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Palestinian Authority Declares State of Emergency in Gaza - 2004-07-17

The Palestinian Authority has declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip following a spate of kidnappings. The move came after a senior Palestinian police official and four French citizens were kidnapped.

The Palestinian National Security Authority, headed by Yasser Arafat, declared the state of emergency early Saturday. Extra police have been deployed around government buildings in Gaza and all leave for security personnel has been canceled.

On Friday, Gaza's preventive security chief Rashid Abu Shbak and the head of general intelligence, Amin Hindi, submitted their resignations to Mr. Arafat who declined to accept them.

Palestinian gunmen abducted four French aid workers as they sat at a cafe late Friday in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. The four, two men and two women, were held for several hours but were later released. The kidnappers said they acted to draw international attention to Palestinian suffering caused by the Israeli occupation.

Militants also abducted, and then released, Palestinian police chief Ghazi Jabali. Two of his bodyguards were wounded in a shootout during the abduction which took place as the police chief was driving along the coastal road south of Gaza City. Palestinian security officials said Mr. Jabali was freed after the militants were given assurances that he would be dismissed from his post and brought to trial on corruption charges. Shortly after his release, the director of military coordination in southern Gaza, Col. Khaled Abu Aloula, was seized from his car while returning to Gaza City from Khan Younis.

Palestinian officials blamed recently fired policemen for the Aloula kidnapping.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia is to hold an emergency cabinet meeting later Saturday amid concerns that the unrest could bring down his government. The deteriorating situation reflects the growing disagreement among militants trying to strengthen their positions ahead of a planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says will happen by the end of 2005. Israeli authorities have also announced a ban on travel to the Gaza Strip for all Israeli citizens and permanent residents including journalists because of the security situation.

In the West Bank meanwhile, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, has banned the chief U.N. envoy from entering Palestinian areas or meeting with Palestinian officials. The ban follows a similar order issued by the Palestinian Authority. Earlier this week U.N. envoy Terje Roed Larsen publicly criticized Mr. Arafat. He told the U.N. Security Council the Palestinian leader was blocking vital reforms in the Palestinian Authority and hindering peace efforts.