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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Several greenhouses belonging to the former settlement of Morag in the Gaza Strip were destroyed over the weekend during an attempt by dozens of gunmen to take control of the area.
The Palestinian Company for Economic Development, which is in charge of thousands of greenhouses that used to belong to Morag and other settlements in Gush Katif, said the attack, which took place on Friday, was the latest in a series that began almost immediately after the settlements were evacuated.
The company revealed that hundreds of greenhouses and other agricultural installations have been sabotaged over the past few months, expressing its outrage over the recurring phenomenon. The company issued an urgent appeal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Interior Minister Said Siam to intervene to halt the attacks on the lands belonging to the former settlements.
"These greenhouses and other installations and projects provide a source of income for over 4,500 families," company officials said. "We are very disturbed by the recurring attacks and thefts. Such actions jeopardize the largest agricultural project carried by the Palestinian Authority after the Israeli withdrawal."
In response to claims by some families regarding their ownership of the lands, the company noted that Abbas had issued a presidential decree on the eve of the withdrawal to establish a special committee that would look into each one of the claims on condition that the owners provided relevant documents.
Friday's attack on the greenhouses, the biggest since the Israeli withdrawal, was carried out by dozens of gunmen belonging to a number of families living in the area. PA security forces opened fire at the attackers, killing 21-year-old Rami al-Masri and wounding four others.
The security forces managed to regain control over parts of the greenhouses, PA security sources told The Jerusalem Post. They said the attackers caused heavy damage to most of the greenhouses before leaving the area.
"This was the most dangerous attack on the liberated lands of the settlements," said one officer. "In the past few months there has been a sharp rise in attempts by local families and gangs to seize control over the lands. We are doing our utmost to protect these lands, which belong to all Palestinians."
Following Friday's confrontation, hundreds of gunmen took to the streets in the nearby city of Khan Yunis and opened fire at PA policemen. Four policemen were wounded, one seriously, and three police stations were set on fire. The gunmen also blocked the main road between Khan Yunis and Rafah and chanted slogans against the PA and its security forces.
Militiamen belonging to various groups in the Gaza Strip have set up training bases on some of the evacuated lands, further escalating tensions in the area. Most of the camps belong to Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees.
PA Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal on Saturday urged all the groups to evacuate the training bases "for their own safety." Referring to Friday's events, Abu Hilal strongly condemned the attacks on the PA security forces and said a special committee had been established to investigate the killing of Masri.
"We will find all those who attacked the police and we will punish them," he said. "We won't allow anyone to attack policemen and security installations. We will use weapons against anyone who carries weapons."
The mayor of Khan Yunis, Fayez Abu Shamalah, on Saturday resigned in protest against the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in his city. He was particular enraged by repeated attacks on the municipality by gunmen belonging to various groups.
Last week scores of gunmen stormed the municipality and threatened to kill the mayor and other officials. The raid was apparently linked to disputes over the ownership of lands in the areas that were evacuated by Israel.
Hamas legislators called on the PA to use an iron fist against the gangs that attacked the greenhouses, pointing out that hundreds of greenhouses had been destroyed in recent months. The legislators branded the attackers as thieves, but stopped short of blaming any of the armed groups.
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