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Palestinian gov't in chaos amid abductions
Updated: 2004-07-17 09:12

Two senior Palestinian security officials resigned Friday and the Palestinian prime minister called an emergency session on the future of his government after a wave of kidnappings, including those of four French citizens and a Palestinian police chief.

Early Saturday, the Palestinian government called a state of emergency in Gaza to cope with the rising violence. The declaration called for increased protection around Palestinian government facilities and canceled all leave for security officials.

Three masked gunmen can be seen inside of the Red Crescent Society headquarters building in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, late Friday July 16, 2004, where five French citizens are believed to be held captive. Five French citizens, including two women who were later released, were kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen late Friday as they drank coffee in Khan Younis, and according to witnesses the five were taken to this Red Crescent building. The three Frenchmen continue to be held. [AP]
Although the kidnappers released the four French hostages, the crisis may have reached a breaking point with one Palestinian official predicting the meeting could be the last for Ahmed Qureia's government.

The four French volunteers, working on an electrical project in the southern city of Khan Younis, were released unharmed by the gunmen, who said they acted to draw world attention to Palestinian suffering caused by Israel's occupation.

Later Friday, two Palestinian security officials sent their resignations to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in response to the deteriorating security situation.

However, Arafat refused to accept the resignations of the head of the Palestinian intelligence service, Maj. Gen. Amin al Hindi, and the head of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip, Rashid Abu Shbak.

A Palestinian official said the Palestinian government would meet in the coming hours to discuss the resignations and the situation in Gaza.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting could be the last for the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

The deteriorating situation in Gaza reflected the growing tussle by militant groups and individuals to strengthen their positions before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fulfills his pledge to withdraw Israeli forces and some 7,500 settlers from Gaza late next year.

Hours before the French were kidnapped, the director of military coordination in southern Gaza, Col. Khaled Abu Aloula, was seized from his car while returning to Gaza City from Khan Younis.

Palestinian security officials blamed recently fired policemen whose request for reinstatement was refused by Aloula.

Also Friday, Palestinian Chief of Police Ghazi Jabali was ambushed in his car three miles south of Gaza City. The militants smashed a car window, pulled Jabali out and sped off toward the Bureij Refugee Camp, witnesses said.

Two of his bodyguards were wounded in a shootout. The militants apparently were angry about not getting jobs with the security forces.

Hours later, Palestinian Authority officials negotiated the release of Jabali, who was driven in a convoy of Palestinian security officers and officials of Arafat's Fatah party to his office in Gaza City, where he greeted supporters wearing his uniform and black beret.

A group from the little-known Jenin Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the abduction. But other militants said the gunmen were members of a militia Jabali himself created to back his bid for power after the Israelis leave Gaza.

Several new militant organizations have appeared in Gaza, many grouped under the umbrella of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee. The committee, which has no clear political agenda or ideology, was pressing for more jobs in the police force for its members.

As head of the police, Jabali has been identified as Arafat's "enforcer," a tough leader known for cracking down on dissenters.

But Jabali has made enemies over the years among Palestinians who see him as part of the corruption that riddled the Gaza administration.

Jabali has been the target of several attacks this year. He escaped harm in April when militants planted a bomb at his home.

He has clashed with Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security chief also bidding to bolster his position as the Israelis prepare to leave.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group affiliated with the ruling Fatah party, has banned the chief U.N. Mideast envoy from entering Palestinian territories or meeting Palestinian officials.

The group's order followed a similar ban by the authority and represented an escalation in Palestinian anger over envoy Terje Roed-Larsen's public criticisms of Arafat.

The order could be considered a warning that the Norwegian diplomat could be attacked if he defied the ban.

A group spokesman said on condition of anonymity that Arafat aides asked the militants to release the statement against Roed-Larsen. But another Al-Aqsa official denied that in a phone call to The Associated Press.

"The statement reflects our views," said Abu Amin, an Aqsa leader in the West Bank town of Jenin. "It has nothing to do with Yasser Arafat."

Roed-Larsen has long been considered close to Arafat and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

But earlier this week, Roed-Larsen told a U.N. Security Council briefing that the Palestinian leader was blocking vital reforms within the Palestinian Authority and hindering peace moves.

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