Further humiliating the Palestinian Authority over the growing state of anarchy in Gaza ahead of Israel’s final pullout from the area this week, an Italian journalist was kidnapped by a group of armed gunmen and is being held hostage at a refugee camp.

According to witnesses, Lorenzo Cremonesi was traveling in Gaza with an Arabic interpreter when he was forced from his car, driven by a local Gaza resident, and thrown by four men into another vehicle. The reporter, in Gaza to cover the withdrawal of Israel’s military installations this week for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, reportedly was taken to the Nusseirat refugee camp in northern Gaza.

A journalist in Corriere’s Milan offices said Cremonesi telephoned the newspaper headquarters and announced he was being held by members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, linked to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.

“His voice wasn’t particularly agitated, the situation seemed to be under control,” said the journalist, who asked not to be identified. “As it seems to be more connected to internal politics than anything international, we hope his release might be easier.”

Abu Mohammed, an al-Aqsa spokesman, said the kidnapping was carried out by independent members of his group who had “made demands in the past of the Interior Ministry that were not met.”

He said he hoped Cremonesi would be freed soon.

Palestinian officials told reporters it was possible today’s abduction was linked to the occupation earlier in the day of two Gaza Strip government buildings by hundreds of al-Aqsa gunmen who demanded jobs and blasted the PA for rising unemployment.

Cremonesi was the fourth foreigner to be kidnapped in Gaza the past few weeks. In other incidents, which involved journalists and UN workers, those abducted were released unharmed. Later it emerged the abductors were trying to extort the PA for various concessions.

With Israel poised to remove the last of its military installations and completely withdraw from Gaza early this week, analysts are warning of a power vacuum that may bring instability to the area.

Hamas has won majorities in local legislative elections and many fear the terror group eventually will assume control of the Gaza Strip.

Yudit Barsky, director of the division on Middle East and International Terrorism at the American Jewish Committee, told WND, “Hamas has become the de facto ruler of Gaza’s cities. It has used social welfare organizations in competition to the lesser or nonexistent services of the PA to garner support for its political candidates. The result is that Hamas has outstripped the PA in providing services to the Palestinian population, and is now reaping the political windfall of that investment in Gaza.”

Barsky and others say they foresee a bloody power struggle in the weeks following Israel’s final withdrawal.

That struggle may officially have started last week when dozens of gunmen assassinated Moussa Arafat, the head of the PA’s military intelligence service and a cousin of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the murder and said it was the opening shot of “a war against corruption in the Palestinian Authority.”

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