- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas headed into a full-blown confrontation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, voting to strip him of powers that he was awarded hastily by his Fatah party in the last session of the outgoing parliament.

The Hamas-Fatah conflict has been simmering since Hamas swept Fatah out of office in the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, ending four decades of unchallenged rule by the party of the late Yasser Arafat.

Hamas has 74 seats in the new parliament and Fatah has 45. The first order of business for Hamas was to cancel the powers the outgoing parliament gave Mr. Abbas, the Fatah leader, authorizing him to cancel laws passed by the new parliament and appointing Fatah officials to key positions.

In the West Bank administrative capital of Ramallah, Fatah delegates walked out, accusing Hamas of twisting the rules to weaken Mr. Abbas’ authority.

About 15 Fatah gunmen marched on parliament in Gaza City, firing into the air. The gunmen eventually headed to a Fatah meeting, where they demanded that their party stay out of the government that Hamas is setting up and threatened to kill any Fatah official who joined.

With its absolute majority, Hamas can set up a government by itself, but Hamas leaders prefer to bring in other parties, partly to deflect international criticism and threatened economic sanctions because of Hamas’ record of violence and refusal to recognize Israel.

Israel, which considers Hamas a terror group, refuses to allow members of the Palestinian parliament to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, so the two buildings were linked by teleconferencing equipment to allow the session to take place.

In the final session of the previous parliament on Feb. 13, majority Fatah members pushed through an amendment that gave Mr. Abbas power to appoint judges to a constitutional court without seeking legislative approval.

Yesterday, Hamas easily passed legislation to rescind Mr. Abbas’ new powers, but some analysts said Mr. Abbas has the authority to cancel the resolution, perpetuating the standoff.

Fatah complained that the Hamas action yesterday “undermines the basis of dialogue and partnership in any institution with Hamas.” A Fatah legislator said the decisions would be appealed to the Palestinian supreme court.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri ridiculed the Fatah reaction.

“It is obvious that some people until now have not understood the rules of the democratic game,” he said.

Mr. Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005, and his term has three years remaining, regardless of the makeup of parliament.

Although Mr. Abbas is seen as a moderate and remains in power, Israel has reacted to the Hamas victory by cutting off transfer of vital tax money to the Palestinian Authority, charging that it now is controlled by terrorists.

As parliament was wrapping up its session yesterday, the Israeli air force targeted an ice-cream truck in Gaza City, killing two Islamic Jihad militants and three bystanders, two of them children, the military and Palestinian officials said.

A spokesman for the group who gave his name as Abu Dajana vowed retaliation.

“God willing, we are going to get revenge for the honorable bloodshed today,” he told reporters outside a morgue at the Shifa hospital in Gaza, where angry Palestinians chanted, “Death to Israel.”

Mr. Abbas appealed for international intervention to stop Israeli attacks.

“These aggressive actions threaten the exerted efforts to maintain the truce,” he said. “Achieving security would come only through negotiations, not unilateral action and aggression.”

The “unilateral action” reference came as Israeli security officials outlined plans for Israel to cut itself off further from the Gaza Strip, after the summer withdrawal of soldiers and settlers. The security chiefs are expected to present the plan after Israel’s March 28 election.

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