Haniyeh Threatens to Resign Over Meshal's Criticism

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh threatened last week to resign together with his cabinet if Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political wing in Damascus, did not retract the harshly critical statements about Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah he made last week.

Meshal's statements last week at a rally in memory of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in the Syrian capital's Yarmuk refugee camp generated the worst internal violence to date in the PA, beginning with stone-throwing by students of rival Hamas and Fatah groups and rapidly deteriorating into exchanges of gunfire and firebombs Saturday between rival groups, resulting in dozens of injured and raising the specter of civil war.

"We can understand that Israel and America are persecuting us and seeking ways to besiege and starve us, but what about the sons of our people who are plotting against us? Today is not the time to expose them, but I say the day will come soon when we will reveal to all the truth," Meshal said in Damascus. His veiled accusations deepened the rift between Abbas and Haniyeh, who then decided on the unprecedented move of threatening to resign.

Meshal subsequently issued "clarifications" in which he argued that his statements "had not been properly understood," and that he did not intend to describe Fatah and its leaders as traitors. The clarifications were seen as an apology and cleared the air between Haniyeh and Abbas.

The incident was further proof of strained relations between Hamas in the territories and the organization abroad, to which was added this week the revelation that weapons had been smuggled from Damascus to Hamas warehouses in Jordan - a step Haniyeh reportedly did not know about.

Sources in Jordan said they believed that Hamas in the Palestinian Authority territories, represented by Haniyeh and groups affiliated with him, was not involved in the smuggling and not even aware of it. The operation was planned and executed by a group from outside the territories led by Meshal and Mousa Abu-Marzuk, said the sources.

To support their supposition, the Jordanian sources pointed to an unattributed statement by Hamas accusing Jordan of conspiring against Hamas, while Haniyeh came out with a public condemnation of "any action that might harm the security of Jordan."