Palestinians Take Over Election Office
January 04, 2006

Palestinian gunmen with ties to the ruling Fatah faction took over an election building in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, election officials and witnesses said.

About 40 gunmen from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades entered the building in the town of Rafah while firing in the air, the officials and witnesses said. Election workers fled as the militants took up positions.

The gunmen are loyal to Alaa al-Hams, a militant arrested late Tuesday by Palestinian police who suspect he was involved in the kidnapping last week of three British citizens.

Gaza gunmen have been taking over government buildings and kidnapping foreigners almost daily, demanding jobs and sometimes the release of prisoners. The gunmen who took over the Rafah election office did not immediately demand the release of al-Hams, witnesses said.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas facing a serious electoral challenge by the Islamic Hamas group in a Jan. 25 parliamentary election has failed to rein in lawlessness and has been reluctant to confront militants. Palestinians are increasingly angered by the chaos that has engulfed Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

British aid worker Kate Burton and her parents were held for two days by Gaza gunmen last week. Other foreigners and foreign journalists have also been kidnapped in Gaza recently, and many countries have warned their citizens against visiting the coastal area.