- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The new Palestinian prime minister said yesterday that his Cabinet will take control of the Palestinian security forces, putting his Hamas-led government on a collision course with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Deepening the tension, Mr. Abbas installed a longtime ally as head of the three security branches in a battle for control of the 58,000-member police force, and he told Hamas it had to clear all foreign policy moves with him.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he rejects any attempts to take away power from Hamas, which won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. His Cabinet was sworn in last week.

“There are attempts to create parallel frameworks to some ministries in the Palestinian government,” Mr. Haniyeh said in an interview at his Gaza City headquarters. “But I don’t think [Mr. Abbas] can keep up this pressure and take away power from this government.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli spokesman in Jerusalem announced the launching of three air raids last night against targets in the Gaza Strip.

“Our helicopters launched three attacks. Two targeted two offices in northern Beit Lahiya where activists of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were meeting to plan rocket strikes against Israel, and another attack was against a helicopter pad inside Gaza City,” the military spokesman said. No details were provided.

Mr. Abbas’ actions appeared aimed at persuading the international community that he, not Hamas, is in charge. Western donors have threatened to cut off desperately needed aid if Hamas does not renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, conditions the Islamic militant group has rejected.

Mr. Abbas, a moderate who was elected president last year, retains wide powers. He is the head of the National Security Council, which has final say over the Palestinian security forces, and he can issue wide-ranging decrees that do not need parliamentary approval.

Mr. Haniyeh said Mr. Abbas had assured him the security forces would remain under the control of the Hamas-led Cabinet, which, he said, did not take power “on the back of a tank” but in “transparent and fair elections.”

But hours later, Mr. Abbas appointed a longtime ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the three security services that fall under Interior Minister Said Siyam, in addition to agencies already under the president’s authority. Though Mr. Siyam technically would be Mr. Abu Shbak’s boss, any dispute between the two would be resolved in the Abbas-headed National Security Council.

Mr. Abu Shbak said he was authorized to hire and fire officers in the three security branches. His appointment reduced Hamas’ authority over the security apparatus to cutting checks for its officers.

Security officers on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, many of whom came from the ranks of Mr. Abbas’ Fatah Party, were divided on the side they would take in a fight for their loyalty.

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