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President Abbas declares Hamas militia illegal

Abbas issues this statement two days after members of the Hamas force attacked the home of a senior security commander in Gaza.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2007 21:10 IST

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday declared Hamas' paramilitary militia in the Gaza Strip illegal, raising the stakes in the increasingly violent standoff between his Fatah party and the rival Islamic movement. Hamas condemned Abbas' statement, accusing him of giving a "green light" for attacks against its men and pledging to resist any crackdown.

Abbas issued the decree two days after members of the Hamas force attacked the home of a senior security commander in Gaza, killing the man and seven of his bodyguards. The man led a unit that is loyal to Abbas' Fatah party.

Fatah and Hamas have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections a year ago, gaining control over most government functions. The dispute has centered in large part around control of the powerful Palestinian security forces.

The rivalry has periodically turned violent. 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.

"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, President Mahmoud Abbas decided to reshuffle the security forces and its leadership and to consider the (Hamas) Executive Force, officers and members, illegal and outside the law," Abbas' office said in a statement. Abbas, who was elected in a separate presidential vote, claims authority over most of the myriad Palestinian security forces. But Hamas controls the Interior Ministry, which also oversees security responsibilities.

Interior Minister Said Siyam of Hamas formed the so-called Executive Force last year, claiming he had no control over the existing forces, who remain loyal to Abbas, and needed security men who would carry out his orders. The unit has an estimated 6,000 members in Gaza.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said Abbas' decree cleared the way for new attacks on Hamas men. He called the decision "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.

In his decree on 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.

In the latest violence, pro-Fatah gunmen attacked Hamas officials in two separate incidents in the West Bank on Saturday, security officials said.

In the first incident, gunmen 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 the rival Fatah group. In Ramallah, meanwhile, 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 hospitalised, the officials said.