Hamas fighters seized Fatah's senior field commanders in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamic group announced Friday. The spokesman, Abu Obeideh, said the detainees included the commander of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud 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. The men are being interrogated by Hamas, Obeideh said on Hamas TV. 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 Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud 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." Earlier Friday, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced that he would continue to hold onto his position in the unity government despite a "presidential decree" issued the previous night by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during which he dissolved the Hamas-led government. The government will continue to function and to fulfill its role, Haniyeh told reporters. According to PA officials, Abbas informed representatives of the Quartet of his decision and asked for their backing. Abbas phoned US Secretary of State Condaleezza 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.
JPost columnists on the future of the PA
Hamas victory could be opportunity for Israel
Egypt's difficult task in Gaza
Disconnect from Gaza or talk to Hamas?
"President 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."
Officials were doubtful that the international community would be willing to risk its troops in the region. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that although the US would consider any such proposal, it was unlikely that any country would be ready to volunteer forces.
"We'll, of course, take a look at whatever the Secretary General has to propose. And I have to confess I haven't seen any details of such a proposal. But I would, just as an initial reaction, put out for you that I think it would be difficult to find forces that would be ready and effective in going into such a clearly non-permissive environment," said McCormack.
Abbas's decision was taken 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 law, Abbas could not set up an emergency government.
The Syrian-based deputy head of Hamas' 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.