Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is Mahmoud Abbas planning a coup?

Jerusalem Post

"Hamas has instructed its followers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be on high alert following unconfirmed reports that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party are planning a coup against the Hamas government on Saturday.

Sources close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post that the Islamic movement was taking these reports seriously and that hundreds of Hamas militiamen would be deployed in strategic areas in the Gaza Strip to foil any attempt to overthrow the Hamas government.

Hamas's "Executive Force" in the Gaza Strip has also been placed on high alert and security around top Hamas officials has been beefed up, the sources revealed.

According to the sources, Hamas leaders have expressed fear that Fatah gunmen and PA policemen loyal to Abbas would try to occupy a number of PA ministries and institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday. "Hamas is convinced that Abbas is planning a coup," the sources added. "It could happen as early as this weekend."

On Thursday afternoon, Abbas summoned four Hamas ministers to his office in Ramallah and assured them that he was not planning a coup against the Hamas government. Abbas also phoned PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to deny the reports.

"President Ababs strongly denied the rumors about a coup and said they were completely untrue," said PA Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Eddin Shaer, one of the ministers who attended the meeting. "He reiterated his keenness on the sovereignty of the law and his respect for the results of the parliamentary elections."

Earlier this week, Abbas reportedly ordered the deployment of thousands of Fatah gunmen and PA policemen in the streets of the Gaza Strip in anticipation of a major confrontation with Hamas.

Senior PA officials told the Post they were unaware of immediate plans to topple the Hamas government, but pointed out that thousands of policemen protesting unpaid salaries were planning to escalate their campaign on Saturday.

"It's possible that Hamas is afraid of these protests," said one official. "The policemen are planning a series of protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip and we don't rule out the possibility that they might try to occupy a number of government buildings as they have done before."

On Thursday, a group of PA policemen in Ramallah and Gaza City said they were planning to torch the offices of the PA Finance Ministry if they did not receive their full salaries within the next 48 hours.

The reports about a purported coup coincide with increased efforts by some Arab countries, including Qatar, Egypt, Syria and Jordan to resolve the Hamas-Fatah crisis. Representatives of the two parties are expected to meet in Cairo soon for urgent talks aimed at avoiding an all-out confrontation that could spill over into civil war.

However, some Fatah leaders said they were not enthusiastic about the planned meeting "because Hamas has not changed its position regarding the political platform of the proposed national unity government."

They said Abbas was expected to deliver an "important" speech to the Palestinians in the coming days about the crisis with Hamas, adding that he may renew his call for a referendum on the unity government idea."

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