Palestinian looters took irrigation hoses, pumps and plastic sheeting from dozens of greenhouses Tuesday, a month after Jewish American donors bought more than 3,000 of the structures from Israeli settlers and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority.
Police commanders complained that they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized equipment in several abandoned settlements. In some instances, 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, which was the largest Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. “We’ve tried to stop as many people as we can, but they’re like locusts.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised speech Tuesday 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.
The Palestinian leader is under pressure to stop lawlessness in Gaza, where rival militant groups are jockeying for power. As Abbas spoke, hundreds of masked Hamas members wielding rifles and grenade launchers paraded through the streets of a nearby refugee camp.
The greenhouses are a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority hopes the high-tech greenhouses will provide jobs and income from exports.
During a tour of Neve Dekalim, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Korei implored Palestinians to leave the structures intact. “These greenhouses are for the Palestinian people,” he said.
Jihad Wazir, deputy Palestinian finance minister, said about 30% of the greenhouses were damaged. He said that after a heated meeting with Korei and other Palestinian leaders, the security forces appeared to be gaining control.
The transfer of the greenhouses last month cost the donors $14 million. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own money.
Meanwhile, any semblance of order disintegrated at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Border hopping, which began soon after Israeli troops pulled out Monday, turned into a torrent Tuesday.
Israel told Egypt that it was becoming more concerned about possible weapons smuggling, and Palestinian police promised to begin sealing the border.
Palestinians pried open doors in the massive metal wall left by Israel and squeezed through. Thousands of others walked through gaps that Israeli tanks used.
Also Tuesday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a clash near the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian hospital officials said. The army said troops were attacked by a crowd of about 500 people hurling stones and concrete blocks.