June 20, 2007 / 10:07 AM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Hamas could strike in W.Bank - Abbas adviser

By Sean Maguire and Alastair Macdonald

RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 19 (Reuters) - Violence that swept Hamas to power in Gaza could be repeated in the West Bank if the ruling Fatah party and its security forces are not reformed, the Palestinian national security adviser said on Tuesday.

Mohammad Dahlan, who runs Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces, accepted that mistakes had been made during their rout by the Islamists last week and said he would cooperate with an inquiry into his own role.

Asked if Hamas, which also has substantial support in the West Bank, could strike there, Dahlan said: "Absolutely. If serious reforms are not undertaken in the security forces it would be easy for Hamas to take over the West Bank."

Now cut off from his base in Gaza and speaking to Reuters at an apartment in the West Bank City of Ramallah, he said, however, that the strength of Hamas and over Fatah's fighters was no surprise, despite Fatah's apparently greater numbers.

Abbas's men lacked the Islamists' aggressive dedication to a clear goal, he said. He also accused the United States of failing to make good on pledges of support, and Israel of deliberately blocking arms supplies to help divide Palestinians into a Hamas-run Gaza Strip and Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Of the West Bank, he said: "It would be very easy for a few people who have a goal to succeed over a large army that does not have a goal and does not have proper weaponry."

He argued, however, that Hamas was losing popular support by its actions in Gaza and would find that support further eroded by having to run the territory. Hamas "fell into a trap" laid by Israel, he said.


Dahlan, who was still recovering from the knee surgery that kept him out of his native Gaza during the fighting, insisted he had no personal ambitions beyond continuing in his present role.

But the 46-year-old former guerrilla, long a controversial figure in Fatah politics who now favours pinstripe suits, said Abbas must make changes.

"The Palestinian people have lost faith in both Hamas and Fatah. If Fatah does not use the opportunity to transform itself, then we're looking at a third party."

He supported an inquiry launched into the loss of control in Gaza, for which he and Abbas are blamed by some fellow leaders.

"I hope it comes up with real conclusions. Definitely mistakes were made. Each person should take responsibility for his mistakes.

"Even myself, I was gone for 50 days," he said of his surgery in Germany. "Certainly people will try to blame me because I wasn't there and I'm very close to (President Abbas)."

Describing the loss of Gaza as an "earthquake" whose consequences Palestinians were still debating, Dahlan did not specify precisely what reforms he recommended and said he did not want to play a leading role in the process.

But he stressed the urgency of change after years of Israeli sanctions following an uprising launched in 2000. "That's clearer than ever to Abu Mazen," he said, referring to Abbas.

In tune with a prevailing air of dismay among Fatah leaders in Ramallah, Dahlan sounded pessimistic and saw no early accommodations with Israel -- "there is no political horizon".

But he believed the gloom would pass. Recalling his years in Israeli jails in the 1980s, he said: "There were days when I wished I were dead. But those days, too, passed." (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Michael Lawrence)

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