- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

GAZA CITY — The Palestinian interior minister resigned today, accusing Hamas and Fatah leaders of thwarting his efforts to halt new violence that is threatening the survival of the Palestinian coalition government.

The loss of Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh, a career civil servant who was a compromise candidate for the top security post, was a major setback for the government, which was formed in March by rivals Fatah and Hamas to end months of factional violence.

Eight Palestinians were killed and 52 wounded in street battles since yesterday, the worst violence since the power-sharing deal. One man was shot dead during a firefight while he was driving a bread delivery truck near a security compound.

Hundreds of masked men patrolled Gaza City, taking up positions around government buildings, the homes of politicians and other sensitive locations. One gun battle erupted near the headquarters of the pro-Fatah National Security force.

Mr. Kawasmeh’s resignation highlighted the deep rifts over who controls the security forces. Hamas and Fatah had put off dealing with the explosive issue, and Mr. Kawasmeh’s resignation and the renewed fighting made a compromise even more elusive.

Mr. Kawasmeh had proposed the gradual integration of rival security branches under a joint command. In the first stage, the forces were to have focused on fighting crime, followed by a clampdown on clan feuds and other chaos.

However, his plan never got off the ground, mainly because sides were afraid to yield control to a joint command. Mr. Kawasmeh first threatened to resign two weeks ago to protest the resistance to his plan.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accepted the resignation today after saying he had learned about it on television.

At a news conference, Mr. Kawasmeh angrily accused both Mr. Haniyeh and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of failing to support him.

“From the beginning, I faced obstacles that robbed the ministry of its powers and made my position empty without authority,” he said. “I told all the concerned parties, including the president and the prime minister, that I must have full authority to be able to carry out my full duties.”

Officials said Mr. Haniyeh would take control of the Interior Ministry until a replacement for Mr. Kawasmeh is found.

Mr. Haniyeh considers the national unity government the “best national option” and called on both sides to stop fighting, said his spokesman, Ghaza Hamad. Mr. Haniyeh spoke by phone with Mr. Abbas, his office said, as well as the Saudi foreign minister and the head of the Egyptian security team. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both worked hard to negotiate the Palestinian coalition.

The unity deal, sealed in Saudi Arabia, was meant to end months of fighting between the pragmatic Fatah movement and the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Though fighting between the parties has largely slowed, the area remains plagued by deadly family feuds, crime gangs, kidnappings, carjackings and attacks on foreigners and Internet cafes.

Control of the Interior Ministry has been at the heart of the dispute between Fatah and Hamas. The minister oversees several security forces. Mr. Abbas controls the other security forces, and his long-ruling Fatah party has been reluctant to yield power — despite losing to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. The new round of violence followed last week’s deployment of 3,000 police in Gaza from forces loyal to Mr. Abbas, over Hamas objections.

Palestinian political analyst Talal Oukel said the resignation would result in “more lawlessness and chaos” and was “a direct threat to the future of the national coalition.”

Amid the chaos inside Gaza, Palestinian militants also have continued to fire homemade rockets into southern Israel almost daily, threatening to shatter a November truce agreement. Israel has responded periodically to the rocket fire but has held off so far on taking large-scale action.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today that an Arab peace plan is no substitute for direct negotiations with the Palestinians and urged Arab leaders to prod the Palestinians into making concessions with Israel.

Israel has welcomed the plan, though it has expressed some reservations. The plan offers Israel a comprehensive peace deal in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

“The Arab world can’t take the place of the Palestinians,” Mrs. Livni told the influential parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “The Arab world’s role is to support the Palestinians on the points in which they will have to make decisions that will mean concessions.”

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