Hamas annuls Fatah measures


JERUSALEM -- In a sharp challenge yesterday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas-dominated parliament annulled a series of measures by the departing legislature that were aimed at strengthening the president's powers.

Hours later, tensions rose when an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City killed two Palestinian militants and three passers-by, one an 8-year-old boy. Israel acknowledged having carried out the "targeted killing" of an Islamic Jihad operative responsible for a number of attacks against Israelis and expressed regret over civilian casualties.

The confrontation in the Palestinian parliament raised fears that Hamas, the militant movement that decisively won January's legislative elections, might be turning its back on the notion of compromise and conciliation with Fatah, the more moderate and secular faction it defeated.

Fatah lawmakers walked out in protest just before the vote, which took place during the parliament's first full working session. The new legislature had met once previously, on Feb. 18, for a ceremonial swearing-in.

Yesterday's stormy six-hour session was held at separate parliament buildings in the West Bank town of Ramallah and in Gaza City, which were connected by a video link. Many lawmakers from Gaza, including the seaside territory's entire Hamas contingent, are prevented by Israel from going to the West Bank.

The distance did little to paper over the animosity between the two Palestinian parties. Fatah stalwart Mohammed Dahlan told Hamas lawmakers that seeking to annul decisions by the previous parliament was "a dangerous precedent."

Mahmoud Zahar, the majority leader and a senior Hamas figure, glowered as he accused Fatah of trying to disrupt the new parliament's work.

"This is something we will not accept," he said.

The measures annulled by the new parliament would have given Abbas the power to appoint a constitutional court with the authority to rule on any dispute between the executive branch and lawmakers, or between the president and the new Cabinet that Hamas is expected to put forth in coming weeks.

The nine-member court also would have had the power to veto laws deemed in violation of the Palestinians' quasi-constitutional Basic Law.

Hamas lawmakers also overturned five appointments to senior posts, all of them going to Fatah members, which were approved by the previous parliament.

As has often been the case since Hamas' upset victory, the threat of violence hung over the legislative gathering. Fatah gunmen, who previously have gone on shooting rampages to protest the loss of government privileges, strode up and down outside the parliament building in Gaza City.

The parliamentary quarrel makes it appear even more unlikely that Fatah will agree to enter into a governing coalition with Hamas. Fatah's senior leaders and rank-and-file members already had brushed aside the prospect of such an alliance.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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