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Hamas Legislators Vote to Strip PLO President of Some Powers

By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JERUSALEM

In the first working session of the new Palestinian parliament, Hamas lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Monday to strip the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, of the expanded powers he had been granted by the legislature before Hamas took control of it.

Shortly after the session began, it degenerated into shouting matches between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, with Fatah legislators ultimately storming out. After the walkout, lawmakers from Hamas, the radical Islamic faction, voted to nullify all actions taken in February in the final session of the previous legislature, including the decision to give Abbas additional authority.

In violence on Monday, an Israeli airstrike on a vehicle killed five people in Gaza City: two Islamic Jihad members, who were the targets, and three young bystanders, Palestinian witnesses and medical workers said.

As for the discord in parliament, Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Fatah bloc, said, “We have tried through dialogue and contacts with Hamas to resolve this issue, but they are insisting on domination.”

Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, said, “Every time we present an important point, Azzam al-Ahmed stands up and tries to disrupt our work.”

For the most part, Hamas and Fatah have spoken of each other in respectful tones since the Hamas election victory in January, which toppled Fatah, the secular nationalist movement that dominated Palestinian politics for decades. Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats; Fatah captured only 45.

Hamas has invited Fatah and other factions to join the Cabinet. But Monday’s stormy session pointed to the likelihood of a tense, confrontational relationship, and seemed to rule out the already remote prospect that Fatah might take part.

Monday’s events also did not augur well for Abbas, the Fatah leader, who remains president and will have to work with the Hamas-led Cabinet.

On Feb. 13, more than two weeks after the election and only five days before the new parliament was sworn in, Fatah lawmakers in the departing parliament gave additional authority to Abbas.

The most controversial move formed a nine-judge constitutional court, to be appointed by the president. The court would have the power to strike down laws judged to violate the Basic Law, which effectively serves as the constitution for the Palestinian Authority. Abbas would then be able to work through the court to veto laws passed by Hamas legislators, according to Hamas.

Fatah lawmakers argued Monday that the session last month was legitimate. But in the view of Hamas, the measures passed in the final session were not valid because many lawmakers had already been voted out of office.

Because Israel has barred many legislators from traveling, those from the Gaza Strip gathered in Gaza City, while West Bank legislators met in Ramallah. They were connected in a video conference, which has become the norm for such sessions.