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Abbas quashes militant's appointment to Palestinian security post

JERUSALEM—Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday quashed a Hamas attempt to appoint a militant on Israel's most wanted list to a top security post, as divisions between Abbas and Hamas sharpened.

Less than 24 hours after the new interior minister appointed militant Jamal Abu Samhadana as a security adviser, Abbas rejected the move as illegal.

Israeli and American officials condemned Abu Samhadana's appointment, saying it showed that the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian government supported terrorism. Abbas seeks peace talks with Israel; Hamas advocates Israel's destruction.

Abu Samhadana became one of Israel's most wanted militants after he formed the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group of militants. The group staged the first attacks that destroyed Israeli tanks and claimed responsibility for killing a top Palestinian security adviser last summer. It also was suspected of being behind a 2003 bombing of a U.S. convoy at the Gaza Strip border with Israel that killed three American security workers. Israel tried to kill Abu Samhadana in 2004 with a missile attack.

Abu Samhadana is popular in Gaza, and some Palestinians think he could help end widespread disrespect for the law.

Abu Samhadana's appointment by Hamas, however, was a direct challenge to Abbas amid an increasing power struggle over who'll control the 60,000-strong Palestinian security forces.

Hamas won a decisive victory in January's Palestinian parliamentary elections, which gave it the right to control the new Cabinet, but Abbas aides have looked for ways to deny the incoming leaders control over security.

Earlier this month, Abbas named a loyal ally to a top post in the Interior Ministry, placing himself between the Hamas interior minister and the security forces, most of whom are loyal to the president's Fatah party.

Abu Samhadana's appointment was viewed as a counter-strike.

On Friday, Abbas announced that the move was illegal under Palestinian law and said he was blocking Abu Samhadana's appointment. The president said the interior minister had no authority to create a new security post or to set up a new security force made up of militants, as Hamas had planned.

Hamas officials disputed the president's interpretation of the law and planned to meet this weekend to discuss their options.

Before Abbas' move was announced, Abu Samhadana told al Jazeera television that he wouldn't give up his role as a leading militant fighting Israel when he took over the security post.

"My new job will not prevent me from my work with the (Popular Resistance) Committees," he said.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MIDEAST-HAMAS

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