View Full Version : Abbas Declares State Of Emergency

06-14-2007, 10:36 PM
Abbas declares state of emergency


Published: Thursday June 14, 2007

Gaza City - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday declared a state of emergency as Hamas appeared set to seize control of Gaza after days of ferocious gunbattles.

Hamas fighters overran key security strongholds of Abbas's Fatah faction across the chaotic territory, where at least 108 people have been killed in an explosion of internecine bloodshed in less than a week.

Abbas's decision to dismiss the unity government and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya and declare the state of emergency was announced at a Ramallah press conference by presidency secretary general Tayeb Abdelrahim.

He said Abbas would also hold new elections "as soon as the situation allows".

The international community voiced increasing alarm about the situation in Gaza, where fighting was raging around Abbas's seafront compound after Hamas fighters stormed Fatah bases across the territory, a radio station was set ablaze by bomb attack and power was knocked out in many areas.

"What is happening in Gaza is the second liberation of the Gaza Strip from the band of (Israeli) collaborators after the first liberation from the bands of settlers" in 2005, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

In the deadliest showdown on Thursday, Hamas gunmen stormed the preventive security force compound in Gaza City and hoisted the Islamist movement's green flag on the roof after an hours-long battle that left at least 14 dead and 70 wounded.

Fatah fighters loyal to Abbas, some stripped to their underwear, were dragged out of the building with their hands in the air as black-clad masked Hamas gunmen stood watch.

Islamist fighters prayed on the sidewalk while on the rooftop others fired rounds into the air to celebrate their latest victory in what one Hamas leader described as "a battle between Islam and heresy."

It is largest stronghold of pro-Fatah security services to fall to Hamas - considered a terror outfit by the EU, Israel and the United States - whose disciplined fighters had already overran positions in the south and the north, where it grabbed two more major Fatah compounds on Thursday.

Hamas's armed wing claimed to have executed a leader of the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, amid unconfirmed reports of other killings of Fatah loyalists.

By early evening, Hamas was besieging the headquarters of the Fatah-controlled overall security apparatus in Gaza City and battles raged around Abbas's seafront compound, the crown jewel of Fatah positions.

Hamas said Fatah men were fleeing the sprawling complex by boats, but the report could not be immediately confirmed.

A bomb ripped through the studio of the official Voice of Palestine radio close to Fatah, forcing it off the air, in an attack blamed on Hamas.

The clashes damaged power lines, plunging into darkness chunks of the impoverished territory where some of the estimated 1.4 million residents have been cowering inside for days.

The PLO executive committee had urged Abbas to sack the three-month-old cabinet and organise new elections, declare a state of emergency, call for international protection and to declare Hamas's armed wing and paramilitary force outlaws.

Abbas, who has warned civil war if the Gaza "madness" continued, cancelled a planned visit to France because of the violence.

The international community warned that the no-holds-barred power struggle between Hamas and the secular Fatah endangered prospects of a future Palestinian state and peace with Israel.

US President George W. Bush was "profoundly concerned" and called for a halt to the clashes, his spokesman told reporters in Washington, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Abbas to express support.

At least 108 people have died in the increasingly vicious gunbattles that flared a week ago between the rivals which are separated by ideology and at loggerheads for years. Several hundred have been wounded.

For a second day in a row, the power struggle spilled over into the occupied West Bank, a Fatah stronghold, with offices of Hamas-affiliated officials torched and several dozen of the group's leaders and politicians arrested throughout the territory, officials said.

Human Rights Watch has accused both sides of committing war crimes during the fighting, which has turned hospitals into battlegrounds, seen ambulances prevented from reaching wounded and peace demonstrators shot dead.

The violence has forced the United Nations' main Palestinian refugee agency to suspend all but essential activities and the European Union to halt its relief projects in the territory where the majority of people receive aid.

The battles have been fanned by inflammatory rhetoric, with Hamas accusing Fatah of being in the service of Israel while Fatah saying the Islamists are working for Iran.

The Arab League called for an immediate halt to the violence ahead of an emergency meeting on the crisis on Friday.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon held preliminary talks on the idea of sending an international force to Gaza, but Hamas rejected the move, saying it would treat foreign troops as occupation forces.

Israel - which pulled its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 - has watched with increasing alarm, but said it would not intervene. Israeli television said troops around Gaza have been placed on high alert, but the army denied this.

Tensions have been boiling ever since Hamas routed long-dominant Fatah in January 2006 parliamentary polls, much of them fanned by disagreement over who should control the security services.

They exploded into major bouts of infighting in mid-December, killing more than 260 people since then in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.