- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Supporters of the defeated Palestinian party Fatah staged demonstrations here last night that boiled into a near-riot as thousands of young men demanded the resignation of corrupt officials who led their movement to a crushing election defeat and left Hamas radicals with a solid majority in the Palestinian parliament.

In Washington, the Bush administration warned that foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority could be cut if Hamas joins the government without renouncing terror.

Hundreds of young men — many not old enough to vote — converged on the central square outside the Legislative Council building, burning cars, waving banners and screaming out their frustrations with their failed leadership.

The protesters demanded the resignation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders of Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics for more than 40 years.

They were eventually calmed and disbursed by Mohamad Dahlan, Fatah’s head of security for Gaza and one of the few party officials who seems to still have the respect of the Fatah faithful.

Hamas took 76 of 132 seats in the council, stripping Fatah of much of its power in a landslide that has reverberated from Tel Aviv to Brussels to Washington.

In Ramallah in the West Bank, Mr. Abbas said he would seek to form a government with Hamas. The militant group, which has no national political experience, reached out to Mr. Abbas, a senior member of Fatah, hours after the vote tallies were announced.

Mr. Abbas later fired six Fatah officials who had run against the Fatah slate and split the Fatah vote, leading to the electoral loss.

The Israeli government, which strictly observes the Sabbath, had no official comment last night. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made no formal response to Hamas’ overwhelming victory, except to repeat that Israel will not negotiate with terrorist organizations.

Israeli leaders have been meeting behind closed doors much of the week, trying to formulate a response in a tumultuous time that will stretch at least until mid-March, when Israel will hold its elections. These became necessary with the incapacitation through illness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appealed to the international community to not legitimize a Hamas government, saying elections “are not a whitewash for terror.”

A Hamas-led government could lead to a cutoff of crucial foreign aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority if Hamas militants do not renounce violence and end their call for the destruction of Israel.

The Bush administration, which backed Fatah’s bid for re-election against Hamas, yesterday repeated a warning that it would review more than $150 million in aid to the Palestinian people if Hamas forms a government.

“We do not and will not give money to a terrorist organization,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said “the law and our policies state that no money goes to terrorist organizations.”

In Gaza yesterday, an estimated 2,000 chanting Hamas supporters greeted their victorious leaders, wearing their familiar emerald green baseball caps, in the city of Khan Younis, a desperately poor slum that has long served as a stronghold for the group.

More than a dozen Fatah members, wearing their signature black-and-white scarves, clashed with Hamas members nearby in an exchange of stones and gunfire.

An argument between 20 Hamas and Fatah loyalists degenerated into gunfire and rock throwing that left three injured, one with gunshot wounds. A second gunbattle wounded one police officer and one Hamas supporter, police said.

Hamas, by its charter, is sworn to seek the destruction of Israel.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said no peace talks can be held with the group until it renounces violence and accepts the existence of the Jewish state.

In public, the Hamas leadership has dropped much of the most inflammatory statements about Israel, vowing instead to resist the occupation of Palestinian territories. However, despite international pressure, Hamas leaders said yesterday they had no intention of recognizing Israel.

“It’s not in our mind now to recognize it as we believe that it’s a state that has usurped our land and expelled our people. These issues should be handled before we talk about recognition,” deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told reporters in Damascus he plans to visit the Palestinian territories as early as next week. It would mark the first time he has returned since surviving an assassination attempt by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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