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Palestinian interior minister quits amid factional violence

As fighting between Hamas and Fatah consumes Gaza, the two-month-old unity government is seen as imperiled.

By / May 14, 2007



The Palestinian interior minister stepped down Monday amid a new wave of factional fighting in Gaza that has prompted fears of a government collapse and civil war.

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Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi resigned in protest as the death toll from two days of violence between the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas parties reached seven – making it the worst such violence since the two parties named a unity government in March. According to The Associated Press, Mr. Qawasmi, an independent seen as sympathetic to Hamas, faced competition over control of Palestine's security services.

At a news conference, [Qawasmi] angrily accused both [Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of failing to support him.
[Qawasmi] recently proposed a security plan to restore law and order. But the plan – which called for reforms and coordination among the numerous Palestinian security forces – never got off the ground.
"From the beginning, I faced obstacles that robbed the ministry of its powers and made my position empty without authority," he said. "I told all the concerned parties, including the president and the prime minister, that I must have full authority to be able to carry out my full duties."

The latest round of violence began with last week's deployment in Gaza of 3,000 police from forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader, amid objections by Hamas. Fighting broke out between the two rival factions and continued through Monday despite an announcement Sunday that Egypt had brokered a truce between the two sides. The Guardian describes Monday's violence, which erupted in Gaza City between Hamas gunmen and Fatah security officers and bodyguards of Fatah spokesman Maher Meqdad.

Hospital officials said two of the security officers were killed and 10 people wounded. They also said a civilian died after being shot in factional fighting [Sunday], bringing to seven the number of people killed since the start of a new round of clashes over the weekend. At least 40 people have been injured.
Hamas claims that the death toll included two employees of a Hamas-affiliated newspaper who were shot after being pulled out of a taxi at a Fatah roadblock yesterday.

The latest outbreak of violence comes the day before Palestinians mark the anniversary of "al Naqba" – "the catastrophe" of expulsion and exile that they say befell them as a result of Israel's creation in 1948. Reuters describes the tension in the streets.

In a scene reminiscent of fierce factional warfare before the Saudi-brokered unity government was formed, masked gunmen patrolled Gaza's streets as ordinary Palestinians opted to stay indoors and keep children home from school.
Shops were shuttered and taxi drivers took detours to bypass checkpoints set up by rival armed groups.

Qawasmi's resignation was not entirely a surprise: he attempted to step down two weeks ago, which The Washington Post described as the "first cracks" in the unity government. But his resignation does leave the government's future uncertain.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the interior minister is a sensitive position, and it may be difficult for the two sides to agree on a replacement. Haaretz notes that the original decision over who would lead the interior ministry had held up formation of the unity government for several months.

The BBC quotes senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who says that the violence underscores the Palestinian Authority's failure to secure a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

"I am ashamed as a Palestinian this morning to see the continuation of such chaos. If the government cannot deliver on this one authority, one gun, the rule of law, I believe there is no purpose to have a government," he told the BBC.
"Society can't stand - no social fabric can be maintained if you have multiple authorities and multiple guns.
"Any society, any society on the earth must understand that the one authority, the one gun, the rule of law is the essence of society. And that's it - this is absent now from Gaza."

Hamas officials say that Mr. Haniyeh would take control of the Interior Ministry until a replacement is found.

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