· Shooting and kidnapping in Fatah, Hamas violence
· Jobless militias behind wave of bloody feuding
Palestinian leaders yesterday tried to end the political and clan violence that has plagued Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal by ordering their followers to keep guns off the streets during this week's elections.
The growing lawlessness, fuelled by the proliferation of weapons turned inward now there are no Israelis to fight, has resulted in a string of shootings, kidnappings of foreigners and inter-family feuds that have left a score of people dead. The situation has been exacerbated by the strong showing of Hamas against the established Fatah regime.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has described the overall security situation in Gaza as deteriorating daily and warned that some of the violence is intended to ‘undermine’ the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in 10 years on Wednesday.
The latest victim is Suleiman Ashabia, a campaign manager of the small Third Way party. On Friday evening, he responded to a phone call from a stranger asking for election posters and agreed to meet in the market of Maghazi refugee camp. About a hundred yards from Mr Ashabia's home, a masked man appeared, raised a Kalashnikov and fired.
‘I am 90% certain it was political,’ said Mr Ashabia from his bed at Gaza's Shifa hospital. ‘The man who called asking me to bring election posters was asking: what are you wearing? As I walked home, someone asked if my name was Suleiman. He said I was dressed well and then he fired. I tried to jump on him, but there was a bullet in my knee. I fell down and he kept shooting me.’ One bullet shattered Mr Ashabia's left knee and five others lodged in his right leg and hand.
Mr Ashabia, 24 and training for the Palestinian navy's police force, had not expected to be a target. The Third Way party, which is led by two prominent Palestinian moderates - the peace negotiator, Hannan Ashrawi, and the finance minister, Salaam Fayed - is a bit player in the election. But it has been very active in Maghazi, where the ballot is close fought between Fatah and Hamas. Whoever was behind the shooting, it was taken in Gaza as further evidence of the collapsing control of the Palestinian Authority.
Tawfik Abu Khousa, a senior official at the Palestinian interior ministry responsible for national security, said part of the reason for the deterioration of security is that militias that until last summer had been fighting Israel ‘have more and better weapons’ than the PA's forces.
‘This violence has happened in the past four months after the Israeli withdrawal. If you think of the four years of the intifada, it wasn't like this at all,’ he said. ‘Everybody who was fighting against the Israelis now wants work. We have very high unemployment and these people have weapons they used to shoot at the Israelis. They want the PA to employ them and the authority is not capable of doing it, so they use the guns.’
Fatah's primary elections were halted after members of its own al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, primarily known to the outside world for its suicide bombings, burned ballot boxes in protest at the failure of its members to be given greater representation. But the security situation has not been improved by the Fatah leader in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, whose own security detail has a reputation for thuggery.
The PA's failing control has allowed small disputes to escalate. Some of the violence begins with minor factional disputes and then flares into inter-family feuds after someone is killed. In Beit Hanoun, north of Gaza City, a feud between two families grew out of an accident between a car and a donkey cart. Two months later, nine people are dead.
Earlier this month, a member of Hamas's military wing in Gaza City, Rami al-Dalo, was shot dead in a dispute over the pasting of Fatah and Hamas election posters in each other's strongholds. The Dalos blamed a neighbouring Fatah-supporting family and the confrontation turned the area into an armed camp.
In Khan Yunis, at the southern end of the Gaza strip, a small war that has so far cost six lives, and led to barricaded streets, grew out of a row between two fishermen. In the same town, families embroiled in smuggling have recruited militiamen for protection and 11 policemen were wounded in a gun battle.
A series of kidnappings, which prompted the United Nations to withdraw its foreign workers from the Gaza strip, was carried out by members of the militias demanding jobs in the security forces.
Last month gunmen grabbed a pro-Palestinian British activist, Kate Burton, and her parents who were visiting Gaza.
The police arrested Alla al-Hams, the commander of a well-armed al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade unit of men who spent years attacking Israeli army posts and Jewish settlements. Mr Hams, who denies kidnapping the Burtons, claims to have lost 20 men fighting the Israelis. But since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip last summer, he and his men have found themselves at a loss. They no longer receive regular payments from Fatah, and feel they are owed jobs. ‘We fought for the liberation of Gaza and our reward should be that it looks after those who have sacrificed,’ he said. ‘What has been done for us? We have no jobs, we have no money. Our families are hungry.’
After Mr Hams was detained by the Palestinian security police, his men occupied municipal offices in Rafah, shut the frontier crossing and bulldozed through the wall along the border. Two Egyptian frontier guards were killed and 25 injured. The PA released Mr Hams.
Ballot points: a rare and crucial event
· Wednesday's election to the Palestinian parliament is the first in 10 years, and only the second ever.
· 728 candidates are contesting 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
· Half the seats will be filled by direct election by constituency and the other half by proportional representation drawing on party lists.
· There are 485,000 registered voters in Gaza and 788,000 in the West Bank.
· The race is dominated by the contest between the ruling Fatah and Hamas. Hamas boycotted the 1996 ballot on the grounds that it implied recognition of the Oslo peace accords with Israel, but it has decided to take advantage of a strong political base built on widespread dissatisfaction with Fatah's corruption and incompetence.
· Hamas is campaigning as the Change and Reform movement because it remains a banned terrorist organisation in Israel. Latest polls put Hamas two or three percentage points behind Fatah, at about one-third of the vote.
· The founding charter of Hamas calls for the eradication of Israel, but that does not appear in its manifesto.