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Gunmen abduct Palestinian businessman
Khaled Abu Toameh
06/22/2006
Abduction of pro-Hamas businessman sparks protests to end lawlessness in Bethlehem.
A Palestinian businessman from Bethlehem who was suspected of trying to establish a pro-Hamas security force in the city was shot and moderately injured by masked gunmen early Tuesday morning. The attack on Ahmed Habib, 35, triggered a wave of protests in Bethlehem, with some residents staging a sit-in strike on Manger Square to demand an end to lawlessness and anarchy. Habib was abducted by four masked gunmen from his business in the Doha neighborhood west of Bethlehem. The kidnappers blindfolded him and took him to the nearby town of Bet Sahour, where they shot him four times in both legs. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, residents said they were convinced that Fatah militiamen or members of one of branches of the PA security forces were responsible. Habib, who is receiving treatment at the Hussein Hospital in Bet Jala, said the kidnappers accused him of working toward establishing a security force on behalf of Hamas similar to the one that is operating in the Gaza Strip. He said that even before he was able to reply, the gunmen told him that two of the bullets that were being shot at his legs were intended to send a message to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Interior Minister Said Siam [who is behind the idea to establish the Hamas security force]. Asked if he knew the identity of the attackers, Habib said: "I can't determine who is behind the attack, especially since Fatah leaders and members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades came to visit me in hospital and strongly condemned the attack. They also denied any connection." Describing his kidnappers as a "fifth column," Habib said their main goal was to trigger internecine fighting in the Bethlehem area. Bethlehem governor Salah Ta'mari also visited Habib in hospital and promised to do his utmost to reveal the identity of the perpetrators. Ta'mari later held an urgent meeting with Hamas legislators from Bethlehem to discuss the attack and ways of easing tensions between Hamas and Fatah. Hassan Abdel Jawad, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the attack was extremely dangerous, because it was the latest in a series of assaults on top officials in Bethlehem over the past three months. He also pointed out that Tuesday's shooting came only days after Fatah gunmen and security officers opened fire at the home of Tourism Minister Judeh Murqus, forcing him to resign from the Hamas cabinet. Last week Habib was summoned to Ta'mari's office for questioning following reports that he was trying to establish a Hamas security force in the city. Habib denied the reports and later informed the PA security forces that the reports were based on rumors. In another development, Hamas on Tuesday accused members of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Service of launching a shooting attack at the home of a Hamas legislator near Hebron. No one was hurt in the attack, which took place on Monday night in the town of Dhariyeh, where the legislator, Muhammad al-Tal, lives. The home of another Hamas legislator, Samira Halaykah, was also the target of a shooting attack earlier this week in Hebron. Five other Hamas legislators and ministers have also been attacked in the past two months allegedly by Fatah gunmen.
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