The American government has welcomed efforts by the Palestinian Authority to rein in Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. “The Palestinian Authority’s ability to reign in armed factions and impose law and order has improved lately,” the U.S. administration said Thursday.
The U.S. blessing came in light of the PA’s decision this week to crack down on armed militant groups by declaring the display of arms in public illegal.
“That’s a positive move,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Thursday. “That’s the responsibility of every reigning authority or government --- to provide security and safe environment for it citizens, so that they can move freely, go to work, to school and go shopping,” McCormack added.
The administration noted that the PA’s decision comes in light of last week’s deadly incident in the Gaza Strip during which 19 people were killed. An explosion ripped through a crowd of Hamas supporters crushed in a rally celebrating Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
“The result was that many people lost their lives. That’s a reminder that there need be one authority to implement law and order and provide a peaceful atmosphere free of violence. The PA understands its duties regarding the security forces and the terror organizations,” the State Department spokesperson said.
President George W. Bush’s administration has stepped up its pressure on the PA to crack down on terror organizations following the salvoes of Qassams fired into Israel following the Gaza incident and Israel’s ensuing swift operation.
Washington is skeptical of the current ceasefire and doesn’t believe it will last for long, a view that prompted President Bush to invite Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on October 20.
During the visit, which is meant to boost the Palestinian leader’s public support, Bush will press Abbas to intensify the military pressure on terror groups.
“The Palestinian Authority has the means to fight terror. Under Yasser Arafat the PA and its security forces were paralyzed by corruption. Now Abbas and his Interior Minister Nasser Yousef have taken the big step forward to stop violence and terror. A lot still needs to be done and that’s what General Ward is helping with,” McCormrak said in reference to U.S. Envoy to the Middle East William Ward.
PA more popular
Meanwhile, local Palestinian elections held Thursday revealed that Fatah is amassing power.
A preliminary counting of the ballots in 84 of the Palestinian regional councils indicates that the Fatah is gaining a lead over Hamas.
This is the third elections round, and according to estimates, the Fatah will win 60 percent of the votes, while Hamas will gain victory in most of the remaining councils.
Notably, the Hamas chose not to participate in the elections in a few of the smaller councils, and settled for contending in 60 councils only. In the remaining councils the Fatah achieved an easy triumph.
However, it appears that the Fatah is facing a tight and difficult contest.
Sources in the PA say that despite of the Fatah's anticipated victory, the Hamas continues to grow stronger, and has gained a few impressive conquests. This in spite of the mass arrests of hundreds of Hamas activists by IDF forces during the week, following the Hamas Qassam attacks on Israel during the weekend, and the murder of Israeli Sasson Nuriel.
The elections' initial results suggest that if there are no last-minute surprises, the Fatah will win. Sources in the PA believe that the third round of elections will constitute a good indication for the anticipated balance of powers to be revealed in the general elections for the PA legislative council, scheduled to take place on January next year.
Scuffles broke out at a few locations over the elections' results, particularly in places where the Fatah lost and the movement's people refused to acknowledge the outcome and the Hamas victory. However, Deputy Local Administration Minister, Khaled Qawasmi said that the elections were carried out peacefully in most parts.
In the last two elections rounds, Fatah won by a small margin, while Hamas gained victory in most of the regional councils.
Ali Waked contributed to this report