Toronto Star, Sep. 15, 2005. 09:52 AM
Militants assume police powers in Gaza
Chaos, looting follows return of territory
KATIF, Gaza Strip (AP) Armed militants set up checkpoints in Gaza's evacuated Jewish settlements for a second day today, doing the job of Palestinian security officials who have been unable to rein in the chaos since Israel's withdrawal.
Dozens of gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades a militant group linked to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah movement were determined to restore order and stop fellow Palestinians from looting valuable equipment from greenhouses Israel left behind.
The gunmen's rule underscored the weakness and ineffectiveness of Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which has failed to impose law and order throughout Gaza. The lack of control was most apparent along the Gaza-Egypt border, where people have been crossing largely unfettered since Israel's pullout on Monday.
Abbas's inability to control the area strengthens the rival Hamas militant group just three months ahead of a parliamentary election, when Fatah and Hamas are to face off for the first time in a political playing field. The outcome of the Gaza power struggle could greatly influence voting.
Driving in a three-car convoy and protected by a dozen gunmen, Raed al-Ayde, the local Al Aqsa commander, checked in on his forces. He made a quick stop at the former Katif settlement, where 20 Al Aqsa gunmen, identifiable by their black baseball caps, had set up shop on Wednesday.
Alongside them, just 12 Palestinian police were stationed at the entrance to the former settlement. Their uniforms were shabby and incomplete, and not all of them had weapons.