US-backed attempts to weaken Hamas failing

On August 28, the Palestinian Authority (PA) "caretaker" government headed by Salam Fayyad announced that it would outlaw 103 charitable societies in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Fayyad, who was appointed on June 15 as PA prime minister by PA President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party after Abbas dismissed the elected government of PM Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas party, told Palestinian media these charities, most of them are affiliated with Hamas, had committed administrative and financial irregularities.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said Fayyad's US-backed government "has no legitimacy and it is unauthorised to take such a decision since it has not won the parliament's confidence". He described the move as part of Israeli-US attempts to weaken Hamas in advance of any new parliamentary elections.

The closure of the charitable organisations is the latest move by Fayyad and Abbas to try to suppress Hamas's activities in the West Bank and to assist Washington and Israel in their drive to politically and economically isolate the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

As part of this drive Abbas has issued more than 100 presidential decrees, including many that rescind all nominations and promotions of Hamas affiliated PA officials and employees in the Gaza Strip that occurred between March 7 and April 15, during the short-lived Hamas-Fatah "national unity" government.

Abbas also issued a decree that sought to replace civilian courts with military tribunals, but was forced to rescind it due to the protests of Palestinian human rights groups.

The August 16 Jerusalem Post reported that "most of Abbas's decrees are completely irrelevant, largely because he does not have the power to implement them. His security forces in the Gaza Strip have completely collapsed and most of his armed loyalists in Fatah have either gone underground or are in Hamas prisons.

"The presidential decrees have raised serious doubts about Abbas's true intentions. Some Palestinians see them as a desperate attempt to punish Hamas in a symbolic way because of what the movement did in the Gaza Strip. Others have expressed concern over the nature of the decrees, some of which, they argue, are 'unconstitutional' and 'undemocratic'."

Abbas "can issue as many decrees as he wants, nothing will help him. Abbas is making a fool out of himself. If he thinks that his decrees will bring down Hamas, he is mistaken", the Post quoted a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip as saying.

"Fatah leaders in Ramallah agree", the Post reported. "One of them said earlier this week that Abbas had become so obsessed with punishing Hamas that he no longer had time for anything else. 'The president should be thinking about the future of the people and ways of reforming Fatah', he said. 'Instead, he is all day issuing these ineffective decrees to tease Hamas. The decrees won't change the situation.'

"Two months after the humiliating defeat of Abbas's forces and loyalists, there are no indications that Hamas has been weakened. On the contrary, it seems to be tightening its grip on the Gaza Strip, in spite of the decrees and fiery statements emerging from the Mukata compound in Ramallah.

"Some Palestinians are even beginning to talk about the calm and security in Hamastan, as opposed to the ongoing anarchy in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Many of the armed clans have either surrendered their weapons to Hamas or are keeping a low profile under the new Islamist regime. Hamas has even banned the tradition of firing into the air during weddings. Militiamen and armed gangsters have virtually disappeared from the streets."

The Hamas government in Gaza has avoided carrying out mass arrests of Fatah militants. By contrast, since Abbas's June 14 state of emergency declaration more than 500 members of Hamas have been arrested in the West Bank by the Fatah-controlled PA Preventative Security forces and the Al Aqsa Brigades.

On August 19, Gaza City was plunged into darkness as a result of fuel shortages. On August 20, it was revealed by Dr Riyad al Maliki, Fayyad's information minister, that the European Union had stopped payments to the Israeli Dor Alon Energy Company, the supplier of fuel to the Gaza Generating Company, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip two months ago.

The next day, EU officials announced that they would resume the payments.

While the Israeli and Western corporate media has widely reported the outlawing of an August 13 Fatah-organised rally in the Gaza Strip, little has been written about Fatah's attempt to ban political demonstrations in the West Bank. On August 22, the Fatah-aligned Nablus police commander announced that he would be "banning the organisation of any assembly, demonstration, or march except after the obtainment of official permission issued by the legal specialised authority according to Palestinian law".

In an August 26 press release, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the move. The PCHR sated that it was "extremely concerned by the announcement and the repeated efforts by the Palestinian government in Ramallah to undermine basic freedoms and human rights, especially the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, which is a primary tool of expression".

Abbas, and Israeli and US officials have claimed that Hamas intends to set up a separate Palestinian "Islamic state" in Gaza, despite Haniyeh's repeated denials. The Palestinian Maan news agency reported on August 20 that Haniyeh again reiterated Hamas's position in a telephone conservation with Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al Faisel, saying that "the Hamas movement is committed to unity of the country and the Mecca agreement" between Hamas and Fatah that led to the "national unity" government.

On August 28, Hamas renewed its call for the formation of a "national unity" government. According to the London-based Asharq Alawsat Arabic daily, Hamas was "prepared to cede to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas control of PA institutions and bases in the Gaza Strip, in return for a renewal of the unity government, reforms in the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and reinstating the Palestinian parliament".

The August 29 Jerusalem Post reported that "Abbas has asked Sudan to use its good offices with Hamas to resolve the crisis in the PA. A senior Fatah delegation headed by Azzam al Ahmed, who is close to Abbas, held talks in Khartoum on Tuesday with Sudanese government officials on ways of ending the Fatah-Hamas dispute. The Fatah delegation emphasized that Abbas and Fatah were keen on resuming 'national dialogue' with the Islamist group."

The Post also reported that "PA officials" had told it that members from three EU countries' intelligence services had been having secret talks with Hamas officials in Gaza.

"The Europeans are said to have met with top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, as well as Ahmed Yusef, political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Sources close to Hamas confirmed that EU officials had visited the Gaza Strip recently for talks focusing on security-related issues", the Post reported.

"According to the sources, the Hamas leaders urged the EU representatives to work to end the boycott of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, and to pressure Israel to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt."

The Post cited a Hamas official as saying: "There is growing awareness among the Europeans of the fact that Hamas can't be ignored as a major player in the Palestinian arena."

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