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Palestinians loot greenhouses

Pumps, hoses taken; Abbas appeals for order

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip -- Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses yesterday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps, and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own money.

Palestinian police watched yesterday as looters carried materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the buildings. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police joined the looters, witnesses said.

''We need at least another 70 soldiers. This is just a joke," said Taysir Haddad, one of 22 security guards assigned to Neve Dekalim, formerly the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza. ''We've tried to stop as many people as we can, but they're like locusts."

The failure of the security forces to prevent scavenging and looting in the settlements after Israel's withdrawal Monday raised new concerns about Gaza's future.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told his people in a televised speech yesterday that he would take immediate steps to impose order. ''We have one law for everyone and no one is above the law. We are not going to tolerate chaos after today," he said.

Abbas is under intense pressure from his people and the international community to stop the growing lawlessness in Gaza, where rival militant groups are competing for power.

Hours after Abbas spoke, tens of thousands of people filled the center of Gaza City for one of the biggest Hamas demonstrations ever seen, celebrating Israel's withdrawal and listening to Hamas leaders vowing to continue the fight until Israelis leave the rest of the Palestinian areas.

The rally was a statement of strength of the Islamic movement. Fireworks lit up the sky. A stage set up at the central square was decorated with green Hamas flags and pictures of Hamas leaders killed in Israeli raids -- founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and Gaza commander Salah Shehadeh.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar insisted his group would not disarm.

''These weapons will remain aimed at the chest of the enemy until we achieve liberation, God willing," he told the crowd. ''We are not going to rest until we raise the flag of Islam over the minarets of Jerusalem."

The greenhouses are a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority hopes the greenhouses will provide jobs and export income for Gaza's economy.

During a tour of Neve Dekalim, the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, implored Palestinians to leave the structures intact. ''These greenhouses are for the Palestinian people," he said. ''We don't want anyone to touch or harm anything that can be useful for our people."

Jihad al-Wazir, the deputy Palestinian finance minister, said roughly 30 percent of the greenhouses were damaged. He said that after a ''very heated meeting" with Qurei and other Palestinian leaders, the security forces appeared to be getting the situation under control.

''We expect the security to protect the assets properly," he said.

Wazir said the greenhouses did not suffer structural damage, but that looters left with irrigation pipes, plastic sheeting, and most troublesome, water pumps.

Also yesterday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a clash near the West Bank town of Hebron, Palestinian hospital officials said. They said the teen was shot in the chest by troops in the village of Tafuh.

The army said troops in the village were attacked by a crowd of about 500 people hurling stones and concrete blocks, and a soldier was slightly injured. Troops fired rubber bullets at the attackers, one of whom was seen being taken away in a Palestinian ambulance, the military said.

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