July 2, 2005

Fatah gunmen storm Gaza offices to demand jobs

GAZA (Reuters) - Dozens of militants linked to PalestinianPresident Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group raided a governmentbuilding in Gaza on Saturday, demanding he make good on a dealto recruit them into his security forces.

About 40 armed men from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, somemasked, stormed the Legislative Council building in the town ofRafah and occupied it for four hours. They said they had notused violence or held anyone hostage.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry called the protest"useless" and said committees were still discussing the issueof hiring the men. Al-Aqsa is linked to Fatah, the mainPalestinian faction.

"The ministry ... will not succumb to any blackmail attemptmade by any of the armed groups," the ministry said in astatement. "The ministry and its agencies will not hesitate toimpose the law and protect private and public properties."

The incident follows months of growing lawlessness in theWest Bank and Gaza Strip. The gunmen's demand for work comes ata time when Gaza's economy has been shattered by more than fouryears of fighting.

The Palestinian Authority said last month it had agreed togive hundreds of gunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades jobs inits security forces to keep them off the streets. Militants aresupposed to hand over their weapons but no timetable has beenset.

Abbas is under pressure from Israel and the United Statesto reform security forces and disarm militants as a part of aU.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. He has already replaced mostof his security chiefs.