Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Cycle of family feuds increasing violence in Gaza

An endless toll of kidnapping and murder fueled by political and factional violence risks tearing this small strip of land apart

THE GUARDIAN , GAZA CITY

It began with a kidnapping, a beating and the theft of a white Mitsubishi saloon car. Two months on, Omar Yusuf Hadad, 77, a retired businessman, sat in an armchair in his flat in Gaza City and calmly admitted that his family had captured, questioned, beaten and killed one of their neighbors. Then, with impunity, they dumped his body in the street just outside their own apartment block.

"Yes, we kidnapped him and made our own investigation. He admitted his crime and so we shot him in the street, among the sewage, just 50m away from here," he said. "This is how it is now: Families are taking justice by themselves. I got my rights and now I feel relaxed."

Omar Hadad oversaw the killing of his neighbor to avenge the murder 10 days earlier of his own son. There is now a cycle of family feuds in Gaza, an endless toll of kidnapping and murder fueled by the political and factional violence still tearing this small strip of land apart.

A rare summit seven weeks ago in the Saudi city of Mecca was supposed to have stopped the infighting. It brought together the leaders of the rival Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah to halt the slide towards civil war. But accounts from Palestinians on the ground suggest the enmity continues and the new, long-awaited, coalition government is struggling to rein in the violence.

Caught up in this continued lawlessness is Alan Johnston, the respected BBC Gaza correspondent who was kidnapped three weeks ago and who, to the growing concern of his colleagues, is still being held.

Although a large criminal clan is suspected of being behind the kidnapping, it is still not clear precisely who holds Johnston or what they want. There were more warnings last week that gunmen were hunting for other foreigners to kidnap. The failure of the new government to resolve what has now become the longest-running hostage case shows the scale of the crisis.

"I'm really worried about the situation," said Sufian Abu Zaida, a former minister and senior Fatah leader from northern Gaza. "Since the establishment of the unity government on the ground nothing is changing."

Nothing would change, he said, until the major factions were disarmed, which was a huge task. Meanwhile, the infighting comes at huge cost.

"We have a very good experience of self-destruction as Palestinians," he said. "And I think the kidnapping of Alan Johnston is one of these ways of self-destruction."

The feud between the Nofals, a Fatah family, and the Hadads, a Hamas family, began in January. Those days saw the worst of the fighting between Fatah, the secular movement which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, and Hamas, its Islamist rival, which was elected into power last year.

Arafa Nofal, 34, was a recruit in the Preventative Security force, the large, Fatah-dominated security service. Early on the morning of Jan. 29 he was kidnapped, robbed and beaten. Three days later he was released. His kidnapping was only one in a series of tit-for-tat clashes between the rival groups.

His money and cellphone were stolen, along with his car, which he had recently bought hoping to earn some extra money as a taxi driver. In his account of the kidnapping, Nofal said there was no doubt the men who took him were members of the Izzedin al-Qassam brigades, the Hamas armed militia.

"They beat me. They tied my hands and covered my eyes. I was held without food or water," he said.

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