Lawlessness persists in Gaza Strip as Israeli soldiers prepare to withdraw
DEIR EL-BALAH, Gaza Strip – Palestinian gunmen briefly abducted an Italian journalist and attacked government buildings Saturday in the Gaza Strip, signs of the lawlessness that threatens to intensify in the territory after Israel hands it over to the Palestinians early next week.The last Israeli soldiers were to leave on Monday, or a day later if the Israeli Cabinet decides to raze more than two dozen synagogues still standing in demolished settlements. The Cabinet was to vote on the emotionally charged matter on Sunday, and Israeli media reported that momentum was gaining against demolition.A Palestinian official, meanwhile, said the Palestinian Authority wouldn’t take part in a ceremony on Sunday marking the handover, in part to protest Israel’s failure to conclude a critical agreement on the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which Israel shut down temporarily this week.The crossing is the Palestinians’ main gateway to the outside world, and the Palestinians are afraid that its closure – coupled with existing restrictions on entry to Israel, and the lack of a harbor or airport – would lock up Gaza’s 1.4 million residents.”The Palestinians have decided not to participate in the so-called handover ceremony,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to discuss the matter with the media.Among other things, “the Israelis have provided the Palestinians with no answers on the future of the border crossings, especially Rafah,” the official said.The Israeli military said it had no information about a Palestinian boycott and the ceremony would take place as planned.Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was expected in Gaza soon to try to wrap up a deal between Israel and the Palestinians on the crossing. Israel, concerned about security, has agreed in principle to have foreign inspectors deployed at the Rafah crossing when it reopens, refurbished, for passenger traffic. But it says a final deal depends on how effectively the Palestinians rein in militants.Two hundred Egyptian border guards took up position along the volatile Gaza border Saturday to prevent arms smuggling and illicit crossings after the Israelis end their 38-year occupation of the coastal area. An additional 550 Egyptian soldiers are to be assigned to the desert frontier during the coming week, officials said.While Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt prepared for the transfer of power in Gaza, the power of armed gangs there remained unchecked.Masked gunmen abducted Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of the Corriere della Sera daily in the Gaza town of Deir El-Balah but released him unharmed about four hours later, Palestinian officials said.Palestinian security officials said the kidnappers were among the 60 armed Palestinians who earlier in the day occupied the local governor’s headquarters and Interior Ministry offices in the town, demanding jobs with the Palestinian Authority. They took Cremonesi in an attempt to bolster their claims, the officials said.In Gaza City, three gunmen opened fire from their car at the Interior Ministry press office, touching off a brief gunbattle with the building’s guards. No one was injured and the gunmen escaped, the ministry said in a statement.”There are many elements and many parties who are interested in preserving the chaos, because they cannot live under law and order,” ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said in the statement.”But this situation is not going to continue after the end of the Israeli occupation,” he added, promising laws will be enforced.Palestinian officials have said that after Israel’s military pullout, they would prevent Palestinians from entering the evacuated territory for at least three days so police could secure the area. But so far they haven’t been able to control crowds that have gathered outside the settlements Israel emptied two weeks ago.Hundreds of Palestinians turned out Saturday in Khan Younis to station themselves to watch Israeli soldiers withdraw from what was once the main settlement bloc, Gush Katif. Dozens of youths hurled rocks at four Israeli tanks positioned there while Palestinian policemen struggled to chase them away.Nearby, dozens of gunmen from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party marched to the Tuffah crossing between Khan Younis and Gush Katif, ignoring orders from Palestinian police to stay back and fired shots in the air. An Israeli tank was stationed 100 yards away.Israel threatened on Saturday to deliver an unprecedentedly harsh response to any attacks from Gaza after Israeli troops quit the territory.”An hour after we leave the field, there will be a strategic change…in the nature of our response to even an attempt at terror,” Maj.-Gen. Yisrael Ziv, the military’s chief of operations, told Israel Radio. “We shall have a far more extreme reaction to any attempt.”He didn’t elaborate. While Israel has in the past used air strikes and tank assaults against militants, it declared a policy of relative restraint after a February cease-fire.Vail, Colorado
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