Cracks appear in Hamas-PA unity as signing nears

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CAIRO | Serious disagreements over control of security forces and other key issues emerged in statements Monday by officials of the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements two days before they were due to sign an accord to end their bitter four-year rift.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas would not relinquish control of its security forces and would maintain its rule over Gaza even after the unity accord takes effect.

That ran counter to the Fatah view that there would be a single authority with control of all the weapons in the West Bank and Gaza.

There also was a disagreement over how to relate to Israel and who would be prime minister.

Under a framework accord reached last week, a unity caretaker government is to be formed to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections next year. The ministers are supposed to be technocrats, not politicians.

The deal is to be signed in Cairo on Wednesday.

The security and Israel issues are closely related. Fatah, the dominant force in the Palestinian Authority governing in the West Bank, recognizes Israel and has signed a series of interim peace deals, though negotiations are frozen over a dispute about Israeli construction in its West Bank settlements.

Hamas, in contrast, does not accept a place for a Jewish state in an Islamic Middle East, though some pragmatists would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as an interim measure. Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel and fired thousands of rockets. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and European Union.

On the issue of security forces, Mr. Haniyeh said Monday, “The resistance weapons will not be touched, but we will manage together how to act,” without explaining how. He gave no indication that Hamas might give up its armed struggle against Israel or approve peace talks for the first time.

West Bank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad insisted Monday, “The most important thing here is the struggle of our people should be nonviolent.”

“We need to finalize that policy and make it official,” he added.

Hamas has been a rival of Fatah since the Islamist group was formed in the late 1980s.

Tensions boiled over after Fatah refused to relinquish power despite a Hamas election victory in 2006. The next year, Hamas overran Gaza, expelling Fatah forces and leaving the Palestinians with competing governments in their two territories, separated by Israel.

Mr. Fayyad, a U.S.-trained economist who has won worldwide praise for building Palestinian institutions and revamping the economy, may be out of a job if the reconciliation plan goes through.

Fatah’s chief negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmed, told a news conference in Cairo that the next prime minister would be selected through a consensus of all Palestinian factions.

But Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the next premier should come from Gaza, Hamas‘ stronghold.

Mr. Zahar’s remarks to the Arabic Al-Hayyat newspaper signaled that Hamas does not want Mr. Fayyad to stay in office.

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