Islam Shihuan, spokesman for the Hamas Executive Force, said Saturday that the force would be doubled and that "conscription has begun and we are calling on every loyal citizen to prepare himself to join the force." The Executive Force is independent of the more veteran Hamas military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam.
Several months ago, Abbas agreed to include the Executive Force in the ranks of forces controlled by the Interior Ministry. However, following an attack by members of the Hamas force against the home of a Fatah security commander in Gaza, killing him and seven of his bodyguards, Abbas decided to label the Executive Force as "outside the law."
Abbas' office said the decision was made "in light of the continued security chaos and assassinations that got to a number of our fighters ... and in light of the failure of existing agencies and security apparatuses in imposing law and order and protecting the security of the citizens."
Speaking to reporters later, Abbas said the force is illegal. "Creating any force needs a decree and this decree has not been issued. Anyone who says this is an independent force is going against the law and the constitution," he said in Bethlehem.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said Abbas' decree cleared the way for new attacks on Hamas men. He called the decision "a green light to those who seek to shed the blood of Executive Force members" and said the unit would "deal firmly" with anyone who attacks its men.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the militia is legal and would continue to report to the Interior Ministry.
"I am becoming completely convinced that there are those who don't want the Palestinian scene to enjoy calm and stability or to create the appropriate atmosphere for starting serious and deep dialogue aimed at reaching a national unity government," he said.
Meanwhile, three Hamas militants were killed and five were wounded Saturday evening in Gaza clashes with members of a family linked to Fatah.
The three, all members of the the Diri family, were killed in an exchange of fire between Hamas and members of the Durmush family in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, an An-Najah National University lecturer affiliated with Hamas was wounded by six militants apparently belonging to the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Fighting between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas has surged since talks on forming a unity government collapsed and Abbas called for early parliamentary and presidential elections. Hamas accused Abbas of mounting a coup.
Late Saturday, Abbas' office said he spoke to United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, briefing her on the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of her upcoming visit.
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak called on the Palestinians to urgently halt their fighting. Mubarak urged factions to "place Palestinian interests above any other considerations and work together," the official MENA news agency said.