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Middle East

Hamas Legislators Strip Palestinian President of Wider Powers

By GREG MYREMARCH 7, 2006

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JERUSALEM, March 6 - 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 last month in the final session of the previous legislature, including the decision to give Mr. 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."

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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."

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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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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. Mr. Abbas would then be able to work through the court to veto laws passed by Hamas legislators, according to Hamas.

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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.

At Monday's session, 20 of the 132 Palestinian lawmakers were absent. Some are wanted by Israel and are in hiding; others are in Israeli jails. Large portraits of a dozen imprisoned lawmakers were placed in their vacant seats.

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Aziz Dweik, the speaker of parliament and a Hamas member, opened Monday's session by saying: "The Palestinian people will be our leaders, and we will want to follow the path of the great Palestinian people, who have showed us how to resist. Our main guide will be the teachings of God and of Muhammad."

In the streets of Gaza City, about a dozen Fatah gunmen walked near the parliament building while the legislature was in session and fired their automatic rifles into the air. After a short time, they left the area.

Israel said the airstrike was aimed at Islamic Jihad, which has been behind many recent attacks against Israel.

The dead were identified by Agence France-Presse as Munir Sukar, 25, and Ashraf Shalluf, 24. Three bystanders also died: Raed al-Batsh, 10; his brother Ala al-Batsh, 14; and Ahmed Sousi, 17, according to Palestinian reports.

Israel's military confirmed that it had carried out the airstrike but said it had no information on casualties.

Also on Monday, two Palestinian teenage brothers were killed in a blast in central Gaza that was caused by a bomb that apparently went off accidentally while they were handling it, the Palestinians said.

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