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Chaos in Palestinian Areas Causes Fear of Anarchy
by Saima Alvi
01 August 2003 19:38 UTC
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Chaos in Palestinian Areas Causes Fear of Anarchy
Thu Jul 31, 9:06 AM ET

By Wafa Amr

RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Amneh Mansur was still holding her newborn baby when she fell to the ground, killed by a random bullet fired by a Palestinian gunman during a kidnap in the West Bank city of Nablus.


In nearby Jenin, gunmen associated with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s Fatah (news - web sites) movement abducted the local governor for five hours this month and beat him up in public, accusing him of corruption.

In the Gaza Strip (news - web sites), armed groups have seized control of some areas and established the rule of the gun.

Almost three years after the Palestinians began their uprising for independence in the West Bank and Gaza, there is chaos across the Palestinian territories and a danger of collapse into anarchy.

"There is a state of chaos in the country. It has not reached a state of anarchy yet," Palestinian analyst Ali al-Jirbawi told Reuters. "But if the haphazard conditions persist, we will be moving toward anarchy."

Arafat is confined by Israel to his devastated headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, his security forces have been depleted and the Palestinian Authority (news - web sites) has all but disintegrated. Rule from the center is weak.

A power struggle involving the president and his recently appointed prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has polarized society. The once all-powerful Fatah, the backbone of the Palestinian Authority, is divided.


The breakdown of law and order in such places as Nablus, Jenin and Gaza has spread fear among Palestinians and fueled anger against the Palestinian Authority as well as Israel, which has roadblocks across the West Bank and troops around cities.

Unsure where to turn, ordinary Palestinians have been forced to seek protection from any of a host of armed factions or the Palestinian Authority's depleted security forces.

The chaos stems not only from the "absence of the rule of law but also the absence of the tools responsible for implementing the rule of law," said former West Bank preventive security chief, Jibril al-Rajoub, a senior Fatah official.

Under a U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, Israel is supposed to withdraw from West Bank cities it reoccupied last year following a series of Palestinian suicide bombings, as well as lift roadblocks and ease the hardships of ordinary people.

That process began with a troop pullout to just outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem and a withdrawal in northern Gaza. Troops also dismantled some checkpoints.

The new Palestinian government led by Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, has started rebuilding its police force to be ready to take back power in areas evacuated by Israeli troops.

But getting back to normal will not be easy.

Jirbawi said the Palestinian Authority had failed to build a civil society based on respect for law and order. The power struggle between Abbas and Arafat, who does not want to relinquish any authority, has caused a paralysis.

Abbas is widely thought unlikely to hold on to power unless Israel implements changes under the road map so that ordinary Palestinians feel the benefit. And behind the scenes, Fatah has fallen into disarray.


"Another reason for chaos is the disintegration of Fatah," said Fatah expert Hanan al-Wazir.

Wazir said Fatah had failed to forge a strategy to make the transition from a revolutionary movement into a political party capable of running a government, and divisions have been widened during the uprising that began in September 2000.

Before he was jailed by Israel, senior Fatah official Marwan al-Barghouthi initiated a reform movement inside the group by holding low-level elections and calling for a new leadership.

Disenfranchised grassroots Fatah members have operated largely independently of the leadership in the last 34 months of violence and Arafat's leadership is more in question than ever.

"We need new blood. We demand change. The old leadership has no credibility," said Saleh Nassar, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group within Fatah.

"We believe President Abu Ammar (Arafat) is largely responsible for the mistakes. We ask that he resign along with the Fatah Central Committee."

Some Fatah members support Abbas. Nassar said he could become stronger if Palestinians feel the benefit of peace moves.

Barghouthi, on trial in Israel on murder charges he denies, is widely seen as a potential leader if he is freed from jail.

"Look, this Intifada (uprising) has changed a lot," said Nassar. "Many heads will roll, we are no longer the 'yes sir' men."


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