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Palestinian militants storm PA offices

Abbas faces deepening rift with Hamas over postponement of parliamentary elections

The Daily Star staff
Monday, June 06, 2005

Militants loosely affiliated to the Fatah Party of Mahmoud Abbas stormed public offices in Nablus under a hail of gunfire, accusing the Palestinian president of failing to honor security promises. The drama occurred as Abbas was locked in talks with his governing Fatah Party, which is facing a deepening rift with rivals Hamas over his decision to delay parliamentary elections.

Besides discussing the postponed elections and Abbas`s recent trip abroad, Fatah agreed to delay its first party conference in eight years, which had been scheduled just days before Israel is to begin pulling out of the Gaza Strip.

On the ground, some 15 members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired in the air at the entrance to Nablus Governor Mohammad al-Aalloul`s office and stormed into the Interior Ministry in the West Bank city. Nablus governor Aalloul was in Ramallah at the time.

`We demand that the Palestinian Authority, especially Abu Mazen (Abbas), keeps their promises. He promised us jobs in the security services and that he would secure our safety. We have seen none of it,` Al-Aqsa said in a statement.

Witnesses said an employee at the governor`s office was slightly wounded in the incident. A spokesman for the brigades said the gunmen shot him accidentally.

The takeover was the latest sign of chaos in the West Bank and Gaza, where armed gangs have become increasingly powerful in more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Abbas has promised to restore order, so far with few results.

In Gaza, Palestinian officials said around 40 Fatah-affiliated militants who closed off access to the Egyptian border crossing in a similar protest would be granted security jobs.

On Saturday, gunmen briefly seized a Palestinian diplomat in Gaza, to protest that they were not considered eligible for the Palestinian police because of age restrictions.

Abbas has been trying to coopt the armed men, including with offers to join the security forces, rejecting Israel`s demands that he disarm the militias. But negotiations have been slow, and yesterday`s takeover of three government buildings was a sign of growing tensions between Abbas and the militants.

Abbas`s meeting with Fatah`s top officials on the Revolutionary Council aimed to secure his power base ahead of crisis talks with Hamas in the occupied Gaza Strip later this week.

On Wednesday, Abbas is due to head to Gaza for talks with the major Palestinian factions which are livid with his decision to delay the first legislative elections in the Occupied Territories in nine years.

Abbas announced the postponement to the July 17 polls on Saturday, capping weeks of speculation following his return from an extensive tour of Asia, the Americas and North Africa.

Hamas had been expected to gain substantial political clout in the parliamentary elections.

Spokesman of the Islamist movement, Sami Abu Zuhri, immediately condemned the `unilateral decision` which he said `risks causing chaos.`

The backlash from Fatah was just as quick.

`This negative statement from Hamas is not helpful for Palestinian unity,` said the Revolutionary Council.

In Nablus, meanwhile, top Fatah officials demanded the death penalty for the killers of a regional Fatah chief, Ali

Farraj, victim of an apparent revenge slaying last week.

Farraj and his brother Houssam

were driving in the village of Qabalan near Nablus on Friday when a fuel truck rammed their car, witnesses said. Gunmen then emerged from the truck and fired on the Farraj brothers.

Three assailants were in custody yesterday, and two were at large, Aalloul said. The five suspects are brothers, and apparently targeted Ali Farraj on suspicion he ordered the killing of their father, an alleged informer for Israel, in 1991.

Youssef Harb, a Fatah spokesman in Nablus, said Fatah has sent a letter to Abbas, demanding the killers be tried and executed.

In another development, Israel`s Supreme Court rejected a petition submitted by 24 Palestinian villages to freeze construction on a portion of the separation barrier Israel is building around Jerusalem, the Defense Ministry said. - Agencies

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