GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian militants briefly commandeered a government building in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, demanding President Yasser Arafat reinstate comrades they said had been dismissed from the national security forces.
The Arafat-led Palestinian Authority, which is reeling from widespread unrest at charges of corruption in its ranks, rejected as “fabrication” the charges by al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades gunmen who stormed the governorate of Khan Younis town at dawn.
Hours earlier, unidentified Palestinians torched a two-storey police station in the nearby village of al-Zawaida.
“We are trying to determine who took advantage of the instability in the Palestinian territories to commit this crime,” Mayor Ahmed Abu Zayyid said. Al-Aqsa denied involvement.
Dozens of militants barricaded in the Khan Younis office building had demanded the Palestinian president fire his nephew, Moussa Arafat, whose appointment to a top Gaza security post last week sparked armed standoffs with reformist vigilantes.
By afternoon, the militants dispersed after announcing a deal under which 11 al-Aqsa men who they said had been dismissed from security jobs by Moussa Arafat would be reinstated.
“The crisis is over, as we received a decision by President Yasser Arafat to stop the dismissal,” the militants’ leader, using the nom de guerre Abu al-Haj, told Reuters by telephone.
Al-Aqsa, a disparate group of Fatah young bloods, has spearheaded a revolt that erupted in September 2000 after talks on Palestinian statehood in Israeli-occupied Gaza and the West Bank stalled. Its members have also grown vocal, and violent, in challenging the old guard’s grip on Palestinian government.
Moussa Arafat said no al-Aqsa members served in the security forces, nor had there been any firings. “This (Khan Younis militants’ claim) is a fabrication,” he said in a statement.
But Moussa Arafat added that 10 security men were under investigation on suspicion of unspecified “security offences.”
Pointing to the al-Aqsa-Fatah link, Israel and the United States accuse Arafat of encouraging Palestinian violence. He denies it.
The Palestinian president shuffled security chiefs on Monday, but did not dismiss his nephew. He has also scrambled to head off a resignation threat by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, who demands long-awaited reform of security forces.