- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian policemen went on a rampage over the killing of a colleague and seized the Gaza-Egypt border crossing for several hours yesterday, forcing European monitors to flee in the latest sign of growing mayhem in the coastal strip.

British aid worker Kate Burton and her parents, meanwhile, were freed late yesterday, two days after gunmen seized the family in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian mediator Kamal Sharafi said. No details were given of where Miss Burton, 25, and her parents were released or who kidnapped them.

The border takeover and the kidnapping of the Britons fed worries that chaos in Gaza is spreading to outsiders brought in to help develop the area after Israel’s pullout.

Gaza has been the scene of a wave of shootouts, kidnappings and armed takeovers of government buildings in recent months, undermining Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to impose law and order in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal in September.

In new violence, a 14-year-old boy was killed yesterday when a powerful Palestinian family attacked a local police station for a second straight day. Their assault Thursday caused the death of the police officer that set off the furious eruption by police yesterday.

About 100 policemen stormed the Rafah border terminal in the morning, firing in the air and taking up positions at the crossing, security officials and witnesses said.

The unarmed European observers — responsible for enforcing terms of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement that opened the border last month — took refuge in a nearby Israeli military base, forcing the terminal to halt operations.

The police withdrew peacefully from the border after about three hours. Several hours later, the Europeans reopened the crossing, said Julio De La Guardia, a spokesman for the observers.

The unrest threatens international efforts to help rehabilitate Gaza, where the economy is in tatters as it emerges from five years of heavy fighting with Israel.

Under the leadership of former international envoy James Wolfensohn, donors have pledged $3 billion annually for Palestinian reconstruction projects, mostly in Gaza, for the next three years.

The Rafah terminal was opened last month under an agreement negotiated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The deal opened an important lifeline for Gaza’s economy and marked the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the Israeli withdrawal.

Israel closed the border shortly before the pullout, fearing militants would smuggle weapons into Gaza. The presence of the European Union monitors was meant to address those security concerns. The crossing cannot operate if the European contingent is not present, Mr. De La Guardia said.

Miss Burton’s father, Hugh, a retired EU official, and mother, Helen, were visiting her on vacation when they were kidnapped by gunmen in Rafah, officials said.

A string of kidnappings of foreign aid workers and journalists has occurred in Gaza in recent months, with gunmen usually demanding jobs, the release of relatives from prison or other favors from the government. Hostages have been released unharmed.

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