The concerns of Hamas increased after Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed he had ordered the first shipment of arms to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to assist him in his "war against Hamas".

Official Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that he believed an inquiry was urgent particularly since Abbas failed to respond to the Islamic resistance movement's queries.

"We ask for an urgent PLC probe … what is the nature of the weapons? What is the need for them? Who has sponsored them at the time the people suffer a serious aggressive siege?" Abu Zuhri said in a prepared statement given to

In addition, Hamas called on the PLC to investigate "the size of American and Israeli intervention in the Palestinian affairs".

For his part, Abbas said recently that procuring weapons was essential for the Palestinian Authority's (PA) security apparatus to maintain law and order.

He did not directly address the request by Hamas for a probe.

Arms accords

But Saeb Erekat, a former Palestinian negotiator and current Abbas aide, says there is nothing irregular in the shipment of arms to the PA.

"Whether President Abbas denies or not, the Palestinian-Israeli accords guarantee that Egypt and Jordan must support the PA apparatuses with light weapons and that's what had happened from 1994 to 2000," he told

Erekat explained that under the accords, Egypt and Jordan intermittently provided the Palestinian police and security apparatus with armaments even during the intifada.

He also called for Israel to do its duty towards the PA, saying: "Israel must support the PA apparatuses with their needs guaranteed by the Palestinian-Israeli accords."

Doubt cast

Nevertheless, Hamas officials have cast doubt on the intended use of the weapons.

Hamas said that the President Guards' Apparatus had received three lorries containing 3,000 M16 rifles and three million M16 bullets. They alleged that half of the shipment was sent to Gaza, with the rest heading for Ramallah.

An officer in the Presidential Guards told on the condition of anonymity that he traded in his old weapons gear for the new ones among those delivered last week.

The new weapons, he said, "consist of an improved M16 rifle, 180 M16 bullets, one pistol, 44 pistol bullets, four hand grenades, two tear gas grenades and two sound grenades.

"All members of my apparatus will receive new weapons in the coming days."

Abu-Zuhri told that Hamas has information that such weapons reached the hands of the PA apparatuses, but he did not provide details.

Political tensions

Nevertheless, Abu-Zuhri played down any likelihood that the arms delivery will create a rift among armed Palestinian factions.

"Relations between Hamas and Fatah are good and balanced and such an issue doesn't affect these relations," he said.

In recent weeks, security forces from Hamas and Abbas's Fatah clashed as factions sought political control of Palestinian territories.

Their political platforms vis-a-vis Israel have exacerbated tensions as Abbas sought to hold a referendum on peace negotiations.