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Palestinian Gunmen Seize Governor's Office in Southern Gaza - 2004-09-05


Palestinian gunmen briefly seized the Governor's office in a southern Gaza Strip town Sunday. They were demanding the Palestinian Authority do more to assist families left homeless by Israeli raids last week.

The gunmen occupied the administration office in Khan Younis early Sunday, several days after Israeli forces demolished two apartment buildings in the town. Palestinians say at least 40 families lost their homes in the Israeli raids.

Palestinian witnesses said about 15 gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group with loose ties to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, seized the governor's office in Khan Younis early Sunday and expelled most of the 22 workers in the building. The governor was not in the building at the time of the takeover.

The Associated Press quoted one of the gunmen as saying they wanted nothing for themselves, only for those made homeless. The masked men left the offices an hour later after receiving assurances from the Palestinian Authority that a mechanism was being set up to compensate those who had been made homeless by the Israeli raids.

Israel said Palestinian militants used the buildings they destroyed last week to launch attacks against Israelis and that the apartments were mostly vacant. The raid followed nearly simultaneous attacks by two suicide bombers in the southern Israeli town of Beer Sheva last week that left 16 people dead and nearly 100 injured.

Sunday's raid on the governor's office is the latest violence directed at Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which various Palestinian groups accuse of corruption.

There have been a number of shootings, kidnappings and other attacks against the Authority in recent months. Protesters have been demanding that Mr. Arafat implement reforms and remove incompetent and corrupt officials.

On Saturday Palestinian officials began a voter registration drive for a still unscheduled general election that is more than four years overdue.

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