GAZA (Reuters) -The Palestinian interior minister declared a new Hamas-dominated police force operational on Wednesday, defying President Mahmoud Abbas in a powerful challenge that could stoke more internal bloodshed.
Saeed Seyam’s announcement at a news conference followed the killing of two Hamas militants by Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip in the past two days. In fresh violence in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead two Islamic Jihad gunmen.
“In my capacity as interior minister responsible for internal security, I declare the executive force operational,” Seyam said, citing a “state of chaos and anarchy and increasing assaults on our people.”
Three gunmen were killed and a dozen people wounded in violence between Abbas’s long-dominant Fatah faction and Hamas last week fueled by a power struggle between Abbas loyalists and supporters of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader.
Seyam said attacks by “armed gangs” were part of “a plot to destablise the Palestinian territories and match the pressure being applied on the government.” Existing security services, he said, had been unwilling or unable to implement his orders.
Western donor nations, demanding Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing interim peace agreements, have cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, leaving 165,000 government employees unpaid since March.
Abbas, whose Fatah party was defeated by the Islamic militant group in a January election has rejected the new 3,000-member force Hamas has said would be comprised of gunmen from its armed wing and other allies.
Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman, called on Seyam to “retract a hasty decision that may lead our people to catastrophe.”
Vowing to punish the killers of the two Hamas gunmen shot dead since Tuesday, Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades said: “The identities of the traitors are known to us and we will chase them down … and sever the hand that harms us.”
No one claimed responsibility for either shooting.
The Qassam brigades have already shown their muscle in the factional fighting, confronting Fatah gunmen who stormed the Health Ministry in Gaza last month making demands of the health minister.
Israel withdrew from Gaza last year and the internal clashes in the territory since then have raised fears among Palestinians of civil war.