GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Militants torched a Palestinian police station south of Gaza City (search) on Saturday, the latest in a series of violent acts that has shaken the Palestinian government and Yasser Arafat's regime.
Gaza has been in turmoil for more than a week, igniting a political crisis in the Palestinian government based in the West Bank city of Ramallah (search).
Officials said the unidentified militants broke into the empty station in the dark hours of the morning in the town of Zwaida, about four miles south of Gaza City, pouring gasoline on mattresses and blankets and setting the building alight.
The fire also damaged the town council on an upper story of the building, which had recently been renovated with donations from the Danish government.
The building was empty and no one was injured, officials said. Police files, computers and communications equipment were lost in the blaze.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Ahmed Abu Zaid (search), the mayor of the town, said the purpose of the raid appeared to be to "spread lawlessness and terror among the people."
As town residents gathered to view the damage, Abu Zaid said the incident showed the need for measures to "make the people feel that there is law and order."
A larger disaster was averted when firefighters brought the blaze under control before it reached a storage area for cooking gas balloons in the rear of the building.
"The police cannot even protect their own station. Who's going to protect us," one angry resident asked the mayor.
Hassam Abu Zaid, the local leader of Arafat's Fatah political movement, called the raid a "shameful act," and said, "we call on the president (Arafat) to make sure that law and order are being implemented, and that good leaders and good commanders are fulfilling their duties."
In Khan Younis, in the southern sector of Gaza, about 20 militants of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades took over the building of the local administration, demanding that their dismissals from security jobs be rescinded, a member of the group said.
The militant group is affiliated with Fatah, but its younger members have been angered by the monopolization of power in Gaza by Arafat's associates, most of whom are from an older generation raised in exile rather than under Israeli occupation.
The left the building after several hours after receiving promises "from people we trust in the Palestinian leadership" to resolve the problem of those who were fired, said the militant who identified himself only as Abu al-Haj.
There were no injuries or damage in the incident.
Unrest in Gaza began last week with a wave of kidnappings and demonstrations, prompting Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to submit his resignation over the mounting lawlessness that he was powerless to control.
Arafat refused to accept the resignation, leading to a standoff between the veteran leader and his appointed prime minister, who was supported by the Palestinian legislature.
Anger against Arafat was heightened when he reshuffled the command of the security services, placing his widely distrusted cousin, Moussa Arafat, in charge of the Gaza public security forces.
In the Jordanian capital of Amman, a Palestinian legislator and former Cabinet minister was recovering Saturday from wounds after he was shot in his Ramallah home. Nabil Amr has become an outspoken critic of Arafat and a champion of reform in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Cabinet minister and peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the shooting showed that the Palestinian territories were sliding into chaos.
"This is a hideous, cowardly and ugly crime," Erekat told reporters after visiting Amr in a hospital.
Erekat was one of several Palestinian politicians who crossed from the West Bank to visit Amr on Friday. Among them were former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Interior Minister Hakam Balawi and the Israeli Arab legislator Ahmed Tibi.