GAZA CITY // The top security official in Hamas-ruled Gaza said he is considering setting up a bigger military force, first with volunteers and eventually with conscripts as well. Such a step could further tighten Hamas' control of Gaza and deepen the rift with the group's Western-backed rivals in the West Bank. Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007, wresting control from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Currently, Hamas has a paid security force of about 18,000. Interior minister Fathi Hamad raised the idea of a broad-based force today during the inauguration of a new police building. He said his ministry is "open to the idea of voluntary recruitment and then going to conscription." He gave no details. Mr Hamad's spokesman, Ehab Ghussein, said the ministry is currently looking only at voluntary recruitment, not at a possible draft, and that the final decision would be up to the Hamas government. "We deny that the Interior Ministry will impose a draft" on the residents of Gaza, Ghussein said in a statement. A security official in Gaza said conscription would be too expensive because of the large number of potential recruits. More than half of Gaza's 1.5 million residents are under age 18. However, joining the security services for a limited period, with minimal pay and on a voluntary basis could benefit some of Gaza's young men, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters. About one-third of the labor force is unemployed. Such a system would also give Hamas direct access to a wider segment of the population. Also today, Israeli authorities demolished a Bedouin village in the southern Negev desert. The village was built on land residents identify as their property but which Israel's government says is owned by the state. Of the some 160,000 Bedouin Arabs living in Israel's south, about half live in such unrecognized villages, usually in hastily erected metal shacks and tents. Yeela Raanan, an activist with an organization working for the Bedouin villagers, said more than 1,000 police arrived at dawn with bulldozers and knocked down the 35 homes that had made up the village of al Arakib. While demolitions are common, she said there had not been one of similar scale in several years. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the demolitions were carried out after a court process lasting over a decade. There was no violence and no one was hurt, he said. But Izzat Rashaq, a Damascus-based leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, urged Israeli Arabs to carry out a "mass uprising" to confront the Israeli plans that "aim at destroying Palestinian villages in the Negev." * Associated Press