Abbas orders crackdown after Palestinian militants fire at his offices

Arafat had given gunmen refuge at his headquarters

April 01, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered a crackdown on street chaos yesterday after gunmen fired shots at his headquarters here late Wednesday night and then ran riot, damaging restaurants and shopping areas as police ran away.

"The Palestinian Authority has taken urgent steps to re-establish security, deal with the perpetrators and protect public property," the government said, after an urgent meeting called by Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. "Units are deployed to prevent any new aggression," the statement said, promising compensation to those who suffered losses in the rioting.

The response was little consolation to Osama Khalaf, general manager of the Darna restaurant, which is popular with the Palestinian ruling elite, as he walked over broken window glass through his dining rooms, showing the smashed tables, overturned dishes and the bullet holes in the refrigerators, bars and televisions.

"This is a message to Abu Mazen," Khalaf said, kicking at the broken glass and cartridge shells. "It's a challenge to Abu Mazen. Who's going to run the show, him or the gunmen?"

Most embarrassing, perhaps, at least six of the gunmen were members of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant faction linked to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement. They were among a group wanted by Israel whom Arafat had given refuge in the presidential headquarters here, the Muqata. They remained there after he died, a gang unto themselves, Palestinian officials said.

The Palestinian commander in the West Bank, Ismail Jaber, told them this week to stop racketeering and join the security forces or hand over their weapons - as Abbas has promised the Israelis he will do with wanted men. They refused, saying they were the genuine fighters for Palestine and could not give up their weapons while the Israeli occupation continued. Then some of them led the rampage.

Abbas ordered the six, and 20 others, to leave the Muqata for refusing to give up their weapons, but none appeared to have been arrested.

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