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Abbas outlaws Hamas's paramilitary Executive Force

Group says it will fight attempts to end operations

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday outlawed the Hamas-led Interior Ministry's police force, the most powerful armed unit outside his control in factional fighting that has left 33 people dead in the past month.

The ministry responded with defiance. It announced plans to double the size of the paramilitary force and vowed to resist Abbas's order that its 6,000 members be incorporated into the security apparatus loyal to the president's Fatah movement.

The dueling announcements raised the prospect of an intensified armed standoff. Abbas's only means of enforcing the order appeared to be coercive action by police and security units under his command, but they are relatively weak in the Gaza Strip, Hamas's stronghold.

Factional fighting continued yesterday:

In Gaza City, three members of a pro-Hamas family were killed by gunmen from a rival clan considered to be Fatah supporters. The Hamas radio station said one of the dead was an Executive Force member. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the officials said they believed the assailants were Fatah supporters.

In the West Bank, gunmen abducted the Hamas deputy mayor of Nablus from his car and stormed the Interior Ministry offices in Ramallah, where they wounded the office manager.

A pro-Hamas university professor in Nablus was shot and seriously wounded by gunmen who fired at his home, security officials said.

In an effort to strengthen Abbas, US officials have said they expect to ask Congress for nearly $100 million in aid to help train and supply his expanding Presidential Guard. The Bush administration and Israel coordinated arms shipments to Abbas's forces from Egypt.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet with Abbas later this month to discuss efforts to weaken and isolate Hamas, the Iranian-backed Islamic movement that leads the Palestinian government. Hamas resists Abbas's efforts to start peace talks with Israel, and refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

Yesterday's statement by Abbas came two days after a unit of the Interior Ministry police, known as the Executive Force, besieged the Gaza home of a Fatah commander, Colonel Mohammed Ghareeb, killing him and his bodyguards and seriously wounding his wife and brother.

Hamas officials said Ghareeb had been responsible for the deaths of two of their fighters.

Abbas ordered the Executive Force disbanded "in light of continued lawlessness and assassinations," the statement said, adding that its members would be treated as outlaws unless they are incorporated into forces commanded by the president.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Helal called Abbas's announcement "a green light to those who seek to shed the blood of the Executive Force members," and said the force would "deal firmly" with anyone who attacks it.

Intermittent fighting among the Palestinians erupted after elections a year ago created a division of power between the president and Hamas, which won control of Parliament and formed a government in March.

The split paralyzed most governing institutions, and the rival movements began conducting politics through armed force.

Abbas claims authority over the various armed Palestinian forces created in the 1990s by Yasser Arafat, the late Fatah and Palestinian Authority leader. Today they include two police agencies with 15,000 members each in addition to the elite Presidential Guard, which is being enlarged from 4,000 to 6,000 members.

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