July 2, 2005

Fatah gunmen storm government 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.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry said it was checking thecircumstances of the incident but declined immediate comment onthe latest unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that has seenmonths of growing lawlessness.

Abbas's government agreed last month to give hundreds ofgunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades jobs in its securityforces in a bid to keep them off the streets, officials said atthe time, but gave no timetable for removing their personalweapons.

About 40 armed militants from the group, some masked,stormed the Legislative Council building in the town of Rafahto protest the delay in the move and occupied it for fourhours. They said they had not used violence or held anyonehostage.

Group spokesman Abu Wael said all the gunmen left theoffices and would wait for a response from the PalestinianAuthority elsewhere. Al-Aqsa is linked to Fatah, the mainPalestinian group.

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.

The al-Aqsa gunmen relayed their message to the PalestinianAuthority through a local lawmaker, Abed-Rabbo Abu Awn, whosaid they "have raised a legitimate demand which they seek jobsin order to be able to support their families."