Friday, April 21, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In their sharpest dispute yet, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday blocked the ruling Hamas party’s plans to set up a shadow security force made up of militants and headed by the No. 2 fugitive on Israel’s wanted list.

Mr. Abbas, who favors peace talks with Israel, and Hamas, which has refused to renounce its calls for the Jewish state’s destruction, have been on a collision course since the militant group took control of parliament and Cabinet earlier this year.

The shadow force announced Thursday by Interior Minister Said Siyam of Hamas was seen as an attempt to counter Mr. Abbas’ moves to take control of all the powerful Palestinian security forces.

But Mr. Abbas, like Israel and the international community, was outraged by the notion of a militants’ army headed by the leader of a group that is a key player in ongoing rocket attacks on Israel and is suspected in a deadly 2003 bombing of an American convoy in the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, Mr. Abbas used his considerable power to issue a presidential decree vetoing the plan.

In a letter to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, Mr. Abbas wrote that “we have learned through the media that the interior minister issued decisions violating the law.”

“All the officers, soldiers and security personnel are asked not to abide by these decisions and to consider them null and void,” Mr. Abbas said in the letter.

A spokesman for the Hamas-led government said later that Mr. Siyam will go ahead with plans to form the new security force, despite Mr. Abbas’ veto.

“The decision of the interior minister conformed with the law … which gives the minister the authority to take the necessary decisions to guarantee security,” spokesman Ghazi Hamad said. “The aim of the decision was to support and strengthen the efforts of the police, and not to replace the police.”

Egypt, meanwhile, invited Israeli leader Ehud Olmert for an official visit even before he has set up his incoming government. President Hosni Mubarak extended the invitation yesterday in a telephone call to Mr. Olmert, aides to the Israeli leader said.

The new security service Hamas wants to set up is to be composed of militants from various factions and headed by Jamal Abu Samhadana, 43, a founding member of the Popular Resistance Committees who served a year in Palestinian jails for involvement in militant activity.

Abu Samhadana, who refused to discuss Mr. Abbas’ decree, said he would continue his resistance despite the appointment.

“I am not going to give up resistance,” he said. “There is no contradiction between the appointment and resistance. I am a fighter who is protecting the homeland.”

Abu Samhadana is high on Israel’s wanted list, and Israel has tried to kill him in targeted strikes.

“We have old scores to settle with this murderer,” Israeli Cabinet minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio. Israeli lawmaker and former intelligence chief Danny Yatom also said yesterday that the entire Palestinian Cabinet could be targeted for assassination over the appointment.

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