Palestinian workers storm parliament - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Palestinian workers storm parliament

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Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2006 6:52 am | Updated: 4:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Dozens of Palestinian civil servants stormed parliament Wednesday to demand long-overdue salaries, pelting Hamas lawmakers with water bottles and forcing the parliament speaker to flee the building.

The second attack on the parliament this week, along with the shooting death of a Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip, cast doubt on renewed efforts by leaders of the rival Fatah and Hamas parties to halt their increasingly deadly infighting.

Tensions have been high since Hamas defeated Fatah in legislative elections in January. President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who was elected separately last year, has been in a power struggle with the Islamic group, and 22 people have been killed in factional fighting in recent weeks.

Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas agreed late Tuesday to start a weeklong series of meetings to try to reach an agreement over a proposal that implicitly recognizes the Jewish state. Their talks continued Wednesday, as senior security commanders joined in.

Abbas has endorsed the plan as a way to restart peace talks and lift crippling international economic sanctions that have rendered the government unable, since February, to pay salaries that support one-third of the Palestinian population. Hamas has rejected it.

In France, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to "make every effort" to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, although he also insisted that rocket attacks must stop first.

In Ramallah, hundreds of government workers demonstrated outside the parliament building, chanting anti-government slogans and demanding their wages. As the chanting grew louder, several dozen protesters burst into the building and pelted Hamas lawmakers with water bottles, tissue boxes and other small items.

"We are hungry. We are hungry," the protesters screamed. "Haniyeh, go home!"

During the melee, some demonstrators climbed onto lawmakers' desks. At one point, security guards broke up a scuffle between two female lawmakers. No injuries were reported.

Parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Duaik, a top Hamas official, fled the hall under heavy guard shortly before the crowd burst in. "I'm not coming back until they leave," Duaik said as he rushed out.

Order was restored after about 45 minutes, and the session resumed.

Most of the demonstrators were thought to be Fatah activists. Later Wednesday, several hundred Hamas supporters marched peacefully in Ramallah to condemn attacks on government buildings.

"We ask, whose interests are you serving through these actions, burning down our institutions?" Hamas leader Farhat Assad asked in a speech. "It is uglier than the practices of the Israeli occupation."

Earlier this week, hundreds of pro-Fatah security personnel went on a rampage in Ramallah, shooting and burning the parliament and Cabinet buildings in a rage against the Hamas-led government.

The power struggle, which has spilled over into factional fighting, has centered on control of the powerful, Fatah-dominated security forces.

In fighting Wednesday, a Hamas gunman was killed in the southern Gaza Strip shortly after Hamas militants attacked the local commander of one of the Palestinian security agencies. The commander was shot in the legs seven times and moderately wounded.

After the Hamas militant was killed, the group attacked the commander's home and set it on fire. Hamas activists pulled the commander's family out of the building before it was torched.

In their meeting in Gaza City, Abbas, Haniyeh and senior security officials discussed ways to end the violence.

"We deplore and regret these incidents," Haniyeh said. "We all are concerned and interested in stopping this deterioration. The government is going to carry out its responsibilities along with the security branches in order to maintain law and order."

Participants said Wednesday's talks focused on Hamas' controversial private militia. Hamas deployed the 3,000-member force last month, setting off weeks of bloodshed. Abbas has demanded the force be disbanded.

Haniyeh said Abbas had agreed to incorporate the militia into the regular police force in Gaza. But he declined to say when this might take place. Hamas has twice pledged to remove the militia out of public places, but it remains in position.

The wider dialogue between Fatah and Hamas has concentrated on a plan that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel and in effect recognizes the Jewish state.

Abbas believes the plan gives the Palestinians a way to form a united political front. But if the talks fail, he has scheduled a July 26 referendum on the plan, over Hamas' objections. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, wants changes in the language of the document, but Abbas says it will not be revised.

The talks have come amid a spike in fighting with Israel. On Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike killed eight civilians and two militants in Gaza. Two children were among the dead.

Abbas called the airstrike "state terrorism," and Haniyeh demanded an international inquiry.

Israel said the strike was aimed to stop militants about to carry out a rocket attack against Israel.

The airstrike followed the death of eight civilians in an explosion on a Gaza beach on Friday. Palestinians say the blast was caused by an Israeli artillery round, but on Tuesday, Israel said an internal inquiry concluded it was not to blame.

Fatah and Hamas officials rejected the Israeli findings.

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