Palestinian Police Break Into Parliament


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Source:Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - More than three dozen Palestinian police officers broke into the parliament building in Gaza City on Monday, firing in the air to protest a lack of bullets and equipment in what they said was a humiliating confrontation with Hamas.


Palestinian policemen chant slogans inside the Palestinian Legislative Council building during a demonstration in Gaza City, Monday, Oct. 3, 2005. More than three dozen Palestinian police officers broke into the building, firing in the air to protest a lack of bullets and equipment in what they said was a humiliating confrontation with Hamas. The protest came a day after one policeman was killed and two civilians wounded during a gunbattle between Hamas gunmen and Palestinain policemen in Gaza City.(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The protest came a day after the worst internal fighting in Gaza in nearly a decade and underscored Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' difficulties in taking control of the unruly coastal strip.

On Sunday, Hamas gunmen attacked a local police station with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The deputy police chief of the Shati refugee camp was killed in the fighting, along with two civilians, and at least 50 people were wounded.

The parliament expressed its dissatisfaction with Abbas by setting a two-week deadline to form a new Cabinet to improve the fledgling government's performance. The vote was held in the parliament building in the
West Bank, with legislators from Gaza participating by video conference.

During the parliament session, about 40 police officers broke into the parliament building in Gaza City. "Give us at least bullets to protect people and to protect our stations," said one of the officers, a lieutenant, who declined to give his name because he is not authorized to talk to the press. "Our commander died in front of us, and we were running out of bullets."

The clashes raged for about six hours, and subsided only around midnight Sunday, after Egyptian mediators stepped in.

Abbas said Monday that his security forces would not gloss over the confrontations. "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.

Israel has long demanded that Abbas disarm Hamas and other militant groups, as stipulated in the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Abbas has said he wants co-opt the armed groups instead, by offering them jobs and political participation.

Palestinian legislators demanded that a new government be formed after a nine-member committee presented a special report on the deteriorating security situation, singling out the interior minister, Nasser Yousef. The report said the Palestinian security forces have done little to control the chaos in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza.

"The government failed to put an end to the deterioration," the report said.

The government and Hamas each blamed the other for the Gaza clashes Sunday.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry 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.

During Monday's funeral procession of Shati's deputy police chief, shots rang out toward a street where Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh lives, provoking gunfire from other Hamas members. On the way back from the funeral, gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group affiliated with Abbas' governing
Fatah party, fired at the home of another Hamas member. No injuries were reported in either incident.

On Monday, police tightened security around police stations and sealed off access roads, 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 start of a crackdown on Hamas. "We can't say after this isolated incident whether the real battle has begun," said the Israeli army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, said he had high hopes for peacemaking in coming months. "I hope that in the coming year, there will be great progress in the peace process and we will implement the course that was laid out in the road map," Sharon told the Yediot Ahronot daily.

Abbas called Sharon on Sunday with good wishes for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins Monday night.

During the conversation the leaders decided to meet soon, though no date was announced, and they also "agreed to tighten cooperation and to work together to advance the peace process," Sharon's office said.

Sharon and Abbas originally had been scheduled to meet Sunday, but that meeting was canceled after Israel launched an offensive against militants two weeks ago in response to a barrage of rockets from Gaza at southern Israel.

Israeli airstrikes during the offensive killed four militants and destroyed buildings purportedly used to produce and store weapons. Israel also arrested nearly 500 suspected militants in the West Bank.

In Israel, thousands of soldiers and police were deployed near malls, cafes and outdoor markets to increase security ahead of the holiday. Israeli troops also barred Palestinians from entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, extending a measure enforced nearly two weeks ago after the rocket barrage from Gaza.