Monday, April 24, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A new Palestinian security service with as many as 3,000 officers has been ordered into action by the Hamas-led Interior Ministry, despite the objections over the weekend of President Mahmoud Abbas, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Khaled Abu Hilal said it was members of the new security service who were called in Sunday to back up Palestinian police in gunbattles with militants from the rival Fatah party.

The new police force is the first security detachment loyal to the Hamas-led government, and it is considered the most concrete evidence to date of a struggle for control over the Palestinian security services between Mr. Abbas and the Islamic militants.

Fatah officials have called the creation of the force illegal, and Mr. Abbas formally canceled the decision. But the security service has been formed, and at the Gaza City headquarters of the Palestinian Interior Ministry, its members can be seen with AK-47s in tow while obeying a dress code of black civilian clothing.

Mr. Abu Hilal denied charges that new police detachment would rival the existing security branches, explaining that the unit instead would serve as “support” in helping the police end anarchy in the streets of the Gaza Strip.

“There are 60,000 members of the security apparatus which did not manage to create security in the streets of the country. With 2,000, we will be able to do it,” he said. “They are the cream of the Palestinian resistance.”

A spokesman for the Palestinian police commander Alaa Husni said the force is receiving conflicting messages from the president and the interior minister. The conflict highlights the lack of clarity in the Palestinian law regarding who has the last word on the security services.

Mr. Abu Hilal said the new force was drafted from the ranks of Palestinian “resistance” groups, ranging from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to the Islamic Jihad, and Hamas’ Izza Din Al-Qassem military wing. Yet the new force has not received any police training.

Beyond that, the Interior Ministry spokesman was willing to give only vague information about the unit.

The new police force, he said, isn’t costing the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority any money because the officers agreed to work as volunteers. The new unit has no single chief, and instead is led by individual field commanders who report directly to Palestinian Interior Minister Said Siyam, Mr. Abu Hilal said.

When armed gunmen from Fatah took over the Palestinian Health Ministry on Sunday to protest Health Minister Bassem Naim’s refusal to give subsidies for treatment abroad, members of the new security force were called in to help police restore order around the building. Three Fatah gunmen were arrested and three others were wounded in the shootout.

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