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(photo credit: AP [file])
The first violent dispute over land in the former Gaza settlements left a 17-year-old participant dead and several other people wounded in clashes Friday between clans claiming the area and Palestinian Authority police.
Scuffles between competing clans erupted even as the last IDF troops evacuated Gaza on the morning of September 12, when several tribal leaders staked out private land they claim Israel expropriated during its 38-year presence in the Gaza Strip.
The PA Interior Ministry reported that between three and four police officers and several armed gunmen were wounded in a shootout on Friday, the bulk of which took place at the police headquarters in Khan Yunis.
The shootout erupted after PA police arrested two members of two different clans for staking out land in the Muwassi area near the former settlement of Neveh Dekalim. The clans sent armed tribal members to sack the police station and free the prisoners.
"This is PA government land," said Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Husa in a telephone interview about the latest challenge to the PA's wobbly rule in Gaza.
The police headquarters sustained damage and three patrol cars were torched, said Abu Husa. He said the PA is determined to crack down on such lawlessness and has bolstered the number of police in the streets and erected some checkpoints.
The PA has also launched a formal investigation into the events, according to the Interior Ministry.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has set the former settlements, which amount to about 20 percent of the Gaza Strip, for public use. Much of Neveh Dekalim will be ceded to build a new campus for the Khan Yunis-based Al-Quds University.
During the establishment of most of the Gaza settlements in the 1970s and 1980s, Israel made sure to build the communities in land designated state land by Gaza's previous ruler, Egypt. However, in building some of the massive defensive works to secure an increasingly threatened population of Gaza settlers, the IDF expropriated large tracks of privately-owned Palestinian land.
Nevertheless, leaders of certain tribes, including the Astal and Farra tribes who participated in the fracas on Friday, say part of the land belongs to them.
Before Israel's Gaza withdrawal, many feared that Hamas would challenge the PA's authority in the former settlements. But Hamas appears poised to challenge the PA in the parliamentary elections slated for January 25, and the test of the PA's authority has instead come from increasingly powerful Gaza clans.