- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian militants briefly abducted two U.N. workers and their driver yesterday in the Gaza town of Khan Younis before Palestinian security stormed the hide-out, freeing them in a hail of gunfire.

The gunmen, whom Palestinian security forces linked to a group loyal to a rival of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, stopped a U.N. vehicle driving through Khan Younis and kidnapped the three, witnesses said. U.N. officials confirmed the abduction.

Shortly thereafter, security officials broke into the building where the three were being held and escorted them to a police vehicle amid a torrent of gunfire between Palestinian security forces and the kidnappers.

Two of the victims were identified as Christine Blunt of Britain and Steven Karl of Switzerland. Their Palestinian colleague was not identified.

Authorities said the gunmen were loyal to Tunisia-based Fatah leader Farouk Kaddoumi.

On Sunday, Mr. Kaddoumi’s spokesman in Gaza, Suleiman Al-Farra, released a statement saying his boss had ordered the creation of a miniature army of about 1,500 soldiers to help the Palestinian Authority maintain law and order during Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next week.

Mr. Al-Farra was later arrested by Palestinian security officers. No official reason was given for his arrest. Mr. Kaddoumi issued a handwritten statement, threatening harsh punishment if Mr. Al-Farra was not immediately released.

The incidents reflected growing lawlessness and Palestinian infighting in Gaza in recent months as militants clash with security forces trying to consolidate their authority ahead of Israel’s planned withdrawal.

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