Tags: Hamas | Takes | Control | Gaza

Hamas Takes Control of Gaza

Friday, 15 June 2007 12:00 AM

GAZA -- Hamas Islamist fighters and looters ransacked the blood-spattered Palestinian presidential compound in Gaza on Friday, rejoicing at the rout of their well-armed, secular rivals from the president's Fatah faction.

With Gaza effectively a new independent entity under Hamas control, Israel and the United States were preparing to ease an embargo on the Palestinian Authority to channel funds to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah-run West Bank administration.

Abbas, who decreed a state of emergency on Thursday, was expected to name an emergency government at his West Bank headquarters later on Friday, aides said. Salam Fayyad, finance minister in the old cabinet, was penciled in as premier.

Ten Fatah security chiefs arrested by Hamas in Gaza and accused of launching a "coup" were given "amnesty" -- a possible sign Hamas leaders want to show restraint and statesmanship.

Despite firing in the air by Hamas fighters, who paraded captured Fatah vehicles and seized weapons, civilians poured through what had been the last bastion of Western-backed forces in Gaza, hauling away fridges, satellite dishes, even doors.

Some chalets in the compound were set on fire.

"The battle was against those who implemented America's policy," its spokesman said on television.

"We have taken the authority," one fighter said as he took a car. Green Hamas flags flew over the compound as it was stripped of anything moveable following its capture late on Thursday.

Portraits of Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, lay on the ground. Hamas fighters showed reporters pools of blood where they said two of Abbas's guards shot themselves rather than surrender. A Fatah official said they were killed.

Forces loyal to Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, the prime minister in the dismissed Palestinian government, seemed in complete control in the Gaza Strip. Fatah holds the larger West Bank.

But after six days of civil war in Gaza, the two Palestinian territories now stand divided by a political gulf wider than the 45 km (30 miles) of Israel that separates them physically, and Arafat's hopes of negotiating a common statehood lie in ruins.

"This is our money, the money of the people and we are taking some of it," one looter at Abbas's Gaza compound said.

Hamas gunmen took pictures of themselves sitting in Abbas's chair and at his desk and bedroom.

But other neighbors near the compound were uncertain: "This is a coup," said Abu Khaled. "What we see today is an indicator of the future, chaos will prevail," he said.

Hana, an engineer, said: "Our people are poor, they do not sense the danger. Will Hamas now be able to stop crime? Will it be able to feed them? What if Abu Mazen (Abbas) stops sending money to Gaza? I am really sad. It looks like Somalia to me."

U.S. SUPPORT

The United States, which had helped train and arm the Fatah forces which were roundly defeated in Gaza, pledged its full support for Abbas, describing him as a "moderate" committed to a negotiated peace with Israel.

Such support could translate into an easing of the international economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won parliamentary elections last year.

The schism may now allow funds to be channeled to the West Bank authorities while an embargo on Gaza is maintained. Israel said Hamas must be stopped from acquiring more arms.

Israeli and Western officials said U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could agree to send funds when they meet in Washington next week:

"If there will be an emergency government without participation of Hamas, then the funds can flow," said a senior Israeli official involved in the internal deliberations. "From our point of view, there isn't a Hamas government any more."

Abbas accused Hamas of staging a coup in Gaza. Haniyeh, a leader of Hamas which enjoys support from Iran and Syria, said his government would ignore Abbas's "hasty decision".

Fatah and Hamas formed a unity government in March in a deal brokered at Mecca in an effort to overcome their differences.

Abbas said in a statement he was "declaring a state of emergency in all the lands of the Palestinian Authority because of the criminal war in the Gaza Strip ... and military coup".

Some Fatah gunmen retaliated against Hamas in the West Bank, seizing Hamas supporters and killing at least one.

Haniyeh accused Fatah of abusing its power and persecuting Islamists.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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GAZA -- Hamas Islamist fighters and looters ransacked the blood-spattered Palestinian presidential compound in Gaza on Friday, rejoicing at the rout of their well-armed, secular rivals from the president's Fatah faction. With Gaza effectively a new independent entity...
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2007-00-15
Friday, 15 June 2007 12:00 AM
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