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Owners of Internet cafes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday appealed to Palestinian Authority security forces to take tough measures to stop recurring attacks on their businesses.
The appeal was made after unidentified assailants detonated explosive charges inside an Internet cafe in the town of Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip. No one was hurt in the pre-dawn attack, but the place was completely damaged, witnesses told The Jerusalem Post.
Wednesday's attack was the third of its kind in less than a week and the 48th in the past five months. In addition, a number of shops selling cassettes, DVDs and CDs have been targeted.
PA security sources said the attacks were the work of a radical Islamic group that began operating in the Gaza Strip last year. The group, which calls itself Swords of Islamic Righteousness, is believed to be an offshoot of al-Qaida.
Its members have also claimed responsibility for assaults on women whom they accused of being dressed immodestly.
"This is a dangerous group of thugs who are using Islam as a pretext to carry out their crimes," said a senior PA official in Gaza City. "These people are distorting the image of Islam."
A local journalist told the Post that the group began operating in the Gaza Strip last October.
"The word on the street is that they belong to al-Qaida," he said. "They are trying to impose strict Islamic teachings; they want a Taliban-style regime in the Gaza Strip. For them, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are too moderate in their views."
PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said the government would hold an urgent meeting on Saturday to discuss the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
Majed Abu Shamaleh, a Fatah parliamentarian
from the Gaza Strip, expressed deep concern over the attacks on the Internet cafes and music shops.
"A tiny group of despicable thugs is responsible for a series of attacks on various institutions," he said, pointing out that several schools and colleges have also been targeted in recent months.
"The attacks on the Internet cafes and music shops are a sign of the cultural and intellectual deterioration in Palestine," he said. "I can't believe why the police have not been able to arrest even one suspect in all the incidents. The Internet has become an inexpensive and easy source of education for our people."
In another development, Palestinian physicians called on Hamas to remove its paramilitary "Executive Force" from the premises of hospitals in the Gaza Strip. The force was deployed by former PA interior minister Said Siam of Hamas as part of his efforts to impose law and order.
The presence of the Hamas militiamen in the hospitals has created tensions with rival Fatah gunmen. The two sides have repeatedly engaged in gun battles in and around the hospitals.
The physicians' call came after one of their colleagues complained that he had been beaten by Hamas militiamen stationed at Shifa Hospital, the largest medical center in the Gaza Strip.
"We appeal to the minister of health, Radwan al-Akhras, and interior minister, Hani Kawassmeh, to pull all the Executive Force gunmen from the hospitals in the Gaza Strip," they said in a statement. "These gunmen are responsible for the anarchy. They must be replaced by ordinary policemen."