Amid Pullout, Palestinians Voice Security Concerns

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urges Palestinians to avoid violence during forcible evacuations of Jewish settlements in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. But militant Palestinian factions continue to claim the pullout as a victory, and tensions are high.

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It is day two of forced evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Troops have been removing protesters from two synagogues in the settlements of Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom. Yesterday, a settler killed four Palestinian laborers in a shooting rampage on the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced that attack as a twisted act of Jewish terror. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is urging his people to avoid violence. But militant factions continue to claim victory for this Israeli pullout. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Gaza City.

(Soundbite of marching band)

PETER KENYON reporting:

In Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, the small left wing militant faction known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine staged a military show. Boys and young men dressed in green camouflage and black face masks chanted and marched in place in an empty lot. It was hardly precision marching and many of the rockets on their shoulders were fakes. But an effigy of a Jewish settlement was burned and the message was clear. This group wants to keep up the armed resistance in the West Bank now that Gaza is being liberated. The FLP central committee member, Kaihad Ahul(ph), says the Israeli pullout was due to the martyrs, the gunmen and bombers who attacked Israelis for nearly the past five years and not, he says, to any diplomatic efforts by President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. KAIHAD AHUL (FLP Central Committee Member): (Through Translator) The Gaza withdrawal didn't take place as a result of the negotiations. It was a unilateral action and it's aimed to boost the occupation in the West Bank and to cut an attempt of negotiations with the Palestinians.

KENYON: Ahul doesn't seem to hear any contradiction when he says Palestinian attacks forced the pullout and then insists it's a unilateral Israeli decision, such are the complicated rationales that have evolved here. Gazans understand these martial displays by the armed factions after decades of domination by the Israelis, but at the same time, they're deeply frustrated by the lawlessness and random gunfire that still punctuates their days. Professor Atef Ibrahim Adwan at Islamic University says Palestinians are asking themselves basic questions, like, is Gaza secure? Is it safe? Are things under control? And they don't like the answers so far under President Abbas, known on the street as Abu Mazen.

Professor ATEF IBRAHIM ADWAN (Islamic University): No, it's not secure, not safe, not under control, none of these things, you see. Abu Mazen started actually to lose the confidence of our Palestinian people because he promised us a lot of things but he did nothing on the ground.

KENYON: Palestinian officials insist they do have a plan for Gaza's future. Minister Saeb Erekat says the first priority is to see that this withdrawal goes smoothly and then have local and then parliamentary elections.

Minister SAEB EREKAT (Palestinian Official): I'm going to achieve all of this through the due process because we don't own that ...(unintelligible). We represent this authority because we are elected for a period of time by the Palestinian people. But let me stress again, Palestinian political life will be built upon ballots and not bullets.

KENYON: At Gaza City's Karawan Coffee Shop(ph), the tables are filled with Palestinian men playing cards. Fifty-four-year-old Hekmot Akilla(ph) says he got up early and watched the images of Israeli soldiers wrestling with Jewish settlers on television, Al-Jazeera, Palestinian TV and on Israeli television. He says those scenes are familiar to many Palestinians who've seen their own homes invaded or demolished. But don't expect him to feel sorry for those being evicted.

Mr. HEKMOT AKILLA (Palestinian): (Through Translator) They took our land, they took our water. They left us jobless, and you want me to feel bad about those scenes?

KENYON: Akilla says he graduated from college but couldn't find a job and wound up driving a taxi. Then the intifada dried up that business, too. Now he waits, like many Gazans, wondering if this disengagement will lead to anything better. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Gaza.

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