Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepared to swear in a new government in the West Bank on June 16 that will bring an end to a US-led aid embargo as hundreds of his Fatah loyalists fled Gaza by land and sea. Abbas sacked the Hamas-led government after Islamist forces routed Fatah in the Gaza Strip and began imposing a new order in the enclave after days of bloody civil war. A senior Palestinian official said US Consul-General Jacob Walles informed Abbas that Washington would lift a ban on direct aid to the new emergency government, clearing the way for the European Union and Israel to follow suit. Gaza and the West Bank are only about 45 km apart, with Israel in between, but they now appear poised to function as two separate territories---a Fatah-controlled West Bank and a Hamas-controlled Gaza.
"Gaza, unfortunately at this stage, is out of the control of the Palestinian Authority," Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said. Hamas said it did not intend to set up a Gaza state.
Western powers imposed an aid embargo after Hamas came to power in March 2006 because it failed to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace deals.
Palestinian officials said hundreds of Fatah supporters were allowed by Israel and Egypt to exit Gaza and then travel to the occupied West Bank. About 50 Fatah gunmen and 200 other demonstrators stormed a Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah in the West Bank to protest against Hamas's bloody takeover of Gaza. No injuries were reported. The militants grabbed the deputy speaker, who is aligned with Hamas, and dragged him from the building, witnesses said. He was not hurt.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militants, an offshoot of Fatah, stormed government offices and set up checkpoints to search for Hamas members.
Many Fatah supporters who live in Gaza fear reprisals from Hamas militants. In one refugee camp near the Gaza coast, Fatah loyalists lamented Hamas's takeover. "We were destroyed... I feel lost," said Umm Rami, whose husband is a colonel in the Fatah-dominated National Security Forces.
Arab governments said they would support Abbas and called for a return to the situation before the Islamist movement's bloody takeover of the coastal strip.
Ismail Haniyeh, who became prime minister after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary election, has refused to accept his dismissal. In an interview with a French newspaper, he ruled out setting up a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip separate from the West Bank. "Separation is not on the agenda and never will be," Haniyeh said.
Abbas has tapped Salam Fayyad, a Western-backed independent lawmaker, to serve as prime minister of the emergency government in what Hamas said amounted to a coup. The government will be sworn in on Saturday or Sunday and will comprise 11 lawmakers, Abbas aides said.
Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi said Fayyad's cabinet faced daunting challenges, chief among them being "to ensure the rule of law and to prevent the spread of lawlessness from Gaza to the West Bank." The security challenge was highlighted in orders issued by Palestinian police chief Kamal el-Sheikh, who is based in the West Bank, to his men in Hamas-controlled Gaza. He ordered the police, who have long been dominated by Fatah, neither to report to work nor to follow Hamas's orders.
Under Palestinian law, Abbas can declare a state of emergency for up to 30 days. The state of emergency could be extended for another 30 days, but only after winning the approval of two thirds of parliament.
Hamas has a majority in the parliament although Israel's arrests of nearly half of Hamas's deputies put that majority in doubt and also made it hard to achieve a quorum. That could enable Abbas to keep the state of emergency in place longer. (Courtesy: Reuters)Earlier, reported Diaa Hadid of Associated Press:Hundreds of Fatah gunmen on June 16 stormed Hamas-controlled institutions in the West Bank, including parliament and government ministries, and told staffers that those with ties to Hamas will not be allowed to return.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, his office said. The meeting between Abbas and Jacob Walles took place at Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah hours before Abbas was expected to swear in an emergency government. Abbas had dismantled the Hamas-Fatah coalition, fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and appointed Finance Minister Salam Fayyad in his place after Hamas took control of Gaza by force.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmed Bahar of Hamas said on June 16 that any government that does not win parliament approval is to be considered unconstitutional. Hamas has a majority in Parliament, but the legislature stopped operating months ago after Israel arrested most of the Hamas members.
At the Parliament, the Fatah supporters chanted, "Hamas Out," climbed on the roof of the building and fired in the air. They planted Fatah and Palestinian flags on the building, and also tried to seize the deputy speaker but were stopped by employees.
Many government employees tied to Hamas had not showed up for work on Saturday (June 16), the start of the work week in the West Bank, after Hamas took control of Gaza in a military campaign. Apparently, the staffers feared reprisals.
A member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah, said his group planned to take control of all Hamas institutions, in response to Hamas' takeover of Gaza.
At the Parliament building, Fatah gunmen entered the office of Deputy Speaker Hassan Kreisheh and tried to grab him, but Fatah employees stopped them. Other Fatah activists took over the Education Ministry and the prime minister's office. In the West Bank city of Nablus, Fatah gunmen took over the Hamas-controlled city council and planted the Fatah flag on the top of the building. Fatah supporters also kidnapped seven Hamas supporters, and deposed a senior member of the Religious Affairs Ministry. And in the West Bank city of Hebron, Fatah gunmen took over offices of the Education Ministry and the Interior Ministry, warning Hamas-allied employees not to return to work, Al Aqsa members said. Also Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians looted Palestinian police positions at the Erez crossing into Israel, drawing Israeli warning fire, witnesses said.
The looters walked off with scrap metal and furniture. The Israeli army said it was checking the report of shooting at the crossing, which has largely been closed for the past week. Since the fall of Gaza to Hamas, Israel has permitted some senior Fatah officials to pass through Erez, via Israel, to the West Bank. Meanwhile, a crowd looted the home of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, destroying one of the strongest symbols of the Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip, witnesses and Fatah officials said. Fatah officials said the crowd took furniture, wall tiles and Arafat's personal belongings.
The villa had been empty since Arafat left for the West Bank in 2001 shortly after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising. Israel confined Arafat to the West Bank until permitting him to fly to France for medical care in late 2004. He died in France several weeks later. Arafat, Fatah's founder, led the Palestinians for four decades before his death.