World and Nation

Palestinian Interior Minister Resigns Monday, Unable to Control Factions

The Palestinian interior minister, Hani al-Qawasmeh, resigned Monday, and four more Palestinians were killed in fierce factional gun battles.

Qawasmeh, who has been unable to control either the Fatah or the Hamas forces, said he had not been given authority to direct the security forces that were supposed to be under his control.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, said he would take over the Interior Ministry temporarily. But the resignation and the bloodshed put enormous strain on the unity government. Qawasmeh was a compromise candidate approved by both Fatah and Hamas, but neither accepted his authority.

His resignation followed the worst outbreak of factional violence in Gaza since Hamas and Fatah reached the agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 8 to form a unity government. The clashes, which have left at least nine Palestinians dead and dozens wounded since Sunday, together with the resignation, are being viewed in Gaza as signs that the government may collapse.

"From the beginning, I faced obstacles that robbed the ministry of its powers and made my position empty, without authority," Qawasmeh told reporters in front of his house.

A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, blamed Fatah, and particularly the elite Presidential Guard, which is loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, for the latest round of bloodletting. The clashes started after Fatah had sent forces onto the streets without coordinating the action with Qawasmeh or Hamas.

But Barhoum said that Hamas "is still committed to the agreement and won't allow Fatah to drive us away from it." Privately, Hamas activists contend that Fatah is trying to bring about the failure of the government, in which Fatah serves as a junior partner.

Fatah blames Hamas for the violence. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between the factions was supposed to go into effect at 1 a.m. on Monday, but Maher Miqdad, a spokesman for Fatah, said Hamas took that as the signal "for an explosion."

"They raided the intelligence headquarters; they tried to raid my house," Miqdad said, adding that members of Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militia and his own bodyguards confronted the attackers. Two Fatah men were killed in the fighting, including one of the bodyguards. "We are with the agreement," Miqdad said, "but the Hamas agenda is with escalation."

Miqdad is known to be close to Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah strongman in Gaza who was recently named national security adviser by Abbas. Dahlan is despised by Hamas, and his appointment has been a particular source of tension.

Palestinian officials said that Qawasmeh had complained that the ministry's director general, Rashid Abu Shbak, another close Dahlan ally, had been obstructing his work and unilaterally giving orders to Fatah-controlled security forces.