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Palestinians vote to strip Abbas of powers
Updated: 2006-03-07 08:35

Hamas headed into a full-blown confrontation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, voting to strip him of powers he was hastily awarded by his Fatah Party in the last session of the outgoing parliament.

Palestinians vote to strip Abbas of powers
Senior Hamas leader and a member of the Palestinian Parliament Mahmoud Zahar, center, is surrounded by security as he leaves the first session of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City, Monday, March 6, 2006. Hamas headed into a full-blown confrontation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, voting to strip him of powers he was hastily awarded by his Fatah Party in the last session of the outgoing parliament. [AP]

In Gaza City, an Israeli missile strike killed two Islamic Jihad militants and three bystanders, including two young boys.

The Hamas-Fatah conflict has been simmering since Hamas swept Fatah out of office in January parliamentary elections, ending four decades of unchallenged rule by the party of the late Yasser Arafat.

Hamas has 74 seats in the new parliament and Fatah just 45, and the first order of business for Hamas was to cancel the powers the outgoing parliament gave to Abbas, the Fatah leader, authorizing him to cancel laws passed by the new parliament and appointing Fatah officials to key positions.

In the West Bank administrative capital of Ramallah, Fatah delegates walked out, accusing Hamas of twisting the rules to weaken Abbas' authority.

About 15 Fatah gunmen marched on parliament in Gaza City, firing into the air. The gunmen eventually headed to a Fatah meeting, where they demanded their party stay out of the government Hamas is setting up and threatened to kill any Fatah official who joined.

With its absolute majority, Hamas can set up a government by itself, but Hamas leaders prefer to bring in other parties, partly to deflect international criticism and threatened economic sanctions because of Hamas' record of violence and refusal to recognize Israel.

Israel, which considers Hamas a terror group, refuses to allow its members of parliament to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, so the two buildings were linked by teleconferencing equipment to allow the session to take place.

Hamas easily passed legislation to rescind Abbas' new powers, but some experts said Abbas has the authority to cancel Monday's resolution, perpetuating the standoff.

In a statement, Fatah complained the Hamas action "undermines the basis of dialogue and partnership in any institution with Hamas." A Fatah legislator said Monday's decisions would be appealed to the Palestinian Supreme Court.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri ridiculed the Fatah reaction. "It is obvious that some people until now have not understood the rules of the democratic game," he said.

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005, and his term has three years to run, regardless of the makeup of parliament.

Though Abbas is seen as a moderate and remains in power, Israel has reacted to the Hamas victory by cutting off transfer of vital tax money to the Palestinian Authority, charging that it is now controlled by terrorists.

As the parliament was wrapping up its session, the Israeli air force targeted an ice cream truck in Gaza City, killing two Islamic Jihad militants and three bystanders, two of them children, the military and Palestinian officials said.

Seven people were wounded, doctors said.

A spokesman for the group who gave his name as Abu Dajana vowed retaliation.

"God willing we are going to get revenge for the honorable bloodshed today," he told reporters outside a morgue at the Shifa hospital in Gaza, where angry Palestinians chanted, "Death to Israel."

Abbas appealed for international intervention to stop Israeli attacks. "These aggressive actions threaten the exerted efforts to maintain the truce," he said in a statement. "Achieving security would come only through negotiations, not unilateral action and aggression."

The "unilateral action" reference came as Israeli security officials outlined plans for Israel to cut itself off further from the Gaza Strip, after the summer withdrawal of soldiers and settlers.

The officials said Israel should gradually reduce and then ban Palestinian workers from Gaza entering Israel, cut off power, fuel and water supplies and allow the Palestinians to open a seaport and airport, eliminating Gaza imports and exports through Israel.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give details to the media, said security chiefs would present their plan after Israel's March 28 election.

The recommendations came a day after a key ally of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said if his Kadima party wins the election, it will take further unilateral steps in the West Bank, including moving settlers from isolated points to settlement blocs.

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