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Gazans fear clashes in Hamas-Fatah security dispute

Written by: Staff

GAZA, May 1 (Reuters) A new Palestinian police force being set up in Gaza by the governing Islamist Hamas movement has raised fear of violence.

Tensions between Hamas and the rival Palestinian Fatah group have soared since Hamas swept to power in a January election.

Hamas's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades will be the backbone for the 3,000-member force. Fatah, which opposes its formation, has announced plans for a 2,000-strong militia of its own.

But while some Gazans predict armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen, others see the new police force as a means of fighting lawlessness in an area ruled by militia might.

''We have tens of thousands of policemen but they have no real orders to end chaos,'' said 60-year-old Hajj Abu Ahmed.

''We need only a few thousand with a clear mandate and the determination to do the job, and Hamas people want to do that because without security, their government will fail,'' he said.

Nonetheless, Abu Ahmed, a former well digger, sees ''a clash coming ... because some parties do not want to lend a hand to Hamas even if they do right''.

Ala Hussein, 40, a Fatah supporter, voiced opposition to the new unit, saying with 60,000 members, the existing security forces should be able to do the job.

''But I also admit that police need to take serious action against crime and chaos, so that there will be no justification for a new force,'' he said.

Since Hamas took office in March 29, it has been locked in a dispute with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah over control of the security forces and foreign policy.

BACKUP Hamas officials have said the new unit would provide backup for police on various missions and protect government officials if they came under attack.

Chaos that had intensified since Israel left the Gaza Strip last year has worsened in recent weeks amid verbal exchanges between Hamas and Fatah leaders.

A previously unknown group linking itself with al-Qaeda has threatened to kill Fatah officials, calling them infidels.

Eyad Mahmoud, a 26-year-old taxi driver, said economic difficulties in Gaza, where the Hamas-led government has failed to secure payments for at least 160,000 Palestinian Authority employees in March and April, has deepened frustrations.

''Lots of guns, political differences and no money can only lead to more despair and disappointment and maybe violence too,'' he said.

The financial crisis began after Hamas formed a government in Marc and Israel, the United States and the European Union withheld funding to pressure Hamas to recognise the Jewish state, renounce violence and accept past interim peace deals.

Reuters SB VV1632

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