Kawasmeh's Resignation / Anarchy Wins in Gaza

Hani al-Kawasmeh's resignation as the Palestinian Authority's interior minister - the person responsible for internal security - dealt a mortal blow to efforts to prevent chaos in the Gaza Strip. Kawasmeh, who is considered an independent, was appointed following exhaustive negotiations between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. His resignation endangers the unity government's continued existence.

Kawasmeh resigned due to the deteriorating security situation in Gaza over the last few days. His demand for control over all domestic security services had been rejected. Abbas rejected his demand due to the opposition of Mohammed Dahlan and Rashid Abu Shabak, leading members of his Fatah party, who refused to give up their control over these organizations.

A few dozen armed groups are active in Gaza, from large official organizations to small, clan-based gangs. But most of the clashes of the past few days have been between two large organizations: Hamas's Operational Units (most of which are affiliated with the organization's military wing, Iz a-Din al-Qassam) and two security services headed by Fatah men, the Preventive Security Service and General Intelligence (which are affiliated with Fatah's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades). Gaza residents and journalists say that the Operational Units' organization, discipline and weapons are far superior to those of the Fatah groups.

In order to understand the activities of the various armed organizations, it is useful to divide them into three main groups: the official security services, which are supposed to take orders from the PA's political leadership; the groups affiliated with different political factions, which are essentially party militias; and the clan-based gangs. Almost every large family or clan in Gaza has its own private army.

This division is only schematic, since often (and very possibly most of the time), someone employed by one of the official services also belongs to a party militia, and when needed, he can also be found in the ranks of his family's private army. Thus the same person can belong to several different organizations simultaneously, or move from one to the other. He receives a weapon and a little money from his commanders in each organization.

Young men in Gaza have little to do except join one of these groups. Members of these groups are almost always unemployed, and the organization or militia is the only place where they can give content to their lives and feel a sense of belonging. Only within these organizations do they feel that they are worth something.