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New masters raid Gaza bedroom

Gaza City, June 15 (AP): On its first day in full control in Gaza, Hamas today both mocked and reached out to its defeated Fatah rivals, offering them amnesty but also rifling through President Mahmoud Abbasís bedroom, stripping a former strongmanís home down to the flowerpots and throwing a Fatah gunman off a rooftop.

Safe in the West Bank, the moderate Abbas moved quickly to cement his rule there, after losing control in Gaza in a swift five-day Hamas assault on his forces. He replaced the Hamas Prime Minster, Ismail Haniyeh, with finance minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and a new moderate government was to be formed later.

Hamas, overwhelmingly elected in a 2006 parliament vote, denounced Abbasís decisions as a coup. But the sparring made little difference on the ground: the Palestinian territories, on either side of Israel, are now separate entities with two different governments ó one run by Hamas and backed by radical Islamic states and the other controlled by the western-supported Fatah.

Abbas received immediate pledges of support from Israel, the US, Egypt, Jordan, the UN and Saudi Arabia. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by phone that he would take steps to bolster Abbas. Officals in Olmerts office said he will consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax funds, frozen after Hamas came to power.

Palestinians in both territories were struggling to adjust to the new reality, which crushed their longstanding hopes of a Palestinian state. With Hamas largely neutralised in the West Bank, some expected renewed western aid there, after a year-long embargo had crippled their economy.

In a West Bank hotel, several Fatah loyalists who had fled Gaza, sat in the lobby, chain-smoking, and worked the phones to set up their new lives.

Hamas was both cocky and conciliatory today. It released nine senior Fatah leaders and many lower-ranking activists, saying it was granting amnesty to its rivals. A Hamas spokesman, Abu Obeideh, also promised to get BBC journalist Alan Johnston, held since March, released quickly.

Yet Hamas gunmen also entered the seaside compound of Abbas, rifling through the Presidentís belongings in his bedroom, adjacent to his office. One gunman sat down at the Fatah leaderís desk, picked up the phone and pretended to be calling US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

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