Formally, the master of the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority. In respect of this, several Arab and European governments maintain embassies and consular missions in Gaza City.
But on the ground, the PA’s domain is limited to its own premises and Palestinian security forces installations – provided they stay clear of an assortment of armed militias.
On paper, Hamas is the incoming sovereign authority, after gaining majority control of the Palestinian legislature in a democratic election. Soon, the Islamic terror group will set up a government.
But Hamas too is only king in the areas controlled by its armed Ezz-e-Din al Qassam branch.
So who really rules the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million inhabitants?
The answer is no one, a fact Washington, European governments and the Olmert administration in Jerusalem are doing their best to ignore.
The Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip left the territory wide open for any group of 15-30 armed men, often members of a clan, to move in. Such a group may form a militia that seizes control of a whole neighborhood consisting of a number of streets or a just a few houses. These militias may form ad hoc associations for war against rivals.
Iran and al Qaeda have been making hay from this amorphous state of affairs. Now, a third party, the Iraqi Baathist guerrillas, has landed in the Gaza Strip.
In the space of three days this week, the territory underwent a series of disturbing experiences arising from its emergence as a terrorist paradise.
Monday, March 6, Palestinian security forces went on heightened alert and threw a cordon around the Jordanian embassy in Gaza to guard it against attack by the Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades, an arm of Mahmoud Abbas’ movement.
The Brigades were threatening to abduct Jordanian diplomats in reprisal for the arrest of one of their number in Amman. Twenty-four hours later, Palestinian forces extended their protection to the Jordanian embassy in Ramallah.
The Brigades operative, Imad al Assi, was arrested at Amman airport Sunday, accused of planning to organize in Jordan Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades terrorist networks of the type operating in Gaza and the West Bank.
Al-Assi’s detention was short-lived. March 8, Jordanian security services suddenly let him go. They surrendered to the al Aqsa Brigades threat because they did not believe Palestinian security forces capable of safeguarding their embassy and diplomats against the Fatah terrorists.
This was the first time that the Palestinian terrorist campaign against Israelis had spilled over into the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.
Tuesday, March 7, a second terrorist element made its presence felt.
Al Qaeda circulated leaflets in the southern Gaza towns of Rafah and Khan Younis over the name of the Organization of Al-Qaeda Jihad-Palestine. It carried a reminder of its month-long deadline for all non-Muslim foreigners to be out of the Gaza Strip and all foreign embassies and consulates evacuated, or else their lives would be forfeit.
The ultimatum was issued on February 16.
On the same day, another leaflet, this one signed by Muhamad Ghwanma, who called himself head of the Supreme Shia Council, read: In the name of the Great Islam, and from the heart of Palestine, we proclaim the foundation of the Islamic Supreme Shiite Council – with Iran as the foundation of international Islam.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report it was only a matter of time before an Iranian Shiite presence raised its head in the traditionally Sunni Muslim Gaza Strip. Tehran’s cash investments in all Palestinian terrorist groups – not only the Jihad Islami but Abu Mazen’s Fatah too – have started a trend of Palestinian conversions to the Shiite Islamic faith.
This has never happened before in the Palestinian community. The only known Palestinian Shiite communities once lived in two villages that were destroyed in Israel’s 1948 War of Liberation. Today, Palestinian Shiite Muslims in the Gaza Strip can be counted in thousands.
But the week’s excitements were not over.
Wednesday, March 8 saw a military parade down Gaza City’s main street of the Arab Liberation Movement ALF – Jabhat al-Tahrir al-‘Arabiya – which turns out to be the military wing of the Iraqi Baath party of Palestine.
This group was originally set up to transfer Saddam Hussain’s stipends to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. It became moribund after his downfall.
The parade displayed newly-formed units called Jerusalem Forces-the Liberation Brigades, made up of Palestinian recruits the Iraqi Baath has rounded up in the Gaza Strip.
Among them are Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades militiamen, who have jumped over to the Iraqi guerilla organization. They carved out a small corner of Iraq in Gaza, bearing aloft large pictures of the deposed Iraqi ruler, hoisting placards condemning the American occupation of Iraq, and burning US flags.
In the three weeks leading up to the event, the Iraqi guerrillas pumped large sums of money into the Gaza Strip to establish a Palestinian branch, supply it with arms and explosives and present a good showing at the parade.
This rush of events in the space of three days is typical of life and times in the Gaza Strip.