Palestinian official quits in frustration

He says Hamas, Fatah did not help

coalition's future in doubt

May 15, 2007|By Rushdi Abu Alouf and Henry Chu | Rushdi Abu Alouf and Henry Chu,LOS ANGELES TIMES

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The Palestinian interior minister quit in frustration yesterday over a surge in factional violence in Gaza that has cast the future of the Palestinian power-sharing government into doubt.

After barely more than a month on the job, Hani Kawasmeh said he was stepping down because neither side of the factional divide, Fatah or Hamas, would give him the power necessary to integrate competing security agencies into a unified force capable of establishing order in the Gaza Strip.

The resignation of the relative independent dealt a blow to the Fatah-Hamas unity government that was formed in March after the two organizations agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Saudi Arabia. The departing minister's accusations underscored how difficult it has been to get the rival groups to compromise on the central issue of who controls the estimated 80,000 men under arms in the Palestinian territories.

The discord has had lethal consequences in Gaza, where four more people, one a civilian, were killed in factional clashes yesterday, bringing the death toll to nine since violence erupted Sunday. Masked gunmen fired fusillades in the streets, which were empty of residents, while other fighters choked off roads and surrounded buildings to attack or protect.

Last night, senior Fatah and Hamas officials emerged from a three-hour emergency meeting to declare their readiness to order their street commanders to pull back. Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the two factions reaffirmed their pledge "to make this [unity] government stand."

Gunfire died down in Gaza's streets after the meeting. How long the cessation of fighting would hold was open to question. A truce cobbled together Sunday night by an Egyptian security delegation collapsed almost before it began.

The proximate cause of the latest round of bloodletting, the worst since the establishment of the power-sharing government, was Fatah's deployment last Thursday of thousands of its security forces without agreement from Hamas.

The move punched a hole in Kawasmeh's efforts to put together an integrated security plan for Gaza.

After submitting his resignation, Kawasmeh complained bitterly that his hands had been tied from the start of his tenure. Neither Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, nor the militant Hamas, which won elections last year, took him seriously, the outgoing minister said.

"From the beginning, I faced obstacles that robbed the ministry of its powers and made my position empty, without authority," Kawasmeh told reporters at a news conference. "I told all the concerned parties that I had to have full authority to be able to carry out my duties."

A career civil servant, Kawasmeh had little experience in law enforcement and wielded little influence in the government. He was picked as a compromise candidate for the interior minister's job after months of bickering between Hamas and Fatah over the politically sensitive post. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah, of Hamas, will now take on the portfolio until a new minister is named.

Rushdi Abu Alouf and Henry Chu write for the Los Angeles Times.

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