PA Chairman Abbas Issues Decree Outlawing Hamas Armed Militias

PA to punish members of Hamas' Executive Force, military wing; Abbas plan calls for struggle against Hamas' 'military coup.'

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday issued a decree outlawing the armed groups of Hamas and said members would be punished.

The ban applies to the Hamas militia, known as the Executive Force, and to Hamas' other armed groups, including the military wing, Izz A Din al-Qassam, according to the decree, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Abbas wrote that he decided to consider the Executive Unit and the militias of the Hamas movement illegal, due to their military coup against the Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions.

"Anyone who is involved in any of these two groups is going to be punished, according to the law and the orders of the state of emergency," the decree said.

The move comes in the wake of Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip last week. On Thursday, Abbas dissolved the Hamas-Fatah unity government, and on Sunday swore in a new cabinet of technocrats.

A senior aide to Abbas initially said Sunday that the Hamas movement itself was banned. But his office later said that the ban applied only to the armed groups of Hamas, including the Executive Force and .

Sources in Ramallah said Saturday night that a plan being put together in Abbas' offices calls for continuing the steadfast struggle against what he calls Hamas' "military coup" in the Gaza Strip. Most international players have signed on to Abbas' program, including the United States, European countries and most Arab states. Opposition comes, ironically, from within Fatah, including, apparently, Marwan Barghouti, whose absence from any announcement denouncing Hamas despite the entreaties of Abbas' representatives is noteworthy.

According to the current plan, Abbas will continue to refuse to negotiate with Hamas or to reach a compromise with the movement's leadership. This weekend he turned down a request to meet with Khaled Meshal. The emergency cabinet of Salam Fayad is sure to obtain broad Arab and international support. Since it contains no Hamas members, the boycott against the PA will be lifted and it will receive financial and diplomatic support from the whole world. This weekend, representatives of Abbas asked a number of non-partisan Gazan figures to join the new cabinet but so far none has agreed.

The blockade of the Gaza Strip will continue, under the plan framed by Abbas. Israel and Egypt will provide a small amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza residents, but the government of Ismail Haniyeh - dissolved by Abbas - will continue to be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the international community. Gaza's borders will be nearly hermetically sealed, with only limited emergency supplies and intermittent water and electricity provided by Israel. The intention is to maintain the siege on Gaza for a few weeks - not to defeat Hamas or to reoccupy the strip, but to pressure Hamas into agreeing to a compromise according to terms dictated by Abbas.

Abbas sought and received Egypt's blessing for this plan, in contrast to Cairo's firm and public opposition to Abbas' Plan B, which called for introducing an Arab or international force into Gaza. The Egyptians explained that such a move would provoke resistance from Hamas and would turn Gaza into Baghdad.

Associates of Abbas supporting his plan include Fatah old-timers Nabil Amar, Ahmed Abd Al-Rahman and Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim, as well as several Gazans who fled to Ramallah: Mohammed Dahlan, Rashid Abu Shabak and Samir Mashharawi. Members of the Fatah young guard, led by Barghouti, have reservations about the plan, but more important is the opposition to it by Ahmed Hilas, a Fatah leader in Gaza and rival to Dahlan who remained in the Gaza Strip together with a few other prominent Fatah members and has been holding talks with the Hamas leadership.

Those opposed to the Abbas plan claim he is surrounded by "advisers who are disconnected from reality," in the words of Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor in chief Abd al-Bari Atwan. Abbas' plan could lead to massive rocket attacks against Israel by a Hamas whose leadership believes it has nothing more to lose, and that a strong military response by Israel will only unite Gazans around it.