RAMALLAH, West Bank – Hundreds of Palestinian security men loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas went on a rampage against the Hamas-led government Monday, riddling the parliament building and Cabinet offices with bullets before setting them ablaze in retaliation for an attack by Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip.
The violence was the most serious in the West Bank since Hamas defeated Abbas’ Fatah movement in legislative elections in January and raised new fears the Palestinians could be headed toward civil war. It also cast doubt on renewed calls for Palestinian unity by the rival factions.
Abbas, a moderate who was elected separately last year, has been locked in a bitter power struggle with Hamas. The dispute has focused largely on control of the powerful security forces.
In Monday’s unrest, hundreds of members of the Preventive Security force shot out the windows of the parliament building before storming the two-building Cabinet complex, where they smashed furniture, destroyed computers and tore up documents. No casualties were reported.
Shooting wildly in the air, the mob then set fire to one of the Cabinet buildings, gutting the fourth floor. When a fire engine approached the scene, one gunman lay on the road, preventing it from reaching the building.
“Every time they touch one of ours in Gaza, we will get 10 of theirs in the West Bank,” said one member of the Preventive Security force. Dozens of gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a pro-Fatah militia, joined the mob.
Most of the Palestinian infighting in recent weeks has occurred in Gaza, Hamas’ stronghold. Monday’s incident signaled that Fatah is now ready to move the conflict to its West Bank power center.
Abbas was in Gaza at the time of the rampage, where he has been holding negotiations with Hamas in hopes of ending the political deadlock.
“The president strongly condemns the attacks and the assault against the public institutions and the building that took place in the West Bank tonight,” said a statement issued by Abbas’ office.
Officials said Abbas had appointed a retired commander to serve as a military adviser and liaison to the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. The appointment of Lt. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaide could help ease tensions. Majaide is respected by Fatah and Hamas alike.