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Palestinian PM Declares Hamas Militia Illegal January 6, 2007

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP)–Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday declared Hamas’ militia in the Gaza Strip illegal, and the Islamic movement responded by defiantly announcing plans to double the size of the paramilitary unit.

The dueling announcements raised the stakes in Abbas’ standoff with Hamas, which has intensified in the year since the Islamic group defeated Abbas’ Fatah party in parliamentary elections, gaining control over most government functions. The dispute has centered in large part around control of the powerful Palestinian security forces.

Hamas accused Abbas, who was elected in a separate presidential vote, of giving a “green light” to attacks against its men and pledging to resist any crackdown. It said it would double the size of its force to 12,000, compared to a force of some 18,000 allied with Fatah.

Myriad – and overlapping – forces were formed more than a decade ago by the late Yasser Arafat to help ensure law and order in the Palestinian areas, but after years of corruption and fighting with Israel, the forces have become largely ineffective, fueling widespread lawlessness in Gaza. When Hamas formed its new unit after defeating Fatah, it said the move was needed to impose order.

The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah has frequently turned violent. Abbas made the announcement two days after members of the Hamas force attacked the home of a pro-Fatah senior security commander in Gaza, killing the man and seven of his bodyguards.

More than two dozen people have been killed in the past month of factional fighting – underscored by Thursday’s assault on the home of the Fatah security man in northern Gaza, the bloodiest single battle in the standoff to date.

Abbas’ office said the decision was made “in light of continued security chaos and assassinations that got to a number of our fighters…and in light of the failure of existing agencies and security apparatuses in imposing law and order and protecting the security of the citizens.”

Abbas claims authority over most of the Palestinian security forces, but Hamas controls the Interior Ministry, which also oversees security responsibilities. Members of the black-clad Hamas militia, called the Executive Force, are visible throughout Gaza.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal announced the force would be doubled in size. He said Abbas’ decision was “a green light to those who seek to shed the blood of the Executive Force members” and said the unit would “deal firmly” with anyone who attacks the unit.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the militia is legal and would continue to report to the Interior Ministry.

“I am becoming completely convinced that there are those who don’t want the Palestinian scene to enjoy calm and stability or to create the appropriate atmosphere for starting serious and deep dialogue aimed at reaching a national unity government,” he said.

Abbas has been pressuring Hamas to join Fatah in a coalition government. Those talks broke down in late November. Abbas, a moderate, wants to restart peace talks with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.

In his decree Saturday, Abbas reiterated his past offer to integrate the Hamas force into existing security units. Those efforts have failed to make progress, and Abbas said he would not wait forever for the Hamas force to reform. “It will be dealt with accordingly so long as it is not immediately folded into the legal security forces,” Abbas said.

The statement gave no details on Abbas’ plan to shake up the leadership of the security forces.

The Palestinian infighting has been largely confined to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas’ power is greatest, but in recent days has shown signs of spreading to the West Bank with a series of kidnappings and shootings.

On Saturday, gunmen in the West Bank stopped the car of Nablus’ deputy mayor, Mahdi al-Khamdali of Hamas, pulled him out and took him away in a separate car, security officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the officials said they believed the kidnappers were supporters of Fatah.

In Ramallah, gunmen stormed the offices of the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, shot the office manager in the legs and took him away, Palestinian security officials said. The man, also a Hamas supporter, was released in a nearby town and hospitalized, the officials said.

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