- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

TEL AVIV — The Palestinian Cabinet minister responsible for security forces resigned yesterday, dealing a heavy blow to the Hamas-Fatah unity government during a sudden flare-up in Gaza of deadly internal clashes.

In the worst outbreak of internecine violence since the unity government deal two months ago, at least eight Palestinians were killed in the past two days of fighting.

Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh said he was resigning because he had not been given enough authority to make badly needed reforms, and blamed both Hamas and Fatah for ignoring his efforts.

“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.”

The Palestinian government said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would assume responsibility for the security services.

Despite his relative inexperience with Palestinian security branches, Mr. Kawasmeh was a compromise appointment that resolved months of haggling between Hamas and Fatah over who would fill the sensitive position. His charge was to streamline the sprawling security forces and make peace between rival militia groups within Gaza.

The political vacancy coupled with the chaotic upsurge in street battles in the Gaza Strip could prompt the crumbling of the Hamas-Fatah coalition, unless the two sides can agree on a new candidate to become interior minister.

“The resignation is a very crucial step to shake up the unity government,” said Soufian Abu Zaideh, a senior member of Fatah who lives in the Gaza Strip.

“[Mr. Kawasmeh] was not fit for the job, he had no security or political background. He did nothing.”

Since Sunday, widespread gunbattles returned to the streets of Gaza and civilians looked for cover as forces linked to Hamas and Fatah resumed a cycle of attack and retaliation.

A cease-fire mediated by the Egyptians collapsed, reminiscent of the numerous short-lived truces announced after several months of fighting at the end of last year.

The unity government, which was signed Feb. 8 at a Palestinian summit mediated by the Saudis in Mecca, was intended to stop months of escalating battles between the Islamic militant Hamas and the secular Fatah party, which threatened civil war.

Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for Mr. Haniyeh, said Hamas thinks the unity government is the best option, the Associated Press reported.

Even after the establishment of the unity government, lawlessness endured in the form of attacks on Internet cafes, family feuds and kidnappings.

The Palestinian government said yesterday that the Cabinet had ordered the joint deployment of Fatah and Hamas security service members to ease the fighting.

Mr. Kawasmeh had proposed an integration of rival security services, but the plan was never implemented.

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