Monday, June 25, 2007

Hamas in Gaza: 'Bowling for Columbine Really Got Us Thinking'

After declaring an Islamic state in the hell-hole on the sea known as Gaza, triumphant Hamas fighters showed a more progressive, right-thinking side to themselves by immediately undertaking efforts to rid Gaza of illicit guns.

As American gun-control activists know, and now even suicidal terrorists are aware, the mere existence of firearms causes violence to erupt spontaneously.

Still mistrustful Gazans have not been going along with Hamas's gun roundup.

The following from the AP:

Hamas faces tough road in trying to collect guns, leaving plenty of weapons in Gaza Strip

SARAH EL DEEB Associated Press Writer

(AP) - GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip-Instead of great quantities of weapons, the only items dropped off at a Hamas collection point were a metal door, a window frame and a faucet.

That scene in Gaza City on Thursday, the Hamas deadline for turning in illicit weapons, showed that the Islamic militant group faces serious trouble in getting its hands on Gaza's estimated 400,000 firearms.

The three discarded items fell under the category of "looted government property" that Hamas also demanded be turned in, but it was arms the group really wanted.

Hamas leaders threatened harsh punishment for anyone caught with guns after the deadline.

But in chaotic Gaza, where defeated Fatah militants are hiding out and clan grudges can flare into open warfare at any moment, few believe Hamas will recover even a fraction of the territory's arsenal.

Some Fatah fighters said they hid their weapons away from their homes so Hamas gunmen would not find them in searches. Some buried their weapons, including one who said he put his gun under the family chicken coop.

Others said they threw their rifles into the sea rather than risk them falling into Hamas hands.

"I prefer to shoot myself rather than give them my gun. I don't trust them at all," said a 33-year-old Fatah-affiliated security officer. He gave his name only as Abu Subhi for fear of retaliation from Hamas.

The Islamic militants scored a major success last week by securing many of the weapons held by Gaza's security forces, most of which were loyal to Fatah, analysts said. Hamas fighters captured the arms stored at security headquarters and used lists of officers to collect weapons at their homes.

"It looks to us that Hamas has succeeded in collecting the majority of the registered weapons that belong to the Palestinian security forces," said Hazem Abu Shanab, a Gaza-based political analyst.

Jamal al-Jarrah, commander of the Hamas militia known as the Executive Force, said Hamas had collected 90 percent of the security force weapons.

But the security forces had only 15,000 firearms - a number that pales against the 400,000 weapons estimated to be inside the Gaza Strip, analysts and former security officials said.

A measure of the difficulty of disarming the myriad private gangs came over the weekend in the southern city of Khan Younis, where Hamas forces and a clan known for drug smuggling fought a five-hour battle with mortars and automatic weapons. Two people were killed, but Hamas came away with only a fifth of the family's arsenal, a Hamas official said.

As part of its weapons collection campaign, Hamas sent cars with loudspeakers into the streets and made announcements from mosques warning defeated security officers not to keep their weapons. It also phoned them at home demanding their weapons and asked tribal leaders to negotiate an arms handover.

The group set up seven sites around Gaza City for people to drop off their weapons, including the Shafei mosque in the eastern part of Gaza City.

In the mosque's courtyard, young boys eagerly waited at a reception table with scrap paper, a pencil and a Quran, ready to collect and list guns or looted government property. All they got was the metal door, window frame and faucet. Someone also turned in a pocket knife.

Elsewhere, the group got back a truck that had been stolen from the intelligence security post.

Hamas said it wants only to gather weapons that might be used against it, and has no interests in firearms used for fighting Israel.

"Only those with clean hands should carry weapons. All the organizations that are using these guns to defend themselves against the occupation will be welcomed and supported," Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, told The Associated Press.

"But if people use guns to cause strife between families or to attack the official and unofficial institutions, they will be collected."

Hamas' mission has been made far more difficult by the rampant smuggling that brought arms into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border - the source of much of Hamas' own arsenal.

The inflow of arms allowed many clans to build up their own militias with firepower and training rivaling the official security forces, a situation that was evident in Hamas' battle in Khan Younis last weekend.

Militants found themselves fighting a bitter battle in narrow alleys when they besieged the clan compound of the drug-smuggling clan, which was known for supporting Fatah.

Hamas stopped the fight after a clan leader agreed to hand over his fighters' weapons, said a clan security officer, who gave his name only as Abu Mohammed to keep his identity hidden from the militants.

The clan eventually turned over five rifles and a handgun. When asked if that was the family's whole arsenal, Abu Mohammed only smiled.

Maybe Hamas should consider an American-style buy-back program, which Iran should be only to happy to pay for.

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