GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli aircraft struck at Gaza Strip militants and Palestinian police stormed government offices in the territory on Monday as internal unrest brought new calls for a Palestinian election delay.
Amid the growing chaos, an Israeli paper said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon planned to one day abandon a U.S.-peace “road map” because of the Palestinian failure to disarm militants and would seek Washington’s approval to annex occupied West Bank land.
Struggling for control, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has resisted growing pressure to postpone the January 25 parliamentary vote from within his ruling Fatah movement — which faces a strong challenge from Hamas Islamic militants.
Fatah’s main militant wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, joined calls for an election postponement on Monday after Israeli aircraft destroyed a building in the Gaza Strip which the army said was used by the Brigades for preparing attacks.
Israel also targeted roads that it said were used by militants firing rockets into the Jewish state.
“How will there be an election with the continuation of the killings and destruction,” the Brigades said in a statement in Gaza, calling on Abbas to form a national unity government that would prepare for a ballot at a later date.
Senior Fatah officials said the idea had already been rejected by Hamas. The Islamist faction, sworn to destroying Israel, has been buoyed ahead of the polls by Fatah’s division between veteran politicians and a young guard.
Despite Fatah’s troubles, Abbas has a big personal stake in ensuring that elections happen on time.
His message to Western backers has been that they will strengthen democracy, and also help tame Hamas by bringing it into the political mainstream. Western favor is vital for Abbas in his push for statehood talks with Israel.
But Abbas’s authority has been undermined by the internal disorder, particularly since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year intensified complicated local power struggles.
Firing in the air, hundreds of police stormed government offices in southern Gaza on Monday to protest over the failure of the Palestinian Authority to give them the strength to bring order — despite Abbas’s pledge to do so at the weekend.
Gaza’s police chief said some of those involved were either ex-militants or still moonlighting for armed factions.
“We are trying every possible effort to create a stable security situation to allow a fair election,” said Ala Hosni.
Conflict with Israeli is also increasing and militant groups have said that as of January 1 they are no longer abiding by a promise they made to Abbas to ensure a “period of calm” to allow peacemaking.
Violence is also a headache for Sharon as he bids for a third term in a March election, buoyed by the popularity of the Gaza pullout after 38 years of occupation.
An Israeli newspaper said on Monday that Sharon plans eventually to scrap the “road map,” citing a Palestinian failure to crack down on militants, and instead seek Washington’s blessing for annexing parts of the West Bank.
The report in Maariv gave no source, but Sharon’s initial plans for last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip were first floated in a similar way. Sharon’s spokesman declined comment.
In public, Sharon remains very much committed to the road map, but neither side has met its obligations — the Palestinians to start disarming militants and the Israelis to freeze settlement building.
Maariv said that even before the March 28 general election, Sharon would propose evacuating dozens of West Bank settlements, allowing for the creation of a temporary Palestinian state on a single stretch of land in that territory.