| Fatah gunmen grimace as they fire their weapons in the air during a protest in the West Bank town of Nablus. (Reuters)
Ramallah (West Bank), Jan. 28 (Reuters): Firing into the air, Fatah gunmen and police stormed Palestinian parliament buildings today in growing unrest after their long-dominant party’s crushing election defeat by Hamas Islamists.
Hamas leaders, meanwhile, rejected as “blackmail” western demands that it renounce violence against Israel or risk losing aid vital to the survival of the Palestinian Authority. Hopes of peacemaking with Israel have been pushed further into limbo.
Turmoil since the parliamentary election landslide has fuelled fears of inter-Palestinian strife as Hamas tries to form a government and possibly take over security forces packed with Fatah loyalists at odds with the Islamic militants.
Thousands of gunmen from President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah held protests across the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip today, many firing automatic rifles into the air.
They took over parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah for about 20 minutes, shouting demands from the roof before descending peacefully. Fatah militants and police also seized the parliament building in the Gaza Strip.
Gunmen demanded that Fatah leaders resign. They also aimed to dissuade the party from any idea of sharing power with Hamas or letting it control security forces ' after Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal said it planned to form “an army”.
“We will transform the army of the Palestinian Authority into armed militias. We are not waiting for Hamas to teach us their Islamic beliefs. We know the Quran by heart,” said Fatah gunman Ramzi Obeid.
In Gaza, where eight people were hurt yesterday in clashes between Fatah and Hamas activists, the gunmen were joined in their protest by police opposed to any Hamas control over them.
In a message clearly aimed at Hamas, Palestinian Authority police commander Ala Hosni said the Islamist group would not direct security forces in any case because they fell under President Abbas.
“The security institution is the only guarantee to prevent sedition and civil war,” Hosni said.
Fatah leaders have so far rejected joining any coalition with Hamas, and it could take weeks to form one anyway.
Hamas leaders are preparing to set up a government by themselves if need be, after winning votes from Palestinians tired with corruption and Fatah’s failure to deliver a state, as well as supportive of a Hamas suicide bombing campaign.
The US has said it will review aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas enters government and Israel suggested it could suspend customs revenue transfers. The EU, the biggest donor, is looking at its options.
“This aid cannot be a sword over the heads of the Palestinian people ... to blackmail our people, to blackmail Hamas and the resistance. It is rejected,” top Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in an interview.