Palestinian leaders demand end to Gaza looting

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip - Palestinian leaders have demanded a halt to looting after Israel's military withdrawal from Gaza and said Palestinians should start rebuilding in abandoned Jewish settlements.

A day after Israelis left and wild celebrations erupted, Palestinian security forces began to curb movement into former settlements and intercept scavengers to seize booty carried away from ransacked synagogues and greenhouses in the coastal strip.

But chaos reigned along the Gaza-Egypt border for a second day as Palestinians, no longer stymied by an Israeli army buffer zone, scaled walls to stock up on cheap Egyptian cigarettes, livestock and electrical items for use or resale at home.

President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie issued the demands for an end to the looting, reflecting concern that Palestinians should show the world they can establish good governance in Gaza as a proving ground for a future state.

In a televised speech, Abbas said it was vital to establish order for the sake of statehood aspirations in the Gaza Strip and the larger West Bank.

"I tell you, frankly, we have a historical opportunity that hinges on our good performance.

Today there is no room for personal agendas," Abbas said in an apparent reference to armed factions rejecting his peacemaking efforts with Israel.

"From today we will not allow armed chaos, the taking of the law into individual hands, or attacks on public property."

Abbas said there were plans to build 3,000 homes in a new town that would be established in place of another settlement, as well as hundreds more houses in the southern Gaza town of Rafah in place of those destroyed during Israeli raids.

At Neve Dekalim, site of what had been Israel's largest settlement in Gaza, Qurie urged people to stop stripping synagogues and greenhouses of building materials and equipment left behind after 38 years of Israeli occupation.

"You won't profit from a pillar, plastic tubing or pieces of wood that you are taking. Protect them because they are yours."

After generally standing by and at times even joining the wild celebrations, Palestinian security forces began controlling entry and exit from settlements and confiscating pilfered items such as piping, roof tiles and window frames.

The 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank evacuated last month were the first uprooted on territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want for a state.

- REUTERS

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