- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

TEL AVIV — The Palestinian legislature voted yesterday to dissolve Mahmoud Abbas’ Cabinet, acting after gun-firing police officers stormed an auxiliary parliament building in the Gaza Strip to protest being asked to confront Hamas without adequate arms and equipment.

The vote reflected popular frustration with lawlessness that has seemed to steadily escalate in the Gaza Strip since Israel ended its 38-year occupation last month.

The anarchy reached a troublesome new level Sunday when clashes between Hamas and Palestinian policemen left three persons dead and dozens injured. The shootout, which included an attack on a police station, erupted after a carload of Hamas gunmen resisted an attempt by Palestinian security officers to enforce a new ban on carrying weapons in public.

Palestinian lawmakers — who meet simultaneously at chambers in the West Bank and Gaza because of travel restrictions — were discussing the lawlessness yesterday when about 40 policemen barged into the meeting and fired their guns into the air.

The policemen complained of having being “disgraced” the day before because they couldn’t properly defend themselves when their police station came under attack, according to the Ha’aretz newspaper Web site.

The Associated Press said the deputy police chief in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City was shot in the head after he and his men ran out of bullets during the Hamas assault.

“We recognize we have chaos and we should control that,” said Mohammed Hourani, a Palestinian lawmaker from Hebron. “We are in a crisis right now. There is a majority of public opinion who wants to stop” the anarchy.

The parliamentary vote gave Mr. Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, two weeks to present a new Cabinet to the legislature, setting the stage for a shake-up of ministers. Lawmakers criticized Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Interior Minister Nasser Yousef for not being more proactive in combating the lawlessness.

Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel last week, prompting increased domestic and international pressure on the Palestinian Authority to establish law and order.

“Nobody should think that he is above the law. Hamas can compete through dialogue, and through political means,” said Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi. “Everybody is requesting the PA to preserve law and order, and to build institutions; otherwise we are on the verge of destruction.”

The tension comes as Palestinians prepare to vote for a new parliament in January, with Hamas fielding candidates for the first time.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas each blamed the other yesterday for Sunday’s gunfights.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry issued a statement saying it was determined to establish law and order and would not allow anyone to remain above the law.

A Hamas spokesman meanwhile charged that Palestinian policemen had started the shooting by firing into an angry crowd.

In Israel, army chief of staff Dan Halutz expressed guarded optimism that the PA-Hamas confrontation may be a preliminary sign of a larger crackdown to collect weapons from militants.

“You can’t say from this lone incident that the struggle has begun, but you can view it as the beginning of the beginning of the things that need to be done,” he said in an interview with Israel Radio.

Yet many observers believe Mr. Abbas will stick to his strategy of co-opting Hamas rather than confronting the militants head on.

The Palestinian leader “isn’t confident enough in his ability to give orders and control all of the forces of the PA,” said Shmuel Bar, a Middle East expert at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

“In Gaza, [Mr. Abbas] has less control than in the West Bank. A smart person doesn’t give orders that he has reasonable course to believe aren’t going to be obeyed.”

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