GAZA, June 15 (RIA Novosti) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency and dissolved the government after six days of bloody gun battles, in which Hamas fighters wrested control of key Fatah strongholds in Gaza.
Militants of Islamist group Hamas stormed key security buildings in the crowded Gaza Strip Thursday, eventually gaining control of Fatah's Preventative Security Service headquarters and seizing the presidential compound, the last point of resistance for Abbas's presidential guard in the region.
An eyewitness told RIA Novosti: "the presidential compound fell without resistance. Now active looting is going on, people are stealing everything they can lay their hands on."
The president said he would form a new cabinet to rule by decree, replacing the government coalition in which power has been shared since March by the two rival groups. But deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the government would ignore the decision, which he called "hasty," and blamed Fatah for provoking the Islamists.
The militant wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said Friday that the group had captured the commander of the presidential guard and other senior commanders in Gaza.
More than 30 people died in Thursday's bloodshed, and at least 100 have died in Gaza shootouts in the last six days. The president made his announcement from Ramallah in the West Bank. The larger Palestinian territory remains relatively peaceful, although Fatah militants began rounding up Hamas fighters Thursday, in retaliation against the Gaza coup.
The latest developments in Gaza have provoked international alarm, with the possibility of violence spreading to the West Bank, and the strong likelihood that the Palestinian territories will undergo a permanent split, into an isolated Hamas-led Islamic state in Gaza and a Fatah-led state in the West Bank, with Western backing.
Egypt racked up security on its short border with Gaza, deploying police and armored vehicles. Israel pledged not to allow the violence to spill over onto its territory, but has not hinted at military intervention in Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Abbas to back "moderates" in the region, and the European Union has suspended the remaining aid projects in Gaza, most of which had already been frozen following Hamas' election victory last year.
However, sacked premier Haniyeh gave reassurances that Hamas would maintain law and order in Gaza, "firmly and decisively," and rejected unilateral decisions on the part of the president, who now has no control over the war-torn region.
"We came to power through elections, and have the support of 96% of the Palestinian people. No unilateral decisions can be made here. We will respect democracy and the political system... The government will continue its work, and we will not desert our people," Ismail Haniyeh said in a live Palestinian TV broadcast.
A Hamas spokesman said on local radio: "We are telling our people that the past era is over, and will not return. The era of justice and Islamic rule has come."
The 22-nation Arab League, whose foreign ministers are set to meet in Cairo Friday to discuss the violence, warned of a "disastrous outcome" to the militant coup, and the organization's secretary general, Amr Moussa, called for an immediate ceasefire.