GAZA,(Reuters) – Palestinian gunmen kidnapped two foreign teachers in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, pulling them from their car as they headed for work, witnesses said.
The kidnapping of the Dutchman and the Australian was a sign of growing disorder that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is struggling to contain in Gaza after an Israeli pullout and ahead of a January parliamentary election.
Witnesses in northern Gaza said gunmen snatched the two teachers as they drove to an English-speaking private school for the last day of term before Christmas holidays.
"They were intercepted by two or three other cars and then taken away," said a witness who did not give his name.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but security officials said they suspected renegade gunmen from Abbas”s Fatah party were behind the abductions.
Gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and other Fatah-linked militias have seized foreigners on several occasions, using the captives to press the Palestinian authorities for money, jobs or the release of jailed comrades.
"This is unacceptable aggression," said Hader Abdul Shafi, the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. "They are criminals."
Workers at the Palestinian-owned American School said the men kidnapped were the principal and vice-principal. Pupils, mostly the children of better-off Palestinians, were told to go home after the incident. The school did not make any comment.
Similar kidnappings have often been resolved within hours and the captives released unharmed, but they are an embarrassment for Abbas.
Chaos has intensified in the Gaza Strip since Israel completed its withdrawal of troops and settlers from the territory in September after 38 years of occupation.
Abbas”s failure to bring order is widely seen as a factor that could help to boost the Islamic militant group Hamas ahead of parliamentary elections on Jan. 25.
About 100 gunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — part of Abbas”s own Fatah movement — briefly seized public buildings in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday to demand jobs. In their ultimatum to Abbas, they threatened to prevent foreigners from entering Gaza.