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16 Jun, 2007 07:10

Violence in Palestinian territories spreads to West Bank

Violence has now spread to the West Bank after Fatah gunmen stormed the Hamas controlled Palestinian Parliament and Education Ministry. The move comes in response to Hamas' routing of Fatah forces in Gaza over the past week.

Meanwhile, Fatah officials say looters have destroyed the former home of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed former finance minster Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. The step follows the president's decision to dissolve the coalition government and declare a state of emergency. The previous prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, has not recognised Abbas’s decisions.

Almost a week of fighting in Palestine left more than 100 people dead and the region split in two – the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-seized Gaza.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who once wielded power in the Gaza Strip, disappeared after Hamas gunmen defeated his Fatah forces with surprising swiftness. Gaza is now controlled by Hamas, which has close ties to Syria and Iran.
The more populous West Bank is dominated by the more moderate Fatah, which Abbas heads.

On its first day of full rule in Gaza, Hamas announced it was granting amnesty to senior Fatah leaders who it had previously arrested. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has brushed aside Abbas' declaration of a state of emergency calling it “hasty.” He refuses to leave office.

Mahmoud Abbas has dissolved Haniye’s government and replaced him with Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

“The internal equation of the Palestinian arena will never hold without national agreements and without respecting electoral and democratic legality. Any internal equation will never be balanced without the Islamic movement, without the national and Islamic factions, without the inclusion of all the capabilities and resources of the Palestinian people,” Ismail Haniyeh says.

Arab countries are eyeing the chaos in Gaza with increasing alarm, fearing the fighting could spread to the West Bank and further destabilise the region.

Fatah supporters have staged a series of protest marches across the West Bank.

In Nablus, gunmen seized uniforms and gear from a Hamas supply store and displayed them in Fatah offices for the media.

In Ramallah, armed and masked members of the Fatah-allied Security Forces patrolled the streets holding their weapons aloft in a show of strength.
Meanwhile, the European Union says it is behind Mahmoud Abbas, calling him the legitimate president of all Palestinians.

The possibility of sending an international peace-keeping force to try and stabilise the situation is on the cards.
The United States says it would back an international force. U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice has spoken by telephone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She said that the Bush Administration is completely behind Abbas – he has acted lawfully, and that the U.S. continues to support Palestinian ‘moderates’.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says all sides need to be consulted on the matter.

“I have heard of the idea to send multinational forces to the Palestinian territory, but for this we need the consent of all the Palestinian representatives, both Fatah and Hamas and all Palestinians,” Mr Lavrov said. “However, we should not forget that the idea of multinational forces has been discussed for quite a long time in a broader context, in a context of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

The battle for Gaza ended Thursday night.  After one by one Hamas seized Fatah’s security installations and marched once-feared Fatah fighters down the streets shirtless and with hands raised.

Many Palestinians fear more bloodshed. The Mideast Quartet is trying to deal with the deteriorating situation by telephone. Nevertheless, a solution seems far away as gunmen continue to roam the streets and leaders of both sides remain firm in their positions.
As far as the Russian population in Gaza is concerned, Viktor Simakov, a Representative of the Russian Federation in Palestinian Authority, says Russians are fleeing the area.

“Russian citizens living in Gaza Strip requested the Russian mission in the Palestinian Autonomy to move them and their families to safety due to the recent escalation of violence. There will be some problems. Most probably we will not be able to evacuate them through the checkpoint. The only other way is through Israel. That might be impossible for the male Russians since the Israeli policy is not to let any male Palestinian citizens, whatever their nationality, through their border. For the time being we do not see any danger for the Russian mission working in the Gaza Strip and don’t plan to evacuate it,” he said.

All humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, all international relief has been suspended and aid agencies have moved their workers out of the region.

Earlier, Foreign Ministers of the Arab League gathered in Cairo for an emergency meeting to discuss the conflict in Gaza. Their aim is to decide how to put an immediate end to the violence in the region.