Abbas: Those Who Failed in Gaza Will Pay

The Associated Press
Friday, July 27, 2007; 4:17 PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday he'll see to it that Fatah leaders and security officers responsible for the fall of Gaza to Hamas are punished, in line with findings by an internal investigation.

A Palestinian committee of inquiry into the militant Hamas' bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip last month found that about 60 officials of Abbas' Fatah movement and members of the Fatah-allied security forces should be held accountable, Abbas aides said.

However, the committee's report was not made public, and no names of officials being held responsible were given. Also, in summing up the findings, Abbas' aides made no mention of any responsibility he might have for the fall of Gaza, as overall commander of the security services.

Abbas aides promised an overhaul of the security services, based on findings in the report that random recruitment and lack of motivation weakened performance. Such problems have existed for years, but were never addressed thoroughly, despite reform pledges that began under Abbas' predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat.

Since the fall of Gaza, some 40 members of the security services in Gaza have resigned, been fired or sent into retirement. The most prominent is former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who resigned Thursday as national security adviser, citing health reasons.

In a news conference Friday, Abbas aide Nabil Amr said the report found many flaws in the security services in Gaza. "There was no field leadership. ... There were only individual initiatives," he said of the performance of the Fatah forces in Gaza.

"Procedures will be taken to prevent this from happening in the West Bank and in the future," Amr said.

Abbas said Friday that the committee's recommendations would be implemented. "Whoever had shortcomings will get his punishment, and whoever did his duty will be rewarded, so that we can turn a new page in our institutions," he said.

However, critics said the report appeared largely intended to deflect attention from Abbas and the Fatah leadership. "The committee didn't condemn the real persons responsible for the national catastrophe in Gaza, especially the political leadership," said analyst Khalil Shaheen. He said Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee and previous Fatah governments should be held accountable for the poor state of the security services.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, responding to the report, said Fatah and its security forces are "severely corrupt."

Israeli security analyst Boaz Ganor said Abbas might not be strong enough politically to carry out a purge in the security forces.

"Abbas definitely will have huge opposition and the chance that he will be able to lead a real, successful reform within the organization is at most 50-50," Ganor said.

Abbas' dismissal of Hamas from the government, following the Gaza takeover, has generated a flurry of diplomatic activity. On Thursday, Abbas said he wants to reach a final peace deal with Israel within a year.

Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Friday that a plan offered by Olmert before his election in 2006 for an uncoordinated pullout from 90 percent of the West Bank was no longer possible, "certainly not in one step."

But he told Israel Radio he favored a withdrawal from "most" of the territory, which Israel captured in 1967 and the Palestinians want for a future state.

"We have a partner," Ramon said of Abbas. "The moment there's a partner, we must renew negotiations with him and reach agreements."

Olmert and Abbas are expected to meet soon, as part of their commitment to hold talks every two weeks. They last met July 16.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is arriving next week for talks with Olmert and Abbas, but her office hasn't said if there will be a joint meeting of the three.

Also Friday, a student at An Najah University in Nablus, in the West Bank, died after he was shot by Fatah-allied gunmen during a brawl between Hamas and Fatah supporters.

Palestinian security forces had intervened to stop the fight on Tuesday, backed by Fatah gunmen in civilian clothes, and three students were wounded by gunfire.

© 2007 The Associated Press