Abbas rejects a Hamas militant for security post

Dispute over authority to appoint shows divisions within Palestinian leadership


JERUSALEM -- In the most public clash to date between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas-led government, Abbas blocked yesterday Hamas' appointment of a prominent militant to a senior security position.

Abbas and Hamas have been maneuvering to establish their authority since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January. The question of how to divide control of the security forces has been one of the trickiest issues and remains unresolved.

The mostly private negotiations turned into a public dispute when Interior Minister Said Siam, a leading Hamas figure, appointed Jamal Abu Samhadana, a well-known militant, as inspector general of the Interior Ministry, which oversees several branches of the security forces.

Abbas left the West Bank yesterday for a trip to Jordan and several European countries, where he is seeking political and financial support. A top aide said the Palestinian president was rescinding Thursday's appointment by the interior minister.

"President Abbas considers the decisions of Interior Minister Said Siam illegal and anti-constitutional," the aide, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, said in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

The Associated Press said it had obtained a copy of a letter Abbas sent to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. "All the officers, soldiers and security personnel are asked not to abide by these decisions and to consider them nonexistent," the letter said.

Siam also announced Thursday the creation of a security force to be made up of militants from various factions, intended to help the police restore internal order in Palestinian areas.

Both moves were seen as attempts by the Hamas-led government to strengthen its control over the security forces.

In a sermon at a mosque in the Gaza Strip yesterday, Haniyeh, who is from Hamas, said, "I bless the announcement yesterday from brother Said Siam, the interior minister, to form a force to protect general order."

Samhadana is the leader of a militant faction, the Popular Resistance Committees, that has been responsible for many attacks against Israel, including much of the recent rocket fire from Gaza that is directed at southern Israel. The United States and Israel both criticized his appointment.

Samhadana said yesterday that he planned to take up his post in the Interior Ministry and to continue leading the Popular Resistance Committees.

The new Palestinian government "has never asked us to stop firing rockets," he said. "It has emphasized to us that launching rockets or stopping them is up to the resistance leaders."

It was not immediately clear how the Palestinians would resolve the dispute over Samhadana. The larger issue is whether Abbas and the Hamas-dominated government can overcome their deep political differences and forge a working relationship.

Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement, opposes attacks on Israel and seeks to revive negotiations. Hamas, in contrast, has been responsible for the largest number of suicide bombings against Israel in recent years.

Hamas has largely observed a truce for more than a year but has not called on other factions to halt attacks and has always rejected negotiations with Israel.

When faced with internal political differences, the Palestinians do not have a constitution to consult. They do have the Basic Law, which effectively serves as a constitution but is vague on many questions.

Hamas controls the government ministries and the legislature, and handles the day-to-day running of the government. But as president, Abbas also has a range of powers and can veto appointments or dismiss the government.

Abbas, who works from his headquarters in Ramallah, has made occasional visits to Gaza City to consult with Haniyeh and other top government officials. The Hamas leadership and many top government ministers are in Gaza, and Israel is not permitting Hamas members to travel between the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel has tried several times to kill Samhadana, and Israeli officials said yesterday that he would continue to be a target, as would any member of the Palestinian government who is linked to violence against Israel.

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