- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinians’ defiant Hamas-led government sent a new militant force into the streets of Gaza today, disregarding President Mahmoud Abbas’ order banning the creation of the security body and raising the stakes in their deepening power struggle.

Hamas appeared to have been propelled into action by mysterious drive-by shootings that killed two of its militants in the Gaza Strip hours earlier. Those and other recent cases of deadly infighting have threatened to plunge the Palestinian territories into bloody chaos.

Meanwhile, Israel reopened the main cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel, Gaza’s economic lifeline. Two Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

The Hamas-led government and Mr. Abbas have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic militant group ousted Mr. Abbas’ long-ruling Fatah party in January parliamentary elections.

Mr. Abbas, who directly controls three security forces, appointed an ally as head of the remaining three security branches, which fall under the command of the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.

In response, Interior Minister Said Siyam announced a plan last month to create the new force, which would be solely under his control.

Mr. Abbas vetoed the force, which is to number about 3,000 fighters and be headed by Jamal Abu Samhadana, a key player in ongoing rocket attacks on Israel and a suspect in the deadly 2003 bombing of an American convoy in the Gaza Strip.

Ignoring Mr. Abbas, Mr. Siyam said the unit would begin operating immediately.

Within hours, dozens of members of the armed force, all wearing the beards favored by observant Muslims, were deployed in central and southern Gaza.

At the Bureij refugee camp, about 75 fighters patrolled the camp or took up positions outside.

Members of a security branch answerable to Mr. Abbas stood just a few yards away.

Mr. Siyam activated the new force just hours after masked gunmen killed a member of Hamas’ military wing before dawn in a drive-by shooting at the Jebaliya refugee camp.

Last evening, another Hamas activist was killed in a similar attack in Gaza City. Two more Hamas activists were wounded in a third shooting. Those attacks came less than a day after the cars of senior Fatah militants were blown up in Gaza City.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Dozens of Hamas gunmen, armed with anti-tank launchers, shoulder-fired missiles, hand grenades and assault rifles, turned out in a show of force today at the funeral of the militant shot yesterday. A mosque loudspeaker announced that the family would not receive mourners “until the killers are punished.”

Hamas’ ouster of Fatah has sparked Western aid cutoffs designed to pressure the militants to recognize Israel and disarm. The sanctions left the Hamas-led government unable to pay government salaries for more than two months.

Dozens of government employees lined up at a bank in Gaza City today after it announced it would loan government employees up to $200 to help tide them over.

Israel reopened Karni today, Israeli military officials and Palestinian border officials said. The military officials said this signaled a change in policy since Amir Peretz, leader of the dovish Labor Party, became defense minister earlier this month. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss policy with the press.

Israel has kept Karni closed for nearly two months this year, saying Palestinian militants were trying to attack the site, as they have in the past.

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