Looters Ransack Presidential Compound
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (June 15) - Islamist Hamas fighters and looters ransacked the blood-spattered Palestinian presidential compound in Gaza on Friday as their leader ordered an end to reprisals against their routed, Western-backed Fatah rivals.
Seemingly anxious to demonstrate a calm authority after a week of factional bloodshed that leaves the coastal enclave effectively independent of the authorities in the West Bank, Ismail Haniyeh insisted he was still Palestinian prime minister despite his dismissal on Thursday by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Haniyeh called for dialogue with Abbas, leader of the secular Fatah faction dominant in the much larger West Bank, and Hamas "amnestied" and released 10 senior Fatah security officials whom it accused of trying to mount a coup in Gaza.
Israel and the United States were preparing to ease a year-old embargo on the Palestinian Authority to channel funds to Abbas while squeezing Iranian-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
"We are going to keep this strategy of a dialogue with the moderates and to send some hope for those who support their vision," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said.
The European Union joined Washington in declaring its support for Abbas as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians.
Hamas seemed to be in control in most parts of Gaza, including the Rafah border crossing with Egypt , though not yet crossings into Israel.
However, hospital officials said one person had died of gunshot wounds at a Hamas rally on Friday in central Gaza. Hamas blamed members of Fatah.
Fatah remains in control of the much larger inland territory of the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians.
Abbas, who decreed a state of emergency on Thursday, named Salam Fayyad, finance minister in the old cabinet, as interim premier at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
But Haniyeh, speaking before weekly prayers, said foreign powers should respect the result of last year's parliamentary election that made him prime minister: "No internal formula in the Palestinian territories will hold without national agreement and without respecting the legitimacy of the election," he said.
Well over 100 people were killed in six days of fighting.
CALL FOR RESTRAINT
After the final bastions of Fatah authority in Gaza were laid waste by Hamas forces late on Thursday, and looters and some Fatah fighters were "executed," the Islamist leader told reporters:
"I demand that all our people show calm and self-restraint and not take any action against those houses and compounds."
But despite firing in the air by Hamas fighters, who paraded captured Fatah vehicles and seized weapons, civilians poured through Abbas's presidential compound in Gaza, hauling away fridges, satellite dishes, even doors.
"The battle was against those who implemented America's policy," a Hamas militant spokesman said on television.
"We have taken the authority," one fighter said as he took a car. Green Hamas flags flew over the compound, and portraits of Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, lay on the ground.
Hamas fighters showed reporters pools of blood where they said two of Abbas's guards had shot themselves rather than surrender. A Fatah official said they had been killed.
In Abbas's own Gaza office, a masked man, clutching his AK-47 assault rifle, eased into the president's chair while he and with his fellow gunmen took pictures of each other.
"Hello, Condoleezza Rice ?" one masked man joked into the president's telephone. "You have me to deal with now."
Looters smashed up the villa of Mohammad Dahlan, a Fatah security chief much hated by Hamas . They ripped up roof tiles, broke down walls with sledgehammers and threw equipment from the windows as smoke wisped out of the upper floor.
Some Gazans said they were anxious about the prospect of a reinforcement of religious rule in the crowded 40-km (25-mile) strip of Mediterranean coast, whose 1.5 million people have been thrust deeper into poverty by sanctions against Hamas .
"Our people are poor, they do not sense the danger," said Hana, a female engineer: "Will Hamas now be able to stop crime? Will it be able to feed them? What if (Abbas) stops sending money to Gaza?
"I'm really sad. It looks like Somalia to me."
But as leaders of Fatah contemplated their failure to hold Gaza, some supporters took revenge on Hamas members, killing at least one, seizing others and wrecking some premises.