Abbas' forces on the rampage outside parliament, cabinet

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2006, 12:00am

Hundreds of Palestinian security men loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas ran amok against the Hamas-led government, riddling the parliament building and cabinet offices with bullets before setting them ablaze in retaliation for an attack by Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip.

The violence was the most serious in the West Bank since Hamas defeated Mr Abbas' Fatah movement in legislative elections in January and raised fears the Palestinians were on the path to civil war.

Mr Abbas, a moderate who was elected separately last year, has been locked in a bitter power struggle with Hamas, which does not recognise Israel and has refused to disarm its militia, despite the withdrawal of international funding.

The dispute, which has spilled over into militias loyal to both sides, has focused largely on control of the powerful security forces.

Hundreds of members of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security force shot out windows of the parliament building before storming two cabinet buildings, where they smashed furniture, destroyed computers and tore up documents. No casualties were reported.

Shooting in the air, the mob then set fire to one of the cabinet buildings, gutting the fourth floor. When a fire engine approached, one gunman lay on the road, preventing it from reaching the building.

The crowd also set fire to the parliament building and a Hamas office. Both blazes were quickly contained. Mr Abbas' presidential guard later arrived to protect the burnt-out buildings.

'The president strongly condemns the attacks against the public institutions,' his office said.

Fatah gunmen also abducted a Hamas lawmaker, Khalil Rabei, after attacking his office. Mr Rabei said he was kicked and threatened before he was released. Mr Abbas' personal guard protected Mr Rabei and nine other Hamas lawmakers.

The rampage in Ramallah followed an attack by Hamas gunmen on a Preventive Security installation in Gaza. The attack set off day-long clashes that left two people dead and 14 wounded.

Early yesterday, several thousand Hamas supporters demonstrated outside the Palestinian parliament in Gaza City. They condemned the violence in Ramallah, and threatened retaliation against the Preventive Security forces. Hamas planned another demonstration in Ramallah later yesterday and Fatah planned a protest in the West Bank town of Jenin.

Officials said Mr Abbas appointed a retired commander to serve as a military adviser and liaison to the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. The appointment of Lieutenant-General Abdel Razek Majaide, who is respected by Fatah and Hamas, could ease tensions.

Internal tensions have risen since Mr Abbas scheduled a July 26 referendum on a plan to recognise Israel. He has endorsed the plan as a way out of the stalemate, but Hamas objects to the vote.

In a conciliatory gesture, the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament delayed until June 20 a vote on a plan to block the referendum. But the violence casts doubts on the efforts to bridge the gaps.

'The president strongly condemns the attacks against the public institutions'
Office of Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian president