Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.
American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.
Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.
“We need at least another 70 soldiers. This is just a joke,” said Taysir Haddad, one of 22 security guards assigned to Neve Dekalim, formerly the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza. “We’ve tried to stop as many people as we can, but they’re like locusts.”
The failure of the security forces to prevent scavenging and looting in the settlements after Israel’s troop pullout Monday raised new concerns about Gaza’s future.
‘We are not going to tolerate chaos’
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told his people in a televised speech Tuesday that he would take immediate steps to impose order. “We have one law for everyone and no one is above the law. We are not going to tolerate chaos after today,” he said.
The Palestinian leader is under intense pressure from his people and the international community to stop the growing lawlessness in Gaza, where rival militant groups are jockeying for power. As Abbas spoke, hundreds of masked Hamas gunmen wielding rifles and grenade launchers paraded through the streets of a nearby refugee camp.
The greenhouses are a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority hopes the high-tech greenhouses left by the Israelis will provide jobs and export income for Gaza’s shattered economy.
During a tour of Neve Dekalim, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia implored Palestinians to leave the structures intact. “These greenhouses are for the Palestinian people,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to touch or harm anything that can be useful for our people.”
Jihad al-Wazir, the deputy Palestinian finance minister, said roughly 30 percent of the greenhouses suffered various degrees of damage. He said that after a “very heated meeting” with Qureia and other Palestinian leaders, the security forces appeared to be getting the situation under control.
“We expect the security to protect the assets properly,” he said.
Al-Wazir said the greenhouses did not suffer structural damage, but that looters got away with irrigation pipes, plastic sheeting and most troublesome, water pumps. He said authorities were trying to recover the expensive pumps.
Israel eyes strengthening hold in West Bank
In other developments Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz toured two West Bank settlements, Karnei Shomron and Beit Arieh, and said Israel must develop the main blocs there after its Gaza pullout.
“We have to make every effort to direct resources to strengthen the settlement blocs,” Mofaz said, according to his ministry. “We must do everything possible to strengthen the residents’ feeling of security.”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said one reason for the Gaza pullout was to strengthen Israel’s grip on its main settlement blocs in the West Bank, where 246,000 settlers live. Palestinians demand a complete Israeli pullout from the West Bank after its withdrawal from Gaza.
Also Tuesday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a clash near the West Bank town of Hebron, Palestinian hospital officials said. They said the teen was shot in the chest by troops in the village of Tafuh.
The army said troops in the village were attacked by a crowd of about 500 people hurling stones and concrete blocks, and a soldier was slightly injured. Troops fired rubber bullets at the attackers, one of whom was seen being taken away in a Palestinian ambulance, the military said.