Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hamas urges calm in conquered Gaza

Hamas urges calm in conquered Gaza
By Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 15 2007 18:12 | Last updated: June 16 2007 00:43

Hamas political leaders moved to impose calm in the conquered Gaza Strip on Friday after days of factional fighting left more than 90 people dead and Palestinians fearful for the future.

Ismail Haniya, the Gaza-based Hamas prime minister of the unity government dismissed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Thursday night, urged talks with Fatah. But hopes for reconciliation appeared to be dashed as Mr Abbas, who is also Fatah leader, moved to appoint Salam Fayyad, an independent, as prime minister of an emergency government, said an Abbas aide.

Mr Haniya said: “I still stress that the door is open to restructure Palestinian relations on the basis of national values.” He also called for an end to looting as Hamas fighters took over security bases and other key Fatah sites.

Hamas loyalists staged victory parades and some Palestinians ventured out of their homes for the first time in days, while local and international leaders started to grapple with the reality of a Hamas-run Gaza separate from a Fatah-dominated West Bank.

Israel and the US, which never supported the national unity government brokered by Saudi Arabia in February, were quick to raise the prospect of helping Mr Abbas by easing the embargo imposed after Hamas won legislative elections 18 months ago. The international quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US plus the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – backed Mr Abbas’s move.

The US immediately threw its support behind Mr Fayyad, saying he had a “sterling reputation” in the international community. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, would probably visit the region this month, a spokesman said. The US is looking at ways of increasing assistance to the Palestinian Authority under the new government as well as non-lethal support for the security forces under the control of Mr Abbas.

A state department spokesman rejected any suggestion that US policies of isolating Hamas and backing Fatah had led to the intra-Palestinian conflict. A senior Israeli official was quoted as saying that Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, would discuss with President George W. Bush at a meeting in Washington next week “gestures” to bolster Mr Abbas in the West Bank. These could include releasing Palestinian Authority tax revenues held by Israel.

But many Palestinians and analysts believe that even if Mr Abbas were now shored up in the West Bank, too much time has been lost since he was elected president in 2005 to present a viable alternative that could bypass or neutralise Hamas.

The rule of Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad by emergency decree is likely to be fiercely contested by Hamas, which also opposes and could prevent any early elections. In Gaza, Hamas granted amnesty to some Fatah leaders, saying its battle was with those who worked with Israel and the US to overthrow the Islamists. In the past few days several Fatah fighters have been executed by gunshot.

Underlining the divisions within the Fatah movement, Khalid Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority interior ministry, proclaimed himself on Friday the new head of Fatah in Gaza but it was unclear whether he had the support of the nationalist movement.

He said he had formed an emergency committee with the Hamas military wing “to protect the good Fatah people” and not those associated with “collaborators” such as Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah strongman.

Amid the political chaos, it was not known how the Israeli-controlled land and sea borders to the impoverished strip would be run. Hamas refuses to deal with Israel and would prefer others to co-ordinate the passage of people and commodities.

Israel says it will not intervene in factional fighting. Under international law, it retains responsibility as the occupying power for the welfare of the 1.3m Palestinians in Gaza because it controls access and movement from the territory, which has long been cut off from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Decisions will need to be made in coming days to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said yesterday that a proposed multi­national force along Gaza’s border with Egypt must be willing to fight Hamas to stop weapons smuggling. But the chances that any countries would supply soldiers for it appeared slim.

Additional reporting by Guy Dinmore in Washington


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