The Palestinian militant group Hamas has defied President Mahmoud Abbas and announced the creation of a new police force for the Gaza Strip. The action comes as Israel says it will ease restrictions at the main cargo crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
In a move likely to create more tensions between Palestinian factions, members of the new security force moved into the streets of Gaza City, just hours after gunmen killed two Hamas activists in two separate attacks.
It was the worst violence in Gaza, since the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah agreed to stop fighting each other last week.
Speaking at a news conference in Gaza City, Palestinian Interior Minister Sa'id Siyam, an important Hamas leader, says he has the authority to deploy the new police.
Siyam says the force is being deployed to protect the lives and property of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, and he appealed to Palestinians to support the new force.
Hamas officials say the new force of 4,000 police will be under the command of Jamal Abu Samhadana, a Palestinian militant alleged to be responsible for carrying out ongoing rocket attacks against targets in southern Israel. Samhadana has also been accused of being behind the 2003 bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Gaza that killed three diplomatic security officers.
Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vetoed creation of the new force. Instead, Mr. Abbas appointed a key ally as overall security commander of the three Palestinian security branches that fall under the Interior Ministry.
A spokesman for President Abbas criticized the Hamas move, saying there was no need for a new police force that he says will only add to tensions in the Palestinian territories.
As tensions increased between Palestinian factions, Israel took moves to ease growing hardship in Gaza by reopening the main cargo crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Israel has kept the crossing point closed for most of the year, citing security concerns. But in recent days Israel's new Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who heads the center-left Labor Party, has pledged to ease some restrictions on Palestinians.