- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

QALQILYA, West Bank — Six people were killed Sunday when forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raided a Hamas hide-out, just days after he promised in Washington to fulfill his security commitments.

The violence erupted when police encircled a house in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, where a top Hamas field commander, Mohammed Samman, and his deputy Mohammed Yasin, had taken refuge, witnesses and security officials said.

Both Hamas men and the homeowner died in the shootout, along with three policemen. Dozens of bullet holes in walls and furniture in the home attested to the ferocity of the fighting.

It was the bloodiest internal Palestinian clash in the occupied West Bank since the Western-backed Mr. Abbas launched a security drive and revived peace talks with Israel in 2007 after breaking with Hamas over its takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Samman and Mr. Yasin had ignored calls to surrender, witnesses said. Palestinian security forces spokesman Adnan Damiri said police had tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff.

“Thousands of shots were fired at the security forces,” Mr. Damiri said, adding that large quantities of explosives were discovered in the Hamas hide-out.

After the raid, Hamas threatened to call off Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks with Fatah that had been scheduled to resume in Cairo in July.

Fawzhi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip said: “We in Hamas have come closer than ever to taking a decision to suspend our participation in the dialogue.”

A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing accused the Abbas-aligned forces of being “loyal to the Zionists.”

Despite the violence, the operation could boost Mr. Abbas’ credentials in Washington at a time when President Obama is at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“The Palestinian security forces will strike with an iron fist against anyone harming the interests of the Palestinian people,” Mr. Abbas, describing the Hamas men as “outlaws,” was quoted as saying by the Palestinian WAFA news agency.

Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Abbas in the White House on Thursday and complimented him on security steps he has taken in the West Bank under the 2003 peace “road map” that includes a call for a crackdown on militants.

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