Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late Thursday dismissed the three-month-old Palestinian unity government and declared a state of emergency as Hamas militants consolidated their control over the Gaza Strip. More than 100 people have died since violence erupted between Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction and Hamas several days ago. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem bureau.
After nearly a week of escalating violence that has seen Hamas Islamic militants seize control of much of the Gaza Strip, President Abbas issued decrees late Thursday abolishing the Palestinian unity government and dismissing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of Hamas.
Presidential Secretary Tayeb Abdel Rahim read out the decrees at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abdel Rahim said Mr. Abbas is declaring a state of emergency across the Palestinian territories because some Palestinian groups are engaging in crimes and acting outside the law. He said Mr. Abbas will form a new government, and is also considering holding new elections.
A spokesman for Hamas called Mr. Abbas' move "practically worthless," and it is unclear what effect the decrees will have on the violence raging in the Gaza Strip. Hamas militants have seized control of the Fatah-run Intelligence services building and the headquarters of the Fatah Preventive Security Force, where witnesses say the militants executed several Fatah officials after they had surrendered.
Fatah retaliated in the West Bank, where Hamas is much weaker, by rounding up a number of Hamas militants.
Close aides to Mr. Abbas such as Yasser Abed Rabo, the deputy head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is allied with Fatah, warned that if Hamas does take complete control of Gaza, Palestinian democracy will suffer.
"What they are doing now is they are trying to solidify their grip over Gaza by all means, including military means," he said. "They do not believe in the democratic process where you can change the government every four years. They believe it is a divine mission granted to them, and they should seize the opportunity."
Since fighting dramatically escalated on Wednesday, Fatah forces have been routed by more disciplined Hamas militants. Reporter Mohammed Dawass in Gaza says unlike Hamas, Fatah was unprepared for all-out conflict.
"They [Fatah] were not really preparing themselves like Hamas did," he said. "Hamas has been preparing itself for a long time. Especially after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, they [Hamas] managed to get weapons from across the borders. Fatah did not really expect this to happen actually."
If Hamas does take complete control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territories will be effectively split between Hamas and Fatah, which largely controls the West Bank. Israeli officials are expressing concern over the developments in Gaza, saying they might soon be faced with two Palestinian entities, one run by Hamas and one run by Fatah.