Palestinians express anger at police force following internal Palestinian clash

Wednesday, October 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Militant Islamic groups and other Palestinians expressed anger Wednesday at Yasser Arafat's police force, saying officers were responsible for the violence that erupted at a demonstration in support of Osama bin Laden.

Palestinians rarely criticize Arafat publicly, and the hostility was directed mostly at police handling of Monday's demonstration-turned-riot at the Islamic University in Gaza City, where two people were killed and dozens injured.

Still, Palestinian sentiment also included jabs at Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which has little to show after encouraging the Palestinian uprising against Israel for the past year.

``There is strong anger against the Palestinian Authority,'' said Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of the militant Hamas movement.

Hamas does not want to see confrontations with the Palestinian Authority, said Zahar, who called on Palestinians to focus their anger on Israel and the United States instead. However, he claimed ``the majority of (Palestinian) people are not accepting the (Palestinian Authority) policies nowadays.''

Arafat finds himself in a delicate position.

He says he is committed to a cease-fire with Israel and has sought to distance his government from bin Laden. However, a sizable number of Palestinians want the uprising to continue and also oppose the U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan.

The internal Palestinian fighting on Monday, the worst in years, has added to Arafat's problems.

Police used guns, clubs and tear gas to battle hundreds of protesters with guns and stones. Most protesters were Hamas supporters.

Police said masked gunmen from inside the university opened fire and were responsible for the two deaths. But human rights groups have blamed police.

Arafat _ who was in Qatar on Wednesday _ has not commented publicly on Monday's clashes.

Police ordered all schools closed and kept foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip on Monday and Tuesday. The restrictions were eased Wednesday, with schools reopening and foreign journalists allowed in.

However, the Islamic University remained closed, along with neighboring Al Azhar University.

Palestinian police patrolled the streets of Gaza to prevent further demonstrations in support of bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on Washington and New York.

Palestinian police have arrested about 50 people in the wake of Monday's demonstrations, a Hamas official said. Police were seen arresting protesters throwing stones and firebombs at the scene.

Rioters who smashed shop windows and looted the offices of Palestinian Airlines were also taken into custody, security sources said. The sources confirmed dozens of arrests were made, but did not give a figure.

``After one year of the uprising, the Palestinian Authority has returned to its rule as a police force that defends Israeli security and is directing its fire at the holy warriors in Palestine,'' said the militant Islamic Jihad.

The group demanded Arafat investigate Monday's shootings and charge those responsible. Among those killed was a 13-year-old bystander, Abdullah Rifranji.

``We are so angry and condemn completely the Palestinian police for using live bullets,'' the boy's uncle, Sami Rifranji, told Wednesday.

Zahar Abdel Hadi, 29, a baker in a Gaza City refugee camp, said, ``It's very ugly when you see your brothers fighting each other. I believe this will serve only the interests of our enemy (Israel).''

In Qatar, Arafat accused Israel of taking advantage of the U.S war against terrorism to tighten its control on the Palestinian territories.

``While the world is busy with the American tragedy, the Israeli government is using its military might to escalate its aggression against our people and to reoccupy our land,'' Arafat told a gathering of Muslim foreign ministers. He also renewed his call for international protection and observers to monitor the cease-fire with Israel.

At the same conference, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath denounced bin Laden. In a videotape released Sunday, bin Laden had stressed his support for the Palestinians.

``If (bin Laden) thinks that he serves the Palestinian cause this way, then let him be responsible for his remarks. We will not be,'' Shaath said Tuesday.

Since fighting erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, 677 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 184 people have been killed on the Israeli side.