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Yasser Abu Moailek: Anarchy looms in Gaza again

Anarchy looms in Gaza again

By Yasser Abu Moailek

On the night of Friday, June 11, in a quiet Gaza suburb, 32-year-old accountant Majdi Shurrab miraculously survived death. Twice.

"I was returning home with my family from a friend's house, when a group of gunmen suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started exchanging fire with security officers near a roadblock. A bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit the upper part of my car's windshield," Shurrab said.

A group of almost 40 gunmen - all from different Palestinian militant groups but sharing the same family name, had attacked the Palestinian Preventive Security headquarters in the quiet Gazan suburb of Tal Al Hawa.

Earlier that day members of the Preventive Security had wounded and arrested two militants in a clash after the militant had refused to stop firing mortar shells at a nearby Jewish settlement.

The militants were hauled to the nearby headquarters, where they were detained. The counterattack was part of the effort of their families - not the militant group they belong to - to free them, security sources asserted.

After having survived death or injury on the roads Shurrab and his family rushed to their fourth floor apartment, where the family watched silently and fearfully the heavy shooting between both sides.

"I hid my two young daughters and my wife in the rooms not overlooking the street where the firefight was and went to the balcony to see where exactly the shooting was taking place.

"When I turned back to reenter the apartment a bullet whooshed past my right ear, smashing the balcony's glass door and settling in the wall of the living room."

The fighting that Shurrab witnessed was one of the first signs of a wave of lawlessness that has swept the streets of the Gaza Strip in recent days. For several months following the announcement of the ceasefire by Palestinian factions and the announcement of an imminent Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and northern West Bank, that kind of lawlessness had almost disappeared.

At his office in the heart of Gaza City's commercial street, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, the Palestinian interior ministry's spokesman, reviewed several security briefings and responded to many phone calls from journalists asking about the wave of violence and weapons chaos.

The security situation that day was a mess. Abu Khoussa was mediating many problems among warring groups within the security services and following the daily crime rate sheet. Eventually, he turned off his mobile phone.

"The lawlessness that has erupted on the streets is the result of the recent shifts and transformations in the Palestinian security establishment since the new interior minister, Maj. Gen. Nasr Youssef, took office," he said.

"Dismissing some security chiefs who were tainted with corruption, promoting more discipline among security personnel and enforcing the law on the streets has led many corrupt officials and warlords to try and foil these reform steps and weaken people's trust in the ministry's efforts," Abu Khoussa explained.

During the four-and-a-half years of mutual violence in the region, the interior ministry spokesman continued, Israel had destroyed a large part of the Palestinian security infrastructures, while weapons smuggling conducted by different militant groups was at large. This made way for the emergence of armed splinter cells that behaved like gangs in the Palestinian territories.

"The abundance and lack of control over weapons through smuggling coupled with the loosened grip of the Palestinian security during the intifada provided optimum conditions for the rise of armed groups that have committed crimes and profiteered at the expense of the citizens' sufferings, while passing themselves off as resistance fighters," Abu Khoussa said.

When the minister of interior incorporated the 12 security services into three main bodies, the voices of dissent from these groups grew louder.

Talal Okal, a political analyst and a columnist at a local newspaper in Gaza, notes that as security problems continued to swell and Palestinian security services further deteriorated, crime rates went up.

He made clear that the Palestinian Authority (PA) remained silent even as attacks targeted its structures and officials.

"In such circumstances it is uncertain whether the security services and police will be able to handle the duties of protecting areas and properties left by Israeli forces and settlers once [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's plan is carried out," Okal noted.

But while many intellectuals and the mainstream Palestinian media view PA achievements in the security arena as inadequate, PA interior minister Youssef argues that security changes require more time to be effective.

"We are fighting a state of security corruption and gang wars within the security systems that has manifested itself for more than four years, and changes so dramatic will take some time to bring positive results," Youssef said before a parliamentary hearing in Gaza. "But we will combat corruption and return the honor and dignity of security bodies to their old forgotten legacy," he added.

As far as average citizens were concerned, immediate security reforms are a necessary breeze of fresh air after a long period of internal feuds among security warmongers.

"I want to raise my young daughters to the sounds of birds singing and waves breaking on the beach," said Shurrab, "Not to the sounds of bullets and bomb explosions."


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