Sunday, January 01, 2006

Palestinian gunmen blow up U.N. club in Gaza City


Masked gunmen stormed into a club for United Nations workers in Gaza City on Sunday and blew up the drinking hall in a new sign of spiralling unrest ahead of a Palestinian election.

It was the first such attack in Gaza on a U.N. target and came against a backdrop of growing unease among foreigners. Just over one day earlier, a group freed three British hostages that had been seized to demand foreign pressure on Israel.

The bombing was another big blow for President Mahmoud Abbas, just hours after he had vowed to impose order ahead of a Jan. 25 election and as militants announced the expiry of a de facto truce with Israel that they had followed at his behest.

Gunmen burst into the U.N. club, one of the few places that alcohol is served in conservative Muslim Gaza. It had been closed for the day. The attackers tied up the security guard and struck him with gun butts.

Then they set explosives in front of the bar, unrolled a detonator cable and blew up the charges, ripping up the roof and shattering the windows.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The United Nations is generally viewed with sympathy Gaza. Its agency supporting Palestinian refugees and their descendants, more than half of Gaza's 1.4 million population, is the second biggest employer after the Palestinian Authority.

"The club has been there for 50 years," said one U.N. security worker. "This is the first time anything like this has happened."

Non-essential U.N. staff had already left Gaza because of the danger of kidnappings and a rash of violent protests and internal clashes.

"These events ... harm our international credibility and strengthen Israel's pretext to undermine peace and stop withdrawals," Abbas said in a New Year broadcast.