Thursday, April 20, 2006

TEL AVIV — Hamas yesterday appointed the leader of a militia that fires rockets at Israel and is thought responsible for the assassination of an American diplomat as the chief of a new Palestinian police force.

Jamal Abu Samhadana, a former security officer who heads the Popular Resistance Committee, was selected to lead multiple security forces composed of gunmen from various militias that are loyal to Hamas and the rival Fatah party.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the appointment. But Israeli newspaper and broadcast reports described Abu Samhadana as the No. 2 most wanted man in the Gaza Strip and a previous target of Israeli assassination attempts.

The security forces will be made up of the “elite of our sons from the freedom fighters and the holy warriors,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal told reporters in Gaza City yesterday.

The appointment was made by Said Siyam, the interior minister in the Hamas-led government. It marks the latest move in a tug of war between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for control of the Palestinian security services.

In recent weeks Mr. Abbas — whose Fatah party was defeated by Hamas in parliamentary elections in January — has made several appointments aimed at consolidating his authority over multiple paramilitary police forces that he controls.

Under the Palestinian constitution, direct control over the different security services is divided between the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry and the president’s office, though it is not clear who is the commander in chief.

Facing diplomatic and financial isolation since winning control of the Palestinian government, Hamas has been unsuccessful in forging a coalition government with Fatah and other Palestinian political factions.

Analysts said Abu Samhadana was chosen because he heads an influential militia with links to Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party.

His group is thought to be responsible for an October 2003 attack on a U.S. Embassy convoy in which an American diplomat and three Marine security guards were killed. The group is behind many of the small rockets that have been fired at Israel in recent weeks.

A military official loyal to Mr. Abbas said Mr. Siyam lacked the authority to single-handedly make such an appointment.

The official, who declined to be identified, predicted that the appointment would be resisted by the top brass of the Palestinian police. “It’s outside the law and requires the approval of Abbas. It will only bring more chaos to the police.”

Other Palestinians described the move as a clever bid by Hamas to forge a split within the far-flung militant groups loyal to Fatah.

By drafting Abu Samhadana, Hamas has allied itself with a militia leader who came up in the Fatah ranks and is still respected among many of Gaza’s mosaic of militia groups.

“Hamas might not be good with politics and managing financial resources, but they are good at managing the militias,” said Omar Shaban, a Gaza political analyst.

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