GAZA, (Reuters) – Palestinian Prime Minister and senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday rejected a decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to assume security control over the Gaza Strip’s border crossings.
Abbas’s overnight move underscores tensions with Hamas in the wake of the Islamic militant group’s crushing win against the president’s long-dominant Fatah in January elections.
Officials close to Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, said he had come under pressure from the European Union, which threatened to withdraw its monitors from the key Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt in response to Hamas’s rise to power.
“The government does not accept the creation of parallel bodies that may take away its authority,” Haniyeh told Reuters at his house in the impoverished Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, adding he would meet Abbas later on Thursday.
“This is an elected government, not an appointed one. Brother Abu Mazen confirmed to me more than once that he will not touch the authority of the current government,” he added, sitting behind a picture of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whom Israel assassinated in March 2004.
Abbas’s office issued a presidential decree late on Wednesday taking over the Gaza crossings.
Analysts said the move could spark a political crisis, something some see as inevitable because of the clashing political agendas of the two sides.
Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction while Abbas and Fatah want a negotiated two-state solution to end conflict.
“There is a fear we may have two governments, justified by the challenge that whenever Israel threatens to block something we transfer it into the president’s Authority,” said Palestinian political analyst Talal Awkal.
Adding to the tensions, Haniyeh’s cabinet took a decision on Wednesday to freeze administrative appointments made by the previous Fatah-dominated government.
Awkal said he expected more such decisions from Abbas. He believed Abbas’s decision stemmed from fears Israel could block the crossings, which could “cause a humanitarian and economic catastrophe in Gaza”.
Citing security concerns and threats of attacks, Israel has repeatedly closed the Karni commercial crossing into Gaza — a lifeline for Palestinians in the strip, from which the Jewish state withdrew last year after 38 years of occupation.
Israel continues to control major crossings in the West Bank, another territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war and where Palestinians seek statehood.
Haniyeh said he would discuss control of the crossings and also disputes over who is responsible for the Palestinian security forces with Abbas in their Thursday meeting.
The outgoing interior minister, from Fatah, said last week that his successor, Hamas loyalist Saeed Seyam, had no authority over larger security agencies.
Chairing the new government’s first cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Haniyeh said he had inherited an empty treasury.
“There is no food,” said 80-year-old Umm Mohammad, a mother of 10, living near Haniyeh’s house.
Palestinian Finance Minister Omar Abdel-Razeq said on Wednesday the government expected to get $80 million from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to help pay March salaries for government employees that are already overdue.
But it was unclear when the funds would arrive.
“I urge the Arab and Islamic worlds to stand beside our people in the face of the siege imposed on us, which aims to bring the people and the government to their knees,” Haniyeh said.
Unemployed fisherman Fathi Asseidi, 55, said he was uncertain about the future.
“We hope the Hamas government will make our lives better but because of Hamas, Israel will make us suffer more,” he said.