Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas put himself on a collision course with Hamas after blocking the party’s plan to set up a security force of 4,000 militants.
But Hamas insisted the plan would go ahead, deepening the bitterest clash yet between the Islamic group and the moderate Palestinian leader.
Hamas, which ousted Abbas’ Fatah Party from power in January parliamentary elections, had spoken in the past of incorporating militants into the Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces.
But the concept of a shadow security force headed by the number two fugitive on Israel’s wanted list appeared to go too far for Abbas, who favours talks with Israel and is trying to keep the West from shunning the Palestinians over Hamas’ violently anti-Israel ideology.
The new force, to be based in chaotic Gaza, is to have about 4,000 members, or nearly one-fourth the size of the 18,000-member armed security contingent in the coastal strip.
Egypt, meanwhile, invited interim Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for an official visit even before he had put together his government, signalling it was eager to do business with a man keen to draw Israel’s final borders with the Palestinians within the next four years.
Israeli and Egyptian leaders have not met since February 2005.
Olmert has said he prefers a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, but is expected to act unilaterally because of Hamas’ refusal to disarm or recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas’ hardline policies have already cost hundreds of millions of dollars in Western aid and Israeli transfer payments. Abbas, who was elected separately, saw the proposed militants’ security force as yet another act of defiance, and yesterday wielded his ultimate power – the presidential veto – to block the force.
“All the officers, soldiers and security personnel are asked not to abide by these decisions and to consider them null and void,” Abbas said in a letter to prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. A text of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
But government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said interior minister Said Siyam, who nominally controls three of the six existing security forces, would form the new force as planned regardless.
“The decision of the interior minister conformed with the law … which gives the minister the authority to take the necessary decisions to guarantee security,” Hamad said.
In Syria, Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Mashaal, lashed out at Abbas’ veto, without mentioning the Palestinian leader by name.
“We can understand that Israel and America are persecuting us and seeking ways to besiege and starve us, but what about the sons of our people who are plotting against us, who are following a studied plan to make us fail,” Mashaal said.
Hamas’ deputy prime minister, Nasser Shaer, distanced the Hamas government from its political chief, telling the Al-Jazeera news network that Mashaal’s statements reflected only his own opinion.
Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, its main decision making body, issued a statement accusing Mashaal of “igniting and preparing for civil war.”
Hundreds of Fatah gunmen demonstrated against his statement in Gaza late last night in the first public display of Fatah anger at Hamas since it took over the government on March 29.
Hamas’ proposed security force would draw members from various militant factions. The force is to be headed by Jamal Abu Samhadana, 43, a founder of the small Popular Resistance Committees, which blew up three Israeli tanks in 2002 and 2003, killing seven Israeli soldiers. The group is also suspected in a deadly bombing attack on a US diplomatic convoy in Gaza in 2003.
Abu Samhadana, who refused to discuss Abbas’ decree, said he would continue his resistance despite his appointment to head the militants’ forces.
“There is no contradiction between the appointment and resistance,” he said. “I am a fighter who is protecting the homeland.”
During five years of fighting, Israel has killed dozens of militants in targeted missile attacks. Abu Samhadana is high on Israel’s wanted list, and Israel has tried to kill him in targeted strikes.
“We have old scores to settle with this murderer,” Israeli Cabinet minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio. “He has no immunity and we will have to settle this score sooner or later.”