PA police break into parliament, firing into air

About 40 Palestinian policemen broke into the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City on Monday, firing in the air to protest what they said was the humiliation police are facing because of attacks by Hamas militants. No injuries were reported. The storming came one day after fierce clashes between police and Hamas in Gaza City and the nearby Shati refugee camp, during which Hamas gunmen attacked the local police station with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The camp’s deputy police chief, Ali Makawi, was killed in the fighting. Israel Radio reported that the police involved in Monday’s incident are members of Makawi’s unit. The police stormed a meeting of Palestinian legislators, convened for the purpose of discussing the state of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia’s government. They voted Monday that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas must form a new government within two weeks. The proposal, presented by the parliament speaker, was adopted by a vote of 43-5. The legislators largely endorsed a parliamentary committee’s report criticizing Qureia’s cabinet for its handling of factional anarchy. However, they stopped short of a no-confidence vote. „I call on the Palestinian people to go out into the streets to demonstrate both against the Palestinian Authority and against the factions,” said legislator Freih Abu Medein from Abbas’ ruling Fatah party. The protesting officers did not enter the chamber in which the meeting was taking place. They were promptly removed from the parliament and continued to shoot in the air outside the building. „Yesterday, we did not have enough bullets,” said one of the protesting policemen. „We had nothing to protect ourselves. „Give us as least bullets to protect people and to protect our stations,” he said. „Our commander died in front of us, and we were running out of bullets.” „We want the Palestinian Authority to take a stand on Hamas. Our blood is flowing for the Authority and they are not doing anything,” one officer dressed in black told Reuters. Abbas said Monday that his security forces would not gloss over the confrontations with Hamas. „We will not remain silent in the face of this,” he told reporters at his Gaza City office. „This mob behavior, this chaos must end.” The authority, he said, is „ready to use all means to prevent the public display of arms,” which it banned several days ago. A U.S. State Department spokesman supported Abbas’s attempt to crack down on the militants. „We have welcomed recent steps by President Abbas to implement a strategy that outlaws the public display of arms … end violence and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. Sunday’s clashes – fiercest internal fighting since 1996 The clashes raged for about six hours, and subsided only around midnight Sunday, after Egyptian mediators stepped in. It was the fiercest internal fighting since 1996, when the Palestinian Authority clamped down on Hamas and carried out mass arrests, in response to a series of suicide bombings in Israel. On Monday, each side was heard blaming the other for the fighting. The Palestinian Interior Ministry, in charge of the security forces, said the fighting started with an argument between two men waiting in a long line at a cash machine outside a Gaza City bank. One of the men called in Hamas gunmen for support, police rushed to the scene and a gunfight erupted, the Interior Ministry said. Hamas said the confrontation began when police tried to arrest Mohammed Rantisi, a Hamas activist and son of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was killed in a targeted Israeli missile strike on his car in 2004. Hamas claimed Mohammed Rantisi was unarmed. The confrontation sparked gun battles all over the Sheikh Redwan neighborhood between Hamas operatives and policemen, with armed Fatah operatives joining in on the side of the police. Later, the battle spread to Shati refugee camp west of Gaza, which, according to police sources, a policeman was killed. Hamas operatives also torched the Shati police station and several cars belonging to the Palestinian police. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that his security forces would not gloss over the clashes Sunday. „We will not remain silent in the face of this,” he told reporters at his office in Gaza. „This mob behavior, this chaos must end.” Police beefed up security around police stations and sealed off access roads on Monday, causing massive traffic jams in already congested Gaza City. Israeli officials said they were encouraged by the Palestinian Authority’s show of force, but that it was too early to judge whether this is the beginning of a crackdown on Hamas. „We can’t say after this isolated incident whether the real battle has begun,” said Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz. Tension between Hamas and the Palestinian police has risen steadily over the past four days, due to the Palestinian Authority’s declaration that it will no longer allow arms to be carried in the streets. Hamas promptly announced that it had no intention of abiding by this order, and its leaders even accused the PA of trying to liquidate the organization. On Sunday, a senior Hamas official living in Damascus, Mohammed Nazel, reiterated this charge and threatened civil war in response. „There is a fof the Palestinian Authority that is trying to eradicate the Hamas movement and plans a widespread conflict in the West Bank,” Nazel said. „The hands of this faction, which is backed by Washington and London, are stained with Palestinian blood, and Hamas will confront it, even at the price of civil war.”