Hamas planning to move militia in bid to undermine Fatah

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Hamas is planning to move its 3,000-strong paramilitary force into Gaza police stations in an imminent move which threatens to undermine the rival Fatah faction's control of the main domestic security forces.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, made it clear yesterday he was determined to maintain - and if needed expand - the force deployed last week by his Interior Minister, Said Siyam, despite a clear previous veto by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

The force was temporarily withdrawn from most Gaza streets yesterday after a series of kidnappings, shootings and bombings by rival armed groups which have claimed the lives of 10 Palestinians in all this month.

But Mr Haniyeh used a speech at a mosque in the Gaza town of Jabalya to disclose that 2,000 regular police uniforms already prepared for the new armed force - who are currently dressed in black T-shirts and combat fatigues - would be distributed to the men, many of whom were militants in Hamas's military wing.

Mr Haniyeh divulged the plan as he sounded a sharply negative note - which stopped short of explicit rejection - about Mr Abbas's ultimatum to Hamas. On Thursday Mr Abbas warned that he will put a document envisaging a two-state solution to a referendum unless Hamas agrees to it within 10 days.

Saying he had "spoken to" Mr Abbas about the policing plans, Mr Haniyeh said that if the interior ministry "asked for 4,000 men I will give them 4,000. There will be no retreat from this, no going back."

As a unit of the "implementation force" drilled at a temporary base in the Zeitoun suburb of Gaza City, Youssef al-Zahar, a leader of the force, said that the "first phase" of the deployment had always been planned for between a week and 10 days. "We have shown the people there is a force that can help them and they now know that they can call on them if they need to."

Mr Zahar, a former Palestinian Authority traffic police officer and Hamas activist who is the brother of Mahmoud, the Hamas leader who is the PA's Foreign Minister, said that the force would be entering police stations "as soon as possible". He added: "We are supporting the police, not replacing them."

Mr Haniyeh, who had arrived at the al-Omari mosque in a convoy of security vehicles as armed members of the force kept watch from rooftops, said that it had already damped down tribal feuding and had been successful in ending shooting between armed groups at Gaza City's Shifa hospital on Wednesday after a bombing which killed Nabil Hodhod, a Fatah security commander in Gaza.

Mr Haniyeh indicated he would be discussing "all issues", including the referendum plan, with Mr Abbas in Gaza this week, and said Hamas would be studying the "legal, political and constitutional implications" of a referendum. But he warned that the two-state solution document produced by Hamas and Fatah inmates of an Israeli prison "was not a substitute for the political programme of the government that was approved in parliament". In a reference to the international demands being made of Hamas in return for aid, he added: "Even if they besiege us from all directions, they should not dream that we will make any political concessions. We will not recognise the legitimacy of the occupation, we will not renounce resistance and we will not recognise unjust agreements."

Meanwhile Mr Abbas's supporters moved to minimise the potential embarrassment to Mr Abbas of Israel's announcement that it was authorising the import into Gaza of arms for the Palestinian President's personal protection force because of a perceived threat against his life. A defence ministry official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio: "I can't tell you the exact amount of weapons, but it is a limited amount intended for the purpose of securing Abbas's ability to protect himself on the backdrop of the important decisions he makes."

The Palestinian negotiations official Saeb Erekat said Israeli claims were "baseless", though he conceded there are concerns for Mr Abbas's safety.