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(photo credit: Associated Press)
More than two months after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority seems to have failed in preventing many land thieves from laying their hands on the former area of Gush Katif.
PA officials here expressed fear over "increased transgressions" on the lands that used to belong to the settlements and called for immediate action against the perpetrators. They pointed out that some of the thieves belong to various branches of the PA security forces.
Shortly after the Israeli disengagement, the PA announced plans to build thousands of housing units in the former settlements with the help of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Some of the projects may now be postponed because of the land theft.
Alarmed by the phenomenon, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to Khan Yunis and Rafah, where many families and gangs are reported to have illegally seized vast areas of land. Abbas was shocked to see that large areas had been fenced off by local families, gangs and individuals.
"The purpose of this visit is to check reports about land theft in the former settlements," said PA Information Minister Nabil Shaath, who accompanied Abbas on the tour along with Interior Minister Nasser Youssef, who is in charge of security.
"The president decided to see for himself what's happening on the ground. That's why it was important to make a surprise visit to the lands that have been stolen or are in the process of being seized illegally. We will take immediate measures to deal with the problem in light of what we saw today."
Shaath condemned the land grab as "a despicable act" against public lands. "These lands should not be fair play for a group of thieves who see an opportunity to take control of the areas that were under Israeli occupation," he stressed.
"Our people are sick and tired of those who are assaulting public lands and all the Palestinian security forces should start acting to stop the theft and defend the lands."
Adli Sadek, a prominent political analyst from Khan Yunis, accused the PA of failing to control the situation - a fact which he said has encouraged many Palestinians to lay their hands on large areas.
"Each day that passes without the intervention of the PA helps in creating new facts on the ground," he said, referring to construction work that is being carried out on public lands. "This silence on the part of the PA has also led to a black market in real estate, where anyone can buy and sell without hindrance."
According to Sadek, who was recently appointed as PA ambassador to Romania, the land theft is pushing Palestinian society closer to the abyss.
In Khan Yunis, he added, the "festival of land theft" is under way while the PA is sitting and watching. "We see this silence as a scandal and an indication that things here are collapsing," he said. "The land grab is happening under the looking eyes of the security forces."
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