- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip — More than 100 masked men dragged former Gaza security chief Moussa Arafat into the street in front of his home and pumped 23 bullets into the pajama-clad cousin of Yasser Arafat before dawn yesterday.

The grisly assassination, just hours before Israel announced it would pull its last soldiers from the Gaza Strip early next week, fed rising doubts about the capacity of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces to control the territory.

Mr. Arafat, who had been widely accused of corruption, was the highest-ranking figure to be killed in internecine violence that has plagued the Palestinians since the start of a five-year uprising against Israel.

Scores of gunmen surrounded Mr. Arafat’s Gaza City residence at about 4 a.m., exchanging gunfire with his bodyguards and firing rocket-propelled grenades. The gunmen left Mr. Arafat’s body in the middle of the street and abducted his son, Manhal, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Mr. Abbas, who lives less than a mile from the scene of the shootout, condemned the attack and declared a state of emergency in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman also denounced the assassination.

“t’s a very dangerous act that targeted one of the Palestinian security figures who had a history in this field,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. “It’s a real violation against the Palestinian people.”

Citing worsening security and Israel’s upcoming military pullout from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Mr. Abbas has canceled plans to travel to New York this weekend to attend the U.N. General Assembly from Sept. 14 to 16.

An obscure group of militants known as the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing Mr. Arafat of corruption and collaboration with Israel.

Popular Resistance, thought to be made up of militants affiliated with Fatah — the party founded by Mr. Arafat’s cousin, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — in the past has claimed attacks on Israeli targets, including two Merkava tanks.

Some have speculated that Popular Resistance operates as a front for rival Palestinian military chiefs.

An Israeli government spokesman said he thought the attack was the work of Hamas, the militant group expected to mount a strong challenge to Fatah in January parliamentary elections.

“The Palestinian Authority is at its weakest. They have to start doing something if they want to stay in power,” said Ra’anan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“There are indications that the Palestinian Authority isn’t capable or willing to confront those organizations who are breaking the law.”

Israel’s Cabinet will vote on Sunday to order the military out of Gaza, allowing the army to leave as early as the next day. Mr. Gissin said Israel has sped up its exit from Gaza out of concern about growing chaos.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian child was killed by Israeli tank fire after a group of protesters marched toward the former Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim.

Rivalries among Palestinian militant groups — many of them Fatah affiliates — have escalated over the past two years of the Palestinian uprising. Some think the fighting will increase once the Israelis pull their troops out of Gaza, further weakening the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Abbas dismissed Mr. Arafat as Gaza security chief months ago, but kept him on as a military adviser. Critics say he ran a Mafia-like organization that extorted money from Palestinians; Mr. Abbas’ administration was criticized for failing to investigate the charges.

Palestinian forces did not intervene to stop yesterday’s shootout, even though it took place several hundred yards away from the headquarters of the preventative security service.

“There is no system there, and apparently field commanders don’t have a mandate to act,” said Salah Haider Shafi, a political analyst. “It’s a situation of complete paralysis of the security force.”

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