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Internal Palestinian Unrest Deepens Ahead of Elections


A wave of internal Palestinian unrest is intensifying in the Gaza Strip and undermining the Palestinian Authority. The chaotic situation is overshadowing Palestinian elections, which are just three weeks away.

About 200 Palestinian policemen stormed into government offices in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, to protest the Palestinian Authority's failure to restore law and order. They smashed windows and forced the staff to leave.

It is the latest sign that Gaza is plunging into chaos, following Israel's withdrawal from the territory in September. Nearly every day, armed militants have taken over government buildings or carried out kidnappings.

Palestinian human-rights activist Bassam Eid says President Mahmoud Abbas is impotent.

"Mr. Abbas should have to understand one important thing, that security is not only important to the Israelis, it is also important to the Palestinians," he said.

Senior members of Mr. Abbas' ruling Fatah party have urged him to postpone upcoming parliamentary elections set for January 25, on grounds that the rival Islamic militant group Hamas could make a strong showing and seize power. Hamas has been growing in popularity at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which many Palestinians say is incompetent and corrupt.

Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel and is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings, is on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. Yossi Ben Aharon, a former director of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, says there will be dire consequences if Hamas joins the Palestinian parliament.

"If Hamas goes in, this will have a very definite, negative impact on any kind of chance for progress in the so-called peace process," he said.

So Mr. Abbas is under pressure from Israel, Hamas, his own Fatah party, and even the Palestinian police force. A year after he was elected on a platform to restore law and order and revive the peace process, the Palestinian leader's regime is in disarray.

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