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Unrest Follows Hamas Victory in Palestinian Elections

28 January 2006

There is growing unrest in the Palestinian territories following the landslide victory by the Islamic militant group Hamas in parliamentary elections. Hamas is taking a hard line on international demands to moderate its position.

Gunmen from the defeated Fatah party stormed into the Palestinian parliament building in the West Bank town of Ramallah, firing in the air. They climbed onto the roof and hoisted a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who founded Fatah nearly 50 years ago.

Angry Fatah activists took to the streets across the West Bank and Gaza, blaming corrupt officials for the election defeat and demanding their resignation.

And there are signs that the internal Fatah unrest could lead to open warfare with Hamas. In Gaza, armed police briefly stormed the local parliament and demanded that Hamas members who killed their colleagues in recent months be put on trial. In a roadside ambush, Hamas gunmen wounded two policemen aligned with Fatah.

Fatah controls the 58,000 member security forces, and it is reluctant to hand over power to Hamas. That has raised fears of a violent power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

For its part, Hamas wants to merge all armed factions, including its five-thousand fighters, into an army.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told a Damascus news conference that the army would defend the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression. He rejected U.S., European and Israeli demands that Hamas disarm. "As long as we are under occupation," Mashaal said, "resistance is our right." Hamas has carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings, and Mashaal did not rule out further attacks on Israeli civilians.

Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said if that happens, Hamas leaders could be targeted for assassination. "If Hamas will turn to terror," Mofaz warned, "it will find itself under an unprecedented attack from the state of Israel."

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