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World News

Palestinian interior minister may leave post

GAZA (Reuters) - A struggle to control Palestinian security forces escalated on Monday when the obscure bureaucrat named by rival factions as a compromise choice of interior minister submitted his resignation after just six weeks.

Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi speaks on the phone inside his house in Gaza March 15, 2007. Hani al-Qawasmi has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in the first crack in a month-old unity government, Palestinian officials said on Monday. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Hani al-Qawasmi was persuaded to stay on in the job by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and attended the weekly cabinet meeting.

But the day’s turbulence put a spotlight on deep differences within the unity government that Haniyeh’s Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement formed a month ago to try to end factional fighting in which dozens were killed.

Despite the deal, tensions between Hamas, triumphant in last year’s elections to the dismay of Israel and Western powers, and Fatah, dominant in the days of Yasser Arafat, have remained high. Lawlessness has spread in the Gaza Strip.

In his role as interior minister, Qawasmi was supposed to oversee the security services. But President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah appointed Mohammad Dahlan, one of Hamas’s main rivals, to serve as national security adviser.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Qawasmi submitted his resignation to Haniyeh but the prime minister refused to accept it. An official said the resignation was tendered a week ago.

Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouthi said the cabinet, which met on Monday, also rejected the resignation. Hamad said Qawasmi agreed to remain in the job for now, so that Haniyeh could discuss the matter more fully with Abbas, who was not expected back from a foreign tour for another 10 days.

Barghouthi said Abbas, Haniyeh and Qawasmi would meet to tackle unspecified obstacles to the implementation of the interior minister’s 100-day plan to bring order to the Gaza Strip and that this had addressed the minister’s concerns.

The finance minister would also look at whether there was enough funding for the interior minister’s plans.

CAUGHT IN MIDDLE

Several political sources said, however, that Qawasmi still faced the fundamental problem that he lacks the power to rein in either of the two main factions without their mutual consent.

“He is not a strong military or security personality and he doesn’t know how to deal with those militias or with the competing security forces of Hamas and Fatah,” one source close to the interior minister said. “He doesn’t have the power to implement the security plan to end the chaos.”

Jibril al-Rajoub, a Fatah official once senior in the security apparatus, said: “This is a protest in a loud voice. He doesn’t want to be anyone’s puppet. But in the absence of a system, no interior minister can function properly.”

A government official said the dispute with Qawasmi centered on the role of internal security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist who has assumed effective control over the security forces within the Interior Ministry.

Some Palestinian analysts saw the growing clout of Abu Shbak and Abbas’s appointment of Dahlan as national security adviser as a bid to sideline Qawasmi and minimize his control over the security services, which are mostly loyal to Fatah.

Hamas is expanding its own “executive force” and rejects calls from Fatah that it be disbanded or integrated into the overall security apparatus. Fatah is also bolstering its forces.

Israel has refused to deal with the Palestinian government since last year’s election of Hamas. Western nations are also boycotting Hamas, crippling the Palestinian economy. One aim of forming the unity government is to ease that blockade.

Additional reporting by Wafa Amr, Mohammed Assadi and Alastair Macdonald in Ramallah and Adam Entous in Jerusalem

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