Sana Abdallah
Middle East Times
October 22, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sacked his intelligence chief in the West Bank, Brig-Gen. Tawfiq al-Tirawi, in a move widely believed to be part of security reforms linked to ensuring the success of upcoming reconciliation talks between rival Fatah and Hamas in Cairo next month.

Officials from both sides stressed that the dismissal of Tirawi was not capitulation to any condition set by the Islamist Hamas movement for the Egyptian-mediated dialogue. But the timing was viewed by Palestinian insiders as an attempt by Abbas, who leads the Fatah movement, to build confidence ahead of the rival talks due to be launched in Cairo on Nov. 9.

Careful not to appear as if his decision was politically motivated or meant to appease Hamas, Abbas, simultaneously promoted Tirawi by appointing him as senior security adviser with the rank of minister, and tasked him with heading the Palestinian Academy in Jericho.

The decision goes into effect on Nov. 21. His deputy, Mohammed Mansour has become the acting intelligence chief.

The official Palestinian Authority (PA) media also sought to relay the decision as nothing more than routine, saying Tirawi was "reassigned" because he had already reached the legal retirement age of 60 for unelected civil servants.

The influential intelligence head turned 60 last year, but Abbas extended his tenure by one year because of the crisis and geopolitical division that ensued after Hamas violently ousted the Fatah-led PA from the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

The veteran Fatah member, described by some as "Ramallah's strongman," had submitted his resignation in 2005 because he believed not enough was being done by Palestinian security commanders to end lawlessness in the Palestinian territories. But Abbas rejected his resignation at the time and asked him to remain at the intelligence helm.

However, Tirawi was among leading security officials that Hamas accused of having led a massive crackdown on the Islamist movement's activists and institutions in the West Bank, which included the arrest of 1,500 Hamas members over the past two years.

Analysts argue that the pivotal intelligence role he played could not have been disregarded by Abbas as Fatah prepared to embark on reconciliation talks with Hamas to end the deep rift that has divided the people and separated the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, insisted that his group had not sought the dismissal of the security chief as a condition to begin talks, neither did they asked the Egyptian mediators to pressure Abbas in that direction.

Analysts say the Islamist movement was just as eager as the PA leadership not to show that Abbas was submitting to Hamas' conditions by "reassigning" Tirawi, but they suggest that it was nevertheless meant as a confidence-building measure.

Tirawi has a long history of leadership in the Fatah movement, which he joined as a young man in 1966, shortly after the establishment of the Palestinian revolutionary movement. During his university studies in Lebanon, he headed the General Union of Palestinian Students and made his way up to various posts.

He returned to the West Bank as intelligence chief with the establishment of the PA after the interim Oslo peace accords in 1994, and remained close to the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, until his death four years ago.

Fatah officials close to the leadership said that Tirawi was prepared for Abbas' decision and that the two had agreed on it without animosity during a meeting they held on Tuesday.

They said the news that Abbas was about to replace the intelligence chief earlier this week had led to opposition and tension with the security service, but that Tirawi had urged his men to show restraint. One official said that he told them it was natural to ultimately leave his post and to accept Abbas' decision to maintain unity and order.

Tirawi's removal has been described by some as a "changing of the old guard," amid reports that Abbas was preparing to make further changes within the security service; perhaps not so much to appease Hamas as to continue making "reforms" the president is said to be seeking.

Palestinian sources say that Abbas has in recent months asked the directors of security departments to assign deputies to pave the way for their own retirement, adding that he urged them to find deputies from Gaza as well so as not to widen the gap between both Palestinian territories.

Abbas has in recent months retired and transferred hundreds of old-time security officers.

Many commentators agree it is unclear whether the security reforms Abbas was seeking were linked to the "negligence" that led to Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza, to build confidence among Hamas supporters to pave the way for national reconciliation, or to restore internal order that has been disrupted by power struggles within his own Fatah faction.

Regardless of his motives, Palestinian pundits believe that the Palestinian president might be on the right track.


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