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(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority officials on Thursday expressed fear that the United Nations may formally declare the Gaza Strip a dangerous zone - a move that would result in the evacuation of the remaining foreign nationals from the area and drastically hamper international humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
PA security sources told The Jerusalem Post that 25 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip last month in internal fighting. Another four were killed in the West Bank, the sources added.
"We're moving very quickly toward such a scenario," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the PLO executive committee and a close aide to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "The Gaza Strip is full of thugs and gangsters who are responsible for the ongoing anarchy. Soon the Gaza Strip may be declared a dangerous zone, which means that all international organizations would have to leave."
The UN has yet to issue any formal statement to such effect.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that a "dangerous zone" declaration would increase the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and called on the PA security forces to start working to end the state of lawlessness and anarchy.
"The Gaza Strip has become worse than Somalia," a prominent human rights activist in Gaza City told the Post. "Thousands of gunmen continue to roam the streets and the new government hasn't done anything to restore law and order. Every day you hear horror stories about people who are killed and wounded. The situation is really intolerable."
Muhammad Dahlan, who was recently appointed PA National Security Adviser, said it was time to admit that a "curse has hit" the Gaza Strip. "Anyone who does not admit that there's a curse in the Gaza Strip does not know what he's talking about," he said.
Dahlan expressed concern over the wave of kidnappings in Gaza, noting that a local engineer who was abducted several months ago was still being held by his captors. He said that the National Security Council was now preparing a security plan that would end the state of anarchy in the PA-controlled areas.
"The Palestinian security establishment needs to undergo major surgery," he added. "The situation is catastrophic and many young men prefer to work for clans and not the security forces."
Dahlan met earlier with the British consul-general in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, and briefed him on the PA's efforts to release kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was snatched by masked gunmen in Gaza City three weeks ago.
Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the commanders of the PA security forces knew where Johnston was being held, but were doing nothing to release him. "What's the point in having 85,000 security officers if they can't free a foreign journalist who has been held in the Gaza Strip for three weeks?" he asked.
Dozens of Palestinian journalists demonstrated outside Abbas's office in Gaza City on Thursday to protest against the abduction of Johnston. Addressing the journalists, Abbas said he was doing his utmost to secure the release of the BBC corespondent.
"This case will be resolved very soon," he said without elaborating. "We will not allow such things to recur." Abbas's bodyguards fired into the air to prevent the protesters from approaching his office. No one was hurt.
Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed to form a joint "operations command" to follow up on the case of Johnston.
The new PA government is expected to hold an emergency meeting in Gaza City on Saturday to discuss ways of restoring law and order. But many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip expressed pessimism, saying it was too late to talk about ending the state of chaos.
"There are too many gangs and weapons out there," said the human rights activist. "No government will be able to create a new situation."
He pointed out that at least 46 civilians had been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip in the past four weeks. The latest kidnappings took place on Thursday, when unidentified gunmen abducted three people, including one woman, in separate incidents.
Most of the kidnappings were related to family feuds and rivalries between political groups, particularly Fatah and Hamas.
Also Thursday, the bullet-riddled body of a Hamas security official, Muhammad Abu Hajileh, was discovered east of Gaza City. Abu Hajileh was a member of Hamas's "Executive Force" in the Gaza Strip.
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