Moussa's assassination challenges Palestine leadership authority

The leadership of Palestine was facing a major challenge to its authority in Gaza on Wednesday night after a former security chief and relative of Yasser Arafat was dragged from his home by dozens of armed men and shot dead.

Moussa Arafat was shot in the head more than 20 times after being forced into the street in his pajamas by gunmen who blamed him for corruption and for collaborating with Israelis. They also kidnapped his son, Manhal Arafat, and said they would execute him if they decided he was also implicated in corruption.

The attack was further evidence of the freedom with which armed groups act in Gaza, at a time when Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister, hopes to demonstrate to the world the Palestinian Authority's ability to run areas under its control.

While the Palestinian Authority has large numbers of police officers in the Gaza Strip, it has little credibility compared with the armed groups that made life so uncomfortable for the Israelis in Gaza. Sources close to Abbas said he has no choice but to take strong action, particularly because the gunmen were affiliated to his own Fatah faction, reports Mail & Guardian.

According to Financial Times, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a coalition of hardline militants, claimed responsibility for killing Arafat, widely disliked in Gaza. "We have executed the will of God and rule of law because he killed people, ordered assaults on fighters and he had a big file of corruption," said Abu Abir, a PRC spokesman.

The attack came shortly before Shaul Mofaz, Israeli defence minister, said Israel would begin the final stage of military withdrawal from Gaza next Monday. Israel vowed a tough response against militant activity. Some 8,000 Jewish settlers were evacuated from Gaza and the northern West Bank last month and it is unclear when Palestinians will gain access to evacuated areas.

Israel yesterday also approved in principle for the first time the possibility of a third party presence, possibly British, at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egyptian border to ensure security after its withdrawal.

Such a move would allow the Palestinians to be in control of the movement of its people and goods. It could also pave the way for agreement on allowing the Palestinians to open air and sea ports in Gaza and complete the Israeli withdrawal.

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