Emergency PA cabinet meeting convened in Gaza City as anarchy continues

The PA cabinet held an emergency meeting in Gaza City on Saturday to discuss ways of ending the state of lawlessness in PA-controlled territories, as anarchy grew in the Strip. Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh, who is formally in charge of the PA security forces, presented the cabinet with a new "security plan" aimed at restoring law and order. Contrary to expectations, the cabinet did not take any decision on the plan. Instead, it decided to hold another meeting next week to discuss ways of implementing it. Kawassmeh also briefed the cabinet on efforts to secure the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza City more than three weeks ago. Some of the ministers expressed deep concern that Johnston's abduction, in addition to the growing anarchy, could prompt the United Nations to declare the Gaza Strip a "dangerous zone." PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh were scheduled to meet late Saturday night to discuss the security situation in the Gaza Strip and efforts to release both Johnston and kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit. The two were also expected to reach an agreement on the formation of a new National Security Council comprising representatives of all Palestinian factions. But even as the Hamas-led cabinet was meeting in Gaza City, anarchy continued on the streets. PA security sources said Muhammad Samhan, 21, was shot and seriously wounded as he was walking in the street in the town of Bani Suheila, south of the Gaza Strip. Hamas accused Fatah gunmen of being behind the assassination attempt. A hitherto unknown group calling itself The Apparatus of the Oppressed claimed responsibility for hijacking two vehicles belonging to the PA General Intelligence Force in the center of the Gaza Strip. PA security sources said the group apparently consisted of Palestinian security officers who were recently fired because of their affiliation with Hamas. The sources also reported that Hamas and Fatah gunmen exchanged gunfire in several locations in the Gaza Strip in the past 48 hours. On Friday, unidentified gunmen shot and wounded Rasem Bayari, chairman of the Palestinian Workers Union, outside his home in Gaza City. No group claimed responsibility. Fatah gunmen later announced that they had captured three Hamas members who were allegedly involved in the attack. Hamas legislator Ismail al-Ashkar claimed that Israel and the US were continuing to arm forces loyal to Abbas and his Fatah faction. He said that in recent weeks large shipments of weapons had entered the Gaza Strip with the hope that they would be used by Fatah against Hamas. The Israelis and Americans, he added, have decided to fight Hamas by using Palestinian puppets. "The weapons that they are sending to the Gaza Strip are for use against Palestinians, not the occupation," he said.