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Hamas, Fatah face off in stormy parliament session stripping Abbas of new powers - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – The huge TV screen in the Gaza parliament showed Fatah members staging a walkout from the parliament chamber in the West Bank city of Ramallah, objecting to the new Hamas majority overturning new powers for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But the parallel screen in Ramallah did not show the drama in Gaza, where Fatah gunmen marched on the building, turning away at the last minute toward a meeting of their own leaders, where they threatened to kill any Fatah official who joins a Hamas Cabinet.

The teleconferencing was necessary because Israel does not permit Hamas representatives to travel between the West Bank and Gaza. But as in the January election itself, when Hamas trounced Fatah because of corruption, not policy toward Israel, the main conflict at the Monday Palestinian parliament session was internal.

Hamas has 74 seats in the new parliament and Fatah just 45, and the first order of business for Hamas was to cancel the last-minute powers the outgoing parliament gave to Abbas, the Fatah leader, giving him authority to cancel laws passed by the new parliament and appointing Fatah officials to key positions.

With its absolute majority, Hamas can set up a government by itself, but Hamas leaders prefer to bring in other parties, partly to deflect international criticism and threatened economic sanctions because of Hamas’ record of violence and refusal to recognize Israel.

At the first working session of parliament since it was sworn in, Hamas easily passed legislation to rescind Abbas’ new powers, but some experts said Abbas has the authority to cancel the Monday resolution, perpetuating the standoff. In a statement, Fatah complained the Hamas action “undermines the basis of dialogue and partnership in any institution with Hamas.» A Fatah legislator said Monday’s decisions would be appealed to the Palestinian Supreme Court.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri ridiculed the Fatah reaction.

“It is obvious that some people until now have not understood the rules of the democratic game,” he said. Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in an election in January 2005, and his term has three years to run, regardless of the makeup of the parliament.

Though Abbas is seen as a moderate and remains in power, Israel has reacted to the Hamas victory by cutting off transfer of vital tax money to the Palestinian Authority, charging that it is now controlled by terrorists.

As the parliament was wrapping up its session, the Israeli air force targeted an ice cream truck in Gaza City, killing two Islamic Jihad militants and three bystanders, two of them children, the military and Palestinian officials said. Seven people were wounded, doctors said. A spokesman for the group who gave his name as Abu Dajana vowed retaliation.

“God willing we are going to get revenge for the honorable blood shed today,” he told reporters outside a morgue at the Shifa hospital in Gaza, where angry Palestinians chanted, “Death to Israel.”

Abbas appealed for international intervention to stop Israeli attacks. “These aggressive actions threaten the exerted efforts to maintain the truce,” he said in a statement. “Achieving security would come only through negotiations, not unilateral action and aggression.”

The “unilateral action” reference came as Israeli security officials outlined plans for Israel to cut itself off further from the Gaza Strip, after the summer withdrawal of soldiers and settlers.

The officials said Israel should gradually reduce and then ban Palestinian workers from Gaza entering Israel, cut off power, fuel and water supplies and allow the Palestinians to open a seaport and airport, eliminating Gaza imports and exports through Israel.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give details to the media, said security chiefs would present their plan after Israel’s March 28 election.

The recommendations came a day after a key ally of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said if their party wins the election, it will take further unilateral steps in the West Bank, including moving settlers from isolated points to settlement blocs.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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