Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the tenuous Hamas-Fatah government on Thursday and declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Abbas, who is part of Fatah, delivered the news in a statement in the West Bank city of Ramallah, as Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip were overwhelming their Fatah rivals to seize control of key security posts.
In his statement, Abbas also fired Prime Minister Ishmail Haniyeh, of Hamas.
The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault, reporting from the region, said Abbas's declarations will likely have little impact on Hamas, whose supporters have taken the Gaza Strip by force after six days of intense battles that have left more than 100 people dead.
"[Abbas's] words sound tough in practice, but they aren't at all," Arsenault said. "Hamas knows it now absolutely controls the Gaza Strip."
She said Fatah still has control of the West Bank.
"Now we have two Palestinian entities," Arsenault said. "Gaza under Hamas rule and West Bank under Fatah rule, and no one at this point knows what tomorrow will look like."
Abbas has hinted he wants to see an election to install a new government.
Hamas, which won the most seats in the January 2006 Palestinian Authority election, was forced to form a coalition government with Fatah three months ago because of renewed violence and a Western-led boycott that had shut off billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.
The most recent violence between Hamas and Fatah gunmen stemmed in part from a battle over who would control key positions and security forces in the coalition. More than 32 people died on Thursday alone.
A Palestinian government spokesman said Abbas will have little ability to enforce martial law under a state of emergency in a region where forces loyal to him have been decimated.
"His options are not many," Mustafa Barghouti told CBC News Thursday in a telephone interview from Ramallah.
"The outcome of any measure will be the separation of the West Bank from Gaza, which is a very dangerous matter," added Barghouti, who ran as an Independent candidate for the Palestinian Authority presidency in 2005 and lost to Abbas.
Hamas overruns Fatah security headquarters
Earlier Thursday, Hamas fighters tightened their control of the Gaza Strip when they overran the most important security installations controlled by Fatah.
Hamas Television broadcast images of surrendering Fatah fighters, some brought out in their underwear with their arms in the air as the green flag of Hamas was raised above the Preventive Security headquarters in Gaza City.
The media quoted witnesses as saying some captured Fatah fighters were dragged from the installation and executed on the street, but their accounts could not be confirmed.
- Hamas gunmen at night seized the National Security headquarters, Fatah's last stronghold in Gaza.
- The southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah fell to Hamas fighters, according to witnesses and security officials allied with Fatah.
- Hamas accused Israel of entering the conflict by firing a tank shell at a vehicle in Rafah that Palestinian hospital officials said killed six people, including five children under age 16. The Israeli army denied its forces fired at the area.
- In Rafah, masked Hamas fighters positioned themselves at checkpoints and various positions in the streets to search for people with weapons and potential Fatah members, said resident Yasmene Moor, who had just returned to the town after studying in the United States.
Arsenault said Israel will certainly be concerned about the increasing violence in the Gaza Strip and Hamas's increasing power.
Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told a weekly meeting of security officials that Israel would not allow the violence to spread into attacks on southern Israel, according to meeting participants.
Meanwhile in the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the America backs Abbas's move. Abbas called Rice early Thursday to inform her of his decision.
The European Commission, meanwhile, suspended tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid projects in the Gaza Strip because of the escalating violence, a day after the United Nations. announced it would scale back its relief projects there.