Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fatah calls on its leader Abbas to resign

Is this pose de rigeur for all presidents being forced to resign?

Apparently the Fatah movement is discovering that looking debonair with a cigarette in one hand is not a sufficient indicator of leadership skill: Fatah officials call for Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

Fatah officials and activists in the West Bank on Wednesday called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to resign, holding him responsible for the fact that Hamas was now in control of most parts of the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas talked by phone Wednesday night for the first time since the latest cycle of violence broke out. A source close to Abbas said the two agreed to issue a joint call for a cease-fire.

The calls for Abbas's resignation came as Hamas militiamen scored more victories in their battle to take control over the Gaza Strip. More than 30 Palestinians were killed in Wednesday's fighting, which also spread to some parts of the West Bank.

Fatah officials here confirmed that Hamas had seized large amounts of weapons and military equipment belonging to Abbas's security forces in the Gaza Strip. Some of the weapons were supplied to the PA in recent weeks by Egypt and Jordan as part of a US security plan to boost Fatah-controlled forces.

Hamas said it had seized thousands of M-16 and Kalashnikov rifles and pistols, communication equipment, armored vehicles, trucks, binoculars, military outfits, tents, sleeping bags, hand grenades, mortars and documents.

Hamas militiamen were seen driving some of the confiscated vehicles that have been decorated with Hamas flags and signs.

Pictures of the weapons were posted on a number of Hamas-linked Web sites. "Most of the weapons came from Egypt and Jordan over the past few years," a senior Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. "They did not come directly from the US, although the Americans had initiated the supply of weapons and ammunition."

Hamas representative Sami Abu Zuhri announced that his movement was now in control of 90 percent of the PA security installations and bases in the Gaza Strip. "We are not fighting against the entire Fatah party, but certain murderous elements who have been collaborating with Israel and the Americans," he said.

At a stormy meeting of Fatah leaders here, Abbas came under severe criticism for failing to issue clear orders to the PA security forces and Fatah militias in the Gaza Strip to launch counterattacks on Hamas.

Furious Fatah leaders demanded that Abbas declare a state of emergency and call early elections. They also expressed dismay with the way Abbas was handling the current crisis.

"Hamas is slaughtering our sons in the Gaza Strip and the only thing our president is doing is appealing for a cease-fire," said one Fatah leader. "We have at least 40,000 police officers and militiamen in the Gaza Strip. What's preventing them from launching a massive attack on Hamas? Does the president want to see the Gaza Strip fall into the hands of Hamas?"

Another top Fatah official called on Abbas to step down. "The president must resign," he said. "Unless he takes real measures to halt the Hamas offensive, President Abbas will face a revolt by Fatah."

Talk about unclear on the concept. The weapons now in the hands of Hamas were transferred to the Palestinian Authority's security services (which report to Fatah) precisely so that they could be used to quell any military uprising by Hamas. It's unclear what Abbas has in mind, other than personal survival.

One interesting aspect is that Abbas's handpicked chief of security, Mohammed Dahlan, has been out of the fighting completely:

For many years, Israeli and international media referred to Dahlan as the "strongman" of the Gaza Strip. Some even went so far as to argue that Dahlan was so popular among the Palestinians in Gaza he could take on Hamas whenever he wanted.

But Dahlan's status has been severely undermined over the past few months, largely because many of his Fatah allies and colleagues have either been killed or wounded or driven out of the Gaza Strip.

Last month, one of Dahlan's key allies, Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, resigned as commander of the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militiamen stormed his villa and executed six of his bodyguards. Abu Shabak and his family have since moved to the West Bank. Another key Dahlan ally, Samir Masharawi, has also disappeared from the Gaza Strip and is believed to be hiding in Ramallah.

Abu Shabak was Dahlan's deputy for nearly a decade when the latter served as head of the much-feared Preventative Security Service. Hamas recently accused Abu Shabak of thwarting its plan to impose security and order in the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders claimed that Abu Shabak was working under the direct instructions of Dahlan, who did not want to see Hamas succeed in its efforts to end the anarchy and lawlessness on the Palestinian street.

Some Americans, Israelis and Europeans have long regarded the "charismatic" and "pragmatic" Dahlan as the most suitable successor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Former US President Bill Clinton is said to have been one of his great admirers since the two met at the White House after the signing of the Oslo Accords more than a decade ago.

Abbas's decision earlier this year to promote Dahlan to the post of PA National Security adviser was seen by many Palestinians as part of a US-backed effort to strengthen Dahlan ahead of a potential confrontation with Hamas.

But Dahlan has since spent most of his time abroad. His aides say he lately underwent surgery on his ankles in a German hospital. Other reports have suggested that he is suffering from severe epilepsy and is on intensive medication.

Dahlan has been in Cairo for the past month amid rumors that he has no intention to return to Gaza in the foreseeable future. Now that Hamas has killed many of his cohorts and friends and is threatening to eliminate him the moment he enters the Strip, Dahlan, who was one of the prominent symbols of the Oslo process, may have to seek refuge in the West Bank or one of the neighboring Arab countries.

So the "strongman" went weak in the knees -- or, more literally, weak in the ankles -- and now is in Egypt, recuperating from his surgery. Still, one might have expected him to take command of his forces by telephone, but apparently either he couldn't be bothered, or his orders were for his buddies in the leadership of the security services to save their own skins by fleeing to Egypt.

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