Abbas Dissolves Government As Hamas Takes Control of Gaza

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 15, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 15 -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Palestinian government Thursday and declared a state of emergency after rival Hamas forces took complete control of the Gaza Strip in what the Islamic movement called the territory's "liberation."

In a presidential decree, Abbas fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and suggested that new national elections would occur soon. Abbas's decision ends the three-month-old power-sharing arrangement between his Fatah movement and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political parties.

Haniyeh, in a response delivered early Friday, said Abbas had not considered the "consequences" of his decision and pledged to continue to work with his Fatah "brothers." Other Hamas officials said Abbas's ruling had no legal effect.

Hamas's military victory, after five days of fighting that left nearly 100 Palestinians dead, has deepened the political and cultural separation between the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, many of whose 1.4 million residents are poor refugees, and the more populous West Bank, Fatah's power base.

The territorial cornerstones of a future Palestinian state have been reduced to strongholds of each faction. A Hamas radio station quoted fighters Thursday saying their military campaign was the first step in establishing an Islamic state in Gaza, a claim party officials denied.

"Gaza is out of control, and in my mind it's a coup that has happened there," said Saeb Erekat, a Fatah lawmaker from the West Bank who is the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel. "The decision Hamas has made in recent days has torn Gaza from the West Bank."

Haniyeh struck a reassuring tone in his speech, saying that "the Gaza Strip is an indivisible part of the Palestinian homeland."

Abbas failed to act on previous threats to dissolve the Hamas-led cabinet, and his move to do so now underscores the sense of crisis facing the Palestinian national movement.

His decision came after Hamas forces seized Fatah-controlled security compounds in Gaza City and the southern city of Rafah. At least 25 Palestinians died Thursday in fighting that stretched across the strip.

At day's end, masked Hamas fighters declared their swift rout of Fatah forces "the second liberation of Gaza," a reference to Israel's September 2005 evacuation of settlements and military positions.

"This is a victory not only for Hamas but for all Palestinians," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "The first liberation was from the occupation. This liberation is from these Fatah militias supported by our enemies."

Until Abbas's decision, Fatah leaders had been grasping for ways to end the factional fighting, which officials from both parties have called civil war.

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