GAZA (Reuters) â€” 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’ overnight move underscores tensions with Hamas in the wake of the Islamic group’s crushing win against the president’s long-dominant Fateh 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’ 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.
â€œBrother Abu Mazen confirmed to me more than once that he will not touch the authority of the current government,” he added, sitting behind a desk adorned with a picture of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whom Israel assassinated in March 2004.
Abbas’ office issued a presidential decree late 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 is sworn to Israel’s destruction while Abbas and Fateh 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.
In a move likely to add to tensions, Abbas named Rashid Abu Shbak, currently head of the powerful Fateh-dominated peventive security service, as chief of internal security, a security official said.
In his new post, Abu Shbak would be in charge of preventive security, police and the civil emergency services.
Interior Minister Saeed Seyam, of Hamas, has authority over the three security services. Although Abu Shbak would be answerable to Seyam, only Abbas would be able to dismiss him, the official said.
Haniyeh said he would discuss control of the crossings and also disputes over who is responsible for the security forces with Abbas in their Thursday meeting.
The outgoing interior minister, from Fateh, said last week that Seyam had no authority over larger security agencies.
Citing security concerns and threats of attacks, Israel has repeatedly closed the Karni commercial crossing into Gaza â€” 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.
Chairing the new government’s first Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Haniyeh said he had inherited an empty treasury.
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.
Israeli forces detain Palestinian minister
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces took into custody a member of the new Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet on Thursday at a roadblock on the outskirts of Jerusalem and released him five hours later.
The Israeli army said Khaled Abu Araf was detained because he is barred from the area. The incident was another sign of Israel’s tough line towards the Islamic group.
“The Hamas minister was detained at about 9:00am (0600 GMT). He was not questioned at any point and was released at 2:00pm (1100 GMT),” an army spokesman said. Security officials quoted by the Haaretz website said Abu Araf, an independent, was detained because as the holder of an Israeli identity card he is banned by Israel from entering areas administrated by the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Araf, minister of state for Jerusalem affairs, can carry an Israeli ID because he lives in Arab East Jerusalem. Abu Arafa was stopped at an impromptu roadblock that Israeli soldiers positioned in the occupied West Bank, north of Jerusalem, Hamas sources said.
“They stopped the car and asked the minister to get out and when he refused they forced him by pointing the rifle in his face,” one of the sources said, citing accounts from witnesses who telephoned Haniyeh.
Abu Araf was en route to the office of former Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ziad for a handover ceremony and was taken by soldiers to an unknown location, the sources said.
He was released five hours after being taken to an Israeli police station in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim outside Jerusalem, said a Reuters cameraman at the scene.
Israel says it cannot consider dealing with Hamas until the group recognises the Jewish state, renounces violence and accepts prior interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
Palestinian Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Israel was undermining the work of the new government.
“The arrest of a Cabinet minister proves the falseness of Israel’s arguments that it seeks peace,” Hamad said.
The Haaretz website said the Shin Bet security service had detained Abu Araf and a bodyguard.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move that was not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.