GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – More than three dozen Palestinian police officers broke into the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City on Monday, firing in the air to protest a lack of bullets and equipment after what they said was a humiliating confrontation with Hamas.
The protest came a day after the worst fighting between Hamas and police 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 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.
About 40 police officers stormed parliament, just before legislators voted to force Abbas to form a new Cabinet within two weeks to improve the government’s performance. The session was held in the
West Bank, with Gaza lawmakers participating by video conference, because they were kept from the West Bank by an Israeli closure.
“Our commander died in front of us, and we were running out of bullets,” said one of the protesting police officers on the steps of parliament. “Give us at least bullets to protect people and to protect our stations.”
Sunday’s clashes raged for about six hours, and subsided only around midnight Sunday, after Egyptian mediators stepped in.
“We will not remain silent in the face of this,” Abbas told reporters at his Gaza City office. “This mob behavior, this chaos must end.”
He said the
Palestinian Authority is ready to use all means to prevent the violence.
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 coopt the armed groups instead, by offering them jobs and political participation.
A nine-member legislative 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.
“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
The government and Hamas blamed each other for Sunday’s Gaza clashes.
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.
During a funeral procession for Shati’s deputy police chief on Monday, 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.
In the funeral for a female bystander killed in the fighting, the crowd chanted: “Palestinians should not confront Palestinians.”
Police increased 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 beginning of a crackdown on Hamas.
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, and the leaders decided to meet soon, though no date was announced.
They also “agreed to tighten cooperation and to work together to advance the peace process,” Sharon’s office said.
In Israel, thousands of soldiers and police were deployed near malls, cafes and outdoor markets to increase security ahead of the Rosh Hashana holiday. Israeli troops also barred Palestinians from entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza during the holiday, extending a measure enforced nearly two weeks ago after the rocket barrage from Gaza.