Palestinian prime minister rejects Abbas’ attempts to diminish power of Hamas |

Palestinian prime minister rejects Abbas’ attempts to diminish power of Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The new Palestinian prime minister said Thursday that his Cabinet will take control of the Palestinian security forces, putting his Hamas-led government on a collision course with President Mahmoud Abbas.Deepening the tension, Abbas installed a longtime ally as head of the three security branches in a battle for control of the 58,000-member police force, and he told Hamas it had to clear all foreign policy moves with him.Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told The Associated Press that he rejects any attempts to take power away from Hamas, which won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. His Cabinet was sworn in last week.”There are attempts to create parallel frameworks to some ministries in the Palestinian government,” Haniyeh said in an interview at his Gaza City headquarters. “But I don’t think (Abbas) can keep up this pressure and take away power from this government.”Abbas’ actions appeared aimed at persuading the international community that he, not Hamas, is in charge. Western donors have threatened to cut off desperately needed aid if Hamas does not renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, conditions the Islamic militant group has rejected.Abbas, a moderate who was elected president last year, retains wide powers. He is the head of the National Security Council, which has final say over the Palestinian security forces, and he can issue wide-ranging decrees that do not need parliamentary approval.Haniyeh said Abbas had assured him the security forces would remain under the control of the Hamas-led Cabinet, which, he said, did not take power “on the back of a tank” but in “transparent and fair elections.”But hours later, Abbas appointed a longtime ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the three security services that fall under Interior Minister Said Siyam, in addition to agencies already under the president’s authority. Though Siyam would technically be Abu Shbak’s boss, any dispute between the two would be resolved in the Abbas-headed National Security Council.Abu Shbak said he was authorized to hire and fire officers in the three security branches.”Any recruitment of directors or deputy directors for any of the three services will be made through me,” he said. His appointment reduced Hamas’ authority over the security apparatus to cutting checks for its officers.Security officers on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, many of whom came from the ranks of Abbas’ Fatah Party, were divided on whom they would side with in a fight for their loyalty.Ahmed Abu Sayah, a member of the preventive security service, which was responsible for a 1996 crackdown on Hamas, said he would not accept a Hamas leader. “We hate them and they hate us,” he said in Gaza City.Mohammed Barham, a police officer in Nablus, said that though he was in Fatah, he would take orders from whoever is in charge. “By law the interior minister is the boss and that is acceptable to me,” he said.Also Thursday, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads, ordered the Hamas-led Foreign Ministry to coordinate with it before making major pronouncements on diplomatic policy. The PLO is technically in charge of the Palestinians’ foreign affairs.Abbas is likely to continue amassing power to end Western sanctions, said Khalil Shahin, a political analyst with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.”I predict that he will keep stripping Hamas of more of its authorities,” he said. “(Abbas) is trying with these measures to spare the Palestinian people more suffering and more sanctions.”Abbas has said he wants to resume peace talks with Israel, which has shunned the Hamas government, and Haniyeh said he would not stand in the way of those talks.”(Abbas,) as the head of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, can move on political fronts and negotiate with whomever he wants. What is important is what will be offered to the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh said.Also Thursday, Israeli President Moshe Katsav tapped acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form Israel’s next government. Olmert said he would quickly put together a coalition committed to carrying out his plan to pull out of most of the West Bank, solidify Israel’s hold over major settlement blocs and draw Israel’s final border with the Palestinians by 2010.Olmert has said that he preferred to carry out his plan through negotiations, but if talks do not quickly bear fruit, he will withdraw unilaterally.Haniyeh denounced Olmert’s threat to draw Israel’s borders on his own, saying it will leave Israel in control of Jerusalem and other territories the Palestinians claim as part of their future state.”This will not make the Palestinian people happy,” Haniyeh said.Dressed in a suit, Haniyeh chatted amiably in Arabic and joked during the interview, which lasted more than half an hour.When asked if he was a pragmatic man and would recognize Israel, he switched to English: “That is a big question.”He then said there was no change in Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect all past accords signed by the Palestinian Authority – the three conditions Israel and the West have imposed for dealing with Hamas, which is listed as a terror group by the U.S. and European Union.At the same time, he struck a conciliatory tone when speaking about the United States, saying, “we don’t want feelings of animosity to remain in the region, not toward the U.S. administration and not toward the West.”He also denied reports that al-Qaida militants had infiltrated Palestinian territories.Early Friday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at three sites in Gaza City, including a security compound not far from Abbas’ office, witnesses said. No one was hurt.The other two targets were Fatah offices, one in northern Gaza and the other in Gaza City, they said. The airstrikes followed three rocket attacks from Gaza at Israel, causing some damage but no casualties.Vail, Colorado

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