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Haniyeh: Hamas to Control Security Forces

April 6, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ The new Palestinian prime minister said Thursday that his Hamas-led government will assume control of the Palestinian security forces, despite President Mahmoud Abbas’ appointment of an ally to head three of the branches.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ismail Haniyeh also dismissed efforts by Abbas to wrest authority from the government.

Haniyeh said Abbas had assured him the security forces would remain under the control of the Hamas-led Cabinet, which, he said, did not take power ``on the back of a tank″ but in ``transparent and fair elections.″

But hours later, Abbas appointed a longtime ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the three security services that were to be under Hamas’ control, in addition to agencies already under the president’s aegis.

The conflict was the latest indication of a burgeoning power struggle between the moderate Palestinian president and the militant group that took power last week after sweeping Jan. 25 elections.

``There are attempts to create parallel frameworks to some ministries in the Palestinian government,″ Haniyeh told AP at his Gaza City headquarters. ``But I don’t think (Abbas) can keep up this pressure and take away power from this government.″

At the street level, it was clear the difficulties Hamas would have in taking control of the security forces, which are filled with loyalists from Abbas’ Fatah Party.

Ahmed Abou Sayah, a member of the preventive security service, which was responsible for a 1996 crackdown on Hamas, said he would not accept a Hamas leader. ``We hate them and they hate us,″ he said in Gaza City.

However, Mohammed Barham, a police officer in the West Bank city of Nablus, said he would take orders from whoever is in charge.

``I belong to Fatah and I work in the Palestinian police. By law, the interior minister is the boss and that is acceptable to me. I will do all that I am asked to by my bosses,″ he said.

Haniyeh also said Abbas, ``as the head of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, can move on political fronts and negotiate with whomever he wants. What is important is what will be offered to the Palestinian people.″ His comment appeared to open the door for Abbas to hold talks with Israel.

But he denounced Israel’s plans to unilaterally determine its future borders with the Palestinians if it deems that negotiations will not work.

Abbas, who favors restarting long-stalled peace talks with Israel, is amassing more power to bypass Hamas’ new rulers, who have provoked Western threats of an aid cutoff by rejecting Israel’s right to exist and refusing to renounce violence.

Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, although it has largely observed a year-old cease-fire, and it is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads, also ordered the Hamas-led Foreign Ministry to coordinate with it before making major pronouncements on diplomatic policy. The PLO is technically in charge of the Palestinians’ foreign affairs.

Haniyeh spoke as Israeli President Moshe Katzav tapped acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form Israel’s next government. Olmert said he would quickly put together a coalition committed to carrying out his plan to pull out of most of the West Bank.

Haniyeh said there has been no change in his group’s refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect all past accords signed by the Palestinian Authority _ the three conditions Israel and the United States have imposed for dealing with Hamas.

At the same time, he struck a conciliatory tone when speaking about the United States, saying, ``we don’t want feelings of animosity to remain in the region, not toward the U.S. administration and not toward the West.″

Haniyeh said his government could overcome a crippling financial crisis by appealing to Arab and Muslim donors.

In other developments Thursday, Israeli border police briefly detained a Hamas Cabinet minister. Khaled Abu Arafa, minister of Jerusalem affairs, was detained along with his bodyguard at a checkpoint en route to Izzariya, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, where he was to sign off on furniture and office equipment from his predecessor, Ziad Abu Zayyad, a moderate.

The army said Abu Arafa was taken into custody because he is barred from entering the West Bank for security reasons, but he was not interrogated because his intentions were clear.

``This is an attempt by the Israeli government to topple the new Palestinian government and prevent us from providing services for our people,″ said Abu Arafa, who added that he was handcuffed and treated ``roughly.″

``They insist on creating a tense situation ... and getting us back to square one. We will continue our work and our duties to our people,″ he said.

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