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Hamas Withdraws Gaza Security Force to Ease Tensions


The Islamic militant group, Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian Authority eight weeks ago, is backing down from an escalating confrontation with the rival and more moderate Fatah movement. And in a policy shift, Israel is sending weapons to the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas has withdrawn a private security force of 3,000 militants from the streets of Gaza, saying it wants to avoid further infighting with security forces from the rival Fatah faction.

Tension soared when Hamas deployed the force a week ago, defying a veto by Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. He deployed his own police in response, and a series of gun battles, kidnappings and assassination attempts against security chiefs raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

Israeli analyst Eyal Zisser says the government decision to withdraw its security force was in response to public pressure.

"Well, I think that most Palestinians, the Palestinian public in general, I think most Palestinian leaders are not interested in a civil war, are very much afraid of a civil war," said Zisser.

But in a sign that the situation remains tense and volatile, Israel is transferring a limited number of weapons to Mr. Abbas' presidential guard. Israeli officials say they fear that Hamas militants could try to assassinate the president, who supports peace talks with Israel. Hamas seeks Israel's destruction.

Zisser believes the life of Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, is in danger.

"Clearly, the strategy of Hamas [is], well, they won the election, they took control over the parliament and now the government, and the presidency is their next target," he said. "So, they want to get rid of Abu Mazen."

The transfer of weapons to Mr. Abbas marks a policy shift. Israel cut off weapons to the Palestinian Authority when armed conflict erupted six years ago. Hawkish Israeli opposition leaders criticized the move, saying that when guns are given to the Palestinians, they are eventually turned against Israel.