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Hamas Facing Anger Of Palestinians

Palestinian Fatah members chant slogans during a demonstration against the Fatah leadership in front of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' residency in Gaza City Friday Jan. 27.
AP
Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections continued to expose deep rifts in Palestian society as unrest throughout the West Bank and Gaza showed no signs of abating. Since the outcome, thousands of angry activists from the defeated Fatah Party demanded their leaders' resignations, Palestinian police stormed a parliament building in Gaza and other security forces clashed with Hamas gunmen.

Fatah gunmen climbed on top of the Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah, fired in the air and posted a picture of the late leader Yasser Arafat on the roof to cheers and whistles from hundreds of supporters below. Dozens of armed police officers briefly stormed the building in Gaza City and demanded an immediate trial for Hamas members who killed police in fighting in recent months.

"Everybody should know that we are not going to allow the Interior Ministry to belong to Hamas," the police said, referring to the government body that controls the security forces.

Most of the 58,000 members of the security forces are allied with Fatah and fear for their jobs under a Hamas-led government. Hamas has its own armed force of about 5,000 gunmen in Gaza.

In earlier fighting in Gaza, Hamas gunmen wounded two Palestinian policemen in what authorities said was a roadside ambush early Saturday, hours after two officers and a Hamas activist were wounded in another firefight.

Wednesday's election exposed deep tensions within Palestinian society and was a clear rebuke to Fatah for its corruption and inability to maintain order. Before the vote, veteran Fatah leaders, those most tainted by corruption allegations, resisted repeated calls for reform by the Fatah young guard.

In Damascus, Hamas' top leader, Khaled Mashaal, reiterated Saturday that his group seeks a partnership with all political parties, but also wants to reform the government. In a reference to Fatah, Mashaal warned that those "who might try block the work because they are out of power" would be held responsible if reforms are blocked.

In Fatah, there was growing finger-pointing following the defeat, which ended four decades of Fatah dominance in Palestinian politics. Demonstrators demanded the resignation of the party's entire central committee. Mahmoud Abbas, who is part of the committee, was elected last year as Palestinian Authority president. Only a few Fatah activists called for him to step down.

About 2,000 Fatah members marched in the West Bank city of Nablus, led by dozens of gunmen from the Fatah-allied Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, who fired in the air from the back of a truck.

"We are now no longer part of the cease-fire," one of the gunmen, Nasser Haras, told the crowd. Palestinian militants groups agreed last year to a cease-fire with Israel.

In Bethlehem, about 400 activists, including dozens of gunmen, took over the party's local office and demanded the resignation of party leaders. In Tulkarem, gunman Ibrahim Khreisheh warned against cooperating with Hamas.

"Whoever will participate in a government with Hamas, we will shoot him in the head," he said.

The protests began Friday, soon after Abbas said he would ask Hamas to form the next government.

Hamas' Haniyeh said he asked Abbas to meet Sunday to discuss forming a government, but Abbas' office said no appointment had been made. Hamas, which has no experience in governing, took 76 of the 132 parliament seats up for grabs.

Ghazi Hamad, one of Hamas' ideologues, said the group might form a government of technocrats with no connection to Hamas. Such a government might relieve some of the international pressure on the group.

President Bush said in an interview with CBS Evening News that the United States would cut aid to the Palestinian government unless Hamas abolishes the militant arm of its party and stops calling for the destruction of Israel.

But Hamas knows it isn't liked by the world community (audio), and senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told CBS News's David Hawkins, the group doesn't care if U.S. aid is cut off.

"Do you believe we are here living from the pocket of Europe or from America? All the money that came from Europe and America went to the pockets of the corrupted," he said.

Hamas is listed as a terror organization by the United States and the European Union.

Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, said the United States gives $400 million a year to the Palestinian Authority.

A Palestinian Cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the government would have to fire 30,000 of its 137,000 employees immediately if aid was cut.

Israel, caught off guard by the Hamas parliamentary landslide after its vaunted intelligence services predicted a slim Fatah victory, said it would have no contacts with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appealed to the international community not to legitimize a Hamas government, saying elections "are not a whitewash for terror."

Hamas, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings on Israelis, has long called for the destruction of the Jewish state. In recent years, some Hamas leaders grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but only as a stage toward freeing the rest of Palestine, meaning Israel.