GAZA CITY- Hamas said Thursday it is recruiting and training a security wing outlawed by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, whose deposed Fatah party has upped the ante by creating a new militia of its own.
A core of volunteer militants from Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees faction have been put through their paces in secret since Hamas interior minister Said Siam announced the unit’s creation on April 20.
“We recruited 2,000 fighters which form the core of the new force, whose principal task will be to support police and national security,”? interior ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal told AFP.
The new recruits, who are expected ultimately to number around 3,000, are being instructed on weapons handling at undisclosed training grounds and will eventually complete a police training course, Abu Hilal said.
He said the force would provide police back-up in combatting security anarchy, aggressions and attacks on public property and government offices which have become a near daily reality in the troubled Palestinian territories.
Yet the very announcement of the force, annulled by decree from the Palestinian Authority president, fanned the flames of a power struggle between the Hamas government and Abbas, who is overall security commander-in-chief.
Abu Hilal maintained, however, that differences between Abbas and the interior minister on the matter had been “solved”?.
“The minister sent a letter to president Abbas explaining that this force is part of the police and not a new security service, and president Abbas has made no objection,”? he said.
Members of the new force, dressed in uniforms distinct from police, are to work on a volunteer basis and will only be paid once cash becomes available, Abu Hilal said.
The Hamas government, facing financial meltdown over economic sanctions from the European Union, Israel and the United States, has been unable to pay the salaries of any government employees since March.
Fatah, whose monopoly in power came to crushing end when Hamas won a January election, opposes the new force, accusing the Islamist movement of trying to bypass existing security services, which are dominated by Fatah faithful.
“No member of Fatah nor of its related armed groups are involved in this force,”? said spokesman for the party in Gaza, Tawfiq Abu Khussa.
“Instead of creating an outlawed force, the interior ministry should work towards strengthening police and putting the necessary means as its disposal because it is capable of performing its duty,”? he said.
In the climate of distrust between the two movements, Fatah decided to set up its own new brigade, apparently to thwart Hamas’s flexing security muscle.
The corps, an initial batch of 80 fighters, has been operational since Wednesday. Its remit is to “defend offices of the movement, its leaders as well as the Palestinian Authority presidency and confront Israeli aggression,”? said one of its leaders, Abdelrauf Barbakh.