A Palestinian civil rights group on Sunday said Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's administration is ignoring a rising tide of lawlessness, including illegal arrests and torture carried out by its own security forces.
Presenting its report for last year at a news conference in Ramallah, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights (PICCR) said Arafat's Palestinian Authority appeared to be losing its grip on security in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"It is clear that within the Palestinian Authority there is a shortage in decision making," PICCR chairman Mamdouh Aker told reporters. "They are disabled and incapable of enforcing law and order."
Commission director Said Zaydani said that while there were 48 domestic murders in the Palestinian areas last year, police had not only failed to arrest any suspects but had not launched serious investigations.
Palestinians put some of the blame on Israel. During the first part of the current conflict, Israeli forces destroyed numerous Palestinian police installations, charging that the forces were involved in terrorism. Now the police say they are short of facilities.
Aker said the police also turned a blind eye to car theft and failure to license and insure vehicles, while court orders often went unenforced, leading to a danger that vigilante groups would arise to take the law into their own hands.
"When killings and other violations of law take place, and the Palestinian Authority doesn't take serious measures to confront them, the people will not trust the law," he said.
For some time Palestinian analysts and Israeli intelligence officials have warned of a growing wave of anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza, with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority losing ground to armed militia groups in several areas, while authorities are unwilling to confront them directly for fear of sparking civil war.
"The phenomenon of people taking the law into their own hands is not new in the Palestinian Authority, but it is lately on the rise," Zaydani said.