Islamists, Abbas on tightrope

RAMALLAH — Islamic group Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are treading an all-out collision course that could move from rhetoric to the battlefield, Palestinian analysts warn.
An informal truce brokered by Abbas and the main armed factions last March is unravelling amid esclating violence, putting mounting Israeli pressure on Abbas to stop rocket attacks or face a ground offensive on Gaza.

In Gaza since Thursday in a bid to draw a line under the unrest, Abbas has so far proved largely unable to assert significant control over Hamas fighters in their increasingly chaotic Gaza Strip stronghold.

Without mentioning the faction explicitly, Abbas on Saturday openly charged that “certain groups want to weaken the Palestinian Authority,” and said unnamed elements want to spark “civil war.” Two teenager bystanders were killed and at least nine security personnel wounded on Friday in a three-hour shoot-out between security services and Hamas in Gaza City.

Since then, Israeli targeted operations have killed at least eight Hamas men, prompting the faction to holler for revenge and step up rocket attacks on Israel and Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian analyst Hani Al Masri said recent developments have exposed the “power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority,” in which resistance against the Israeli occupation has become a battleground.

Responsible for most anti-Israeli attacks during the nearly five-year uprising, Hamas has been at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority since this month shunning an offer to join a national unity government.

Not only did Hamas shut the door on joining the government but the movement also made clear it would resist any attempt by Abbas to disarm it.

The faction was furious with Abbas for apparently refusing to involve Hamas in preparations for next month’s Israeli pullout from Gaza and for delaying parliamentary elections scheduled for July.

“Confrontation is unavoidable,” said one senior security official on condition of anonymity.

Adnan Al Dumairi, responsible for public relations at the interior ministry, accuses Hamas of wanting to monopolise power, destroy Palestinian Authority institutions and set up rival agencies.

“The Palestinian Authority’s only choice is to respect the law and not give up,” said the official.

But a frequent critic of the Palestinian Authority, the leader of Hamas in the West Bank, Hassan Yussef, denied that his movement was trying to monopolise power.

“The Palestinian Authority wants to (negotiate) a solution and is incapable of defending the resistance,” he said, reiterating that Hamas was against any moves to disarm it.

“As long as Israeli aggressions continue, Hamas will not keep its arms crossed,” he said.

The leader of Hamas in its Gaza Strip stronghold, Mahmoud Zahar, recently told the Palestinian news agency, Ramattan, that the movement no longer had any confidence in the Palestinian Authority or its leader.

“Who would defend the sons of Hamas? Is it the Palestinian Authority? Is it the preventive security who’s arresting Hamas members? Is it the intelligence service who are gathering information about Hamas?” Zahar said.

“The answer is clear and we will not allow anyone to disarm us.”

Hamas boycotted talks between the principal Palestinian factions in Gaza on Saturday, at which they reaffirmed their committment to the unofficial truce.

Palestinian security forces believe Hamas can mobilise between 3,000 and 4,000 fighters in the Gaza Strip.

The movement is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union but scored a sweeping success in local elections.

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