Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has leveled unprecedented criticism at Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, accusing the "presidential institution" of trying to deny the elected Palestinian government its powers and present it as lacking the ability to govern.

Delivering a Friday sermon in a mosque in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh said the cabinet would remain in office for its full term, and warned that bringing about its downfall would have disastrous results. Following the address, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters, led by Haniyeh, took to the streets in Jabalya, Khan Yunis and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip, and, to a lesser extent, in West Bank cities too. The supporters slammed the West and its economic boycott of the PA.

"How is it possible that a government from which control of internal security and border crossings has been taken away is the very government responsible for the payment of salaries to PA officials, after that government has been deprived of its powers by means of intentional decisions and it is left hanging, with its ministries emptied by intentional decision [by Abbas - A.R.], " Haniyeh said.

"But Hamas is not a stupid movement; I am not a clown, and neither are the ministers in my government. Allah knows who the hypocrites and the liars are. The people will not give up its government. We will eat the weeds of the field and salt and we will not give up our principles," Haniyeh added.

Haniyeh's weekend statements became the most severe bone of contention between Hamas and Fatah since the election brought Hamas to power at the end of January.

Haniyeh, who has so far side-stepped any direct criticism of Abbas, was responding to a number of orders given by Abbas that have left the security forces, the border crossings and other entities in Fatah's hands.

Haniyeh made it clear that at present, his government, which inherited a debt of $750 million, was unable to pay the salaries of the PA officials. He slammed the international boycott of the Hamas government, calling it "an unholy alliance led by the United States, whose motives are suspect," and adding that "not two weeks after the cabinet was sworn in did the world begin its economic siege and set impossible conditions."

According to Haniyeh, "This is the elected government of the people and all sides must respect this. It will not change its positions as a result of this unfair pressure."

Abbas' bureau chief, Taib Abdel-Rahim, called Haniyeh's statements "baseless incitement," adding that Abbas had asked Hamas' advice on every decision taken. He said the presidential office was determined to keep all powers given it and to use them.

"Hamas is trying to slowly and illegally take over all ministerial positions," Abdel-Rahim added.

A few dozen armed Fatah activists took over the offices of the Palestinian parliament in Khan Yunis yesterday and blocked dozens of roads in the Gaza Strip. The activists, accompanied by Palestinian police, were demanding that the government pay their salaries and threatened to bring down the government.

"The downfall of the new government will turn the tables on everyone, first and forement those who led this people to humiliation," Yunis Alastel, a Hamas parliamentary representative from Khan Yunis, said. He added that if the government fell "it would be the beginning of new armed resistance and suicide acts in the depth of the Zionist entity."

Alastel, who marched at the head of Hamas supporters in Khan Yunis while Haniyeh was speaking in Gaza, also said "they refused to negotiate with the new government, which showed great flexibility and they will bear the responsibility for the appearance in Palestine of Tawfiq al-Zarqawi."

Zarqawi is the senior al-Qaida activist in Iraq responsible for most of the attacks on the U.S. forces. "If they reject the government," Alastel said, "let them deal with the extremists and with the car-bombs.