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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hamas plotting West Bank takeover in early 2009

RAMALLAH — The Palestinian Authority has opted for a holding pattern rather than developing a strategy to block the opposition Hamas movement from seizing power in the West Bank.

PA security sources said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to respond to appeals by senior officers to implement a range of measures to protect the Fatah-aligned regime from Hamas threats.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] is scared of Hamas," a senior source said. "He does not want to provoke Hamas."

The PA has assessed that Hamas could not topple the Abbas regime. Senior officials said that unlike the Gaza Strip, Hamas does not have sufficient forces to sustain a rebellion in the West Bank, Middle East Newsline reported.

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"Hamas does not have real power in the West Bank and Israel is exaggerating its strength," PA National Security Force commander Maj. Gen. Diyab Al Ali said. "We are ready to control the West Bank cities and maintain security if Israel withdraws from them and this will make it easier for us to obtain our demands from Israel."

But security sources said Hamas could destabilize the PA to the point where senior officials either flee the West Bank or stay home. The sources said this could include Abbas, who has often threatened to quit.

The sources said Hamas has been working with Iran and Syria in a campaign to undermine the Abbas regime in 2009. They said the Hamas effort was being planned in the Gaza Strip by military chief Ahmed Jaabari.

In 2008, the PA arrested about 400 Hamas members in the West Bank and closed four Hamas charities. All but about 120 have been released.

On Sept. 22, PA forces raided the Hebron office of a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, identified as Samira Al Halayka,. Hebron has been the latest target of a PA crackdown on Hamas.

The sources said Hamas was believed to have organized assassination and sabotage squads that could attack the PA after January 2009, when Abbas's term was scheduled to end. Abbas was said to have agreed to a U.S. request to remain in power after January.

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