GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian authorities Thursday released a militant held in connection with the kidnapping of a British family in Gaza, a day after his followers went on a rampage and smashed holes in a wall along the Egypt border.
The Gaza-Egypt border crossing was calm, a day after two Egyptian troops were killed in the melee.
"I was released as a result of the agreement reached between Fatah and the Palestinian Authority yesterday. This will calm all types of protests from our side," al-Hams told The Associated Press by telephone.
Al-Hams was arrested late Tuesday on suspicion his group kidnapped human rights activist Kate Burton and her parents for two days last week. They were released unharmed.
Early Wednesday, his supporters stormed government buildings in the southern Gaza town of Rafah and blockaded the border crossing with Egypt. They later hijacked bulldozers and broke down a wall along the border, allowing hundreds of angry Palestinians to stream into Egypt.
Two Egyptian troops were killed and 30 were wounded by gunfire in the rampage, a brazen challenge to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' authority.
Wednesday's chaos underscored the growing lawlessness in Gaza at a time when Israel's political leadership is in turmoil after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke Wednesday, making it unlikely that he will return to power.
Abbas' inability to impose order is expected to harm Fatah's prospects in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections.
Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Palestinian official and leader of Fatah's young guard, told a crowd of Fatah supporters Thursday that those responsible for the rampage were outlaws who do not represent Fatah. He called for those who killed the Egyptian troops to be punished.
More than 60 Palestinians have been arrested and charged with illegal entry, Egyptian security officials said Thursday.
The Palestinian Authority deployed about 300 police officers at the Rafah border point late Wednesday and restored control, Palestinian security officials said. Palestinian and Egyptian security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Egypt had no more than the usual security presence at the crossing Thursday. But a short distance away, 20 police vehicles were parked in the main street of Rafah town, ready to be deployed.
Egypt "strongly condemned" the actions of "an irresponsible group of Palestinians," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Gen. Essam el-Sheikh of the security forces in North Sinai said the militants had fired automatic weapons and shotguns, forcing Egyptian troops to pull back from the border.