The top police officer in the Gaza Strip was kidnapped Friday by Palestinian gunmen, who paraded him through the streets of a refugee camp and accused him of stealing $22 million in public funds, Palestinian security officials and eyewitnesses said. The gunmen later released the officer unharmed and said the incident was intended to publicize his corruption.
Ghazi Jabali, who has led the Gaza police force for most of the past 10 years, was abducted at about 3 p.m. when several cars pulled in front of his convoy and cut it off as it traveled along Gaza's Mediterranean coastal road, according to Palestinian security sources. Gunmen opened fire and bundled Jabali into a car that then sped away, they said. Two of his bodyguards were wounded in the incident, the sources said.
Jabali was taken to the Buraig refugee camp in central Gaza Strip, where his abductors, members of the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, paraded him through the streets, firing their weapons into the air and accusing him of plundering the public treasury, eyewitnesses said. They said the gunmen claimed it was the first step in a new campaign against corruption.
Senior officials from the governing Palestinian Authority opened negotiations with the group soon after the abduction, and Jabali was released after about two hours.
Militants also kidnapped four French citizens in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis and held them at the offices of the Red Crescent Society there. Hours later, the four -- two men and two women -- were released unharmed.
Later Friday, two senior Palestinian security officials in Gaza -- Rashid Abu Shbak, the head of the Preventive Security agency, and Amin Hindi, chief of intelligence -- resigned over the incident. They cited "the state of anarchy and chaos" in the security situation in Gaza and the refusal by the governing Palestinian Authority to implement reforms, according to Qadura Fares, the Palestinian cabinet's minister of state.
[Saturday, a security panel headed by the Palestinian Authority leader, Yasser Arafat, declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip, the Associated Press reported.]
Fares said the pair were angry at being undercut by politicians who negotiated a deal that allowed the kidnappers to go free, rather than holding them accountable.
The abduction underscored the growing discontent among Palestinian militants and the general public with rampant corruption within the Palestinian Authority. It also highlighted the growing security disarray in Gaza, where radical militant groups increasingly rule the streets and are challenging the leadership of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
"We gave three years to the Palestinian Authority to carry out reforms. We waited a long time. But they didn't do anything. We are doing this in our way," Abu Iyad, who was identified as a spokesman for the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, said on al-Jazeera satellite television. "Ghazi Jabali was kidnapped to hold him accountable for his mistakes against our people."
Jabali was appointed by Arafat and has been his right-hand man on security matters in Gaza for years. Jabali has also been the subject of rumors concerning corruption.
In February, Jabali was involved in a clash with Palestinian gunmen inside his Gaza police headquarters. Forces aligned with former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan reportedly surrounded and assaulted Jabali, then shot and killed a police officer and wounded 11 others.
The Jenin Martyrs Brigades is a cell of the Popular Resistance Committees, a loose-knit group of disaffected members of larger Palestinian militant organizations, principally the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Committees rose to prominence two years ago by planting massive roadside bombs in Gaza that blew up three Israeli Merkava tanks, killing seven soldiers.
Special correspondents Islam Abdulkarim in Gaza and Sufian Taha in Jerusalem contributed to this report.