Assassination of Moussa Arafat, former Palestinian Security Head

October 4, 2005

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

More on:

Global Governance

Palestinian Territories

This publication is now archived.

What does the murder of Moussa Arafat say about the status of Palestinian security service reform?

The predawn September 7 attack that killed the 66-year-old former head of the Palestinian security services in Gaza and cousin of the late Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasir Arafat highlights the challenges facing current PA President Mahmoud Abbas as he tries to reform the Palestinian security services. Abbas is attempting to deliver what his predecessor would not: a consolidation of the disparate Palestinian security groups into a force strong enough to maintain order in Palestinian territories and stop Hamas and other extremist groups from undermining the PA or attacking Israeli civilians. The brazen militant attack exposed the weakness of the security forces and their tenuous control over the Gaza Strip. These weaknesses were catalogued in a comprehensive July 26 report for the Palestinian Authority leadership by the U.S.-based conflict-resolution group Strategic Assessments Initiative, which called the Palestinian security forces weak, corrupt, under-resourced, and riven by clan and family affiliations. The latest violence comes less than a week before Israeli soldiers are due to evacuate the Gaza Strip, leaving it under Palestinian control.

How was Moussa Arafat killed?

Dozens of gunmen stormed Moussa Arafat’s Gaza City home and battled his bodyguards for more than half an hour before dragging Arafat into the street and shooting him. Arafat’s son Manhal was kidnapped by the gunmen and is being interrogated, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) said. The PRC, an armed militant group made up of members of Fatah—the PA ruling party—and the more militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Moussa Arafat’s murder was punishment for his corrupt leadership.

How did Abbas react to the murder?

Abbas—who had demoted Moussa Arafat several months ago as part of ongoing efforts to reform the security services—condemned the killing and vowed to bring renegade fighters under PA control within three weeks. Experts say that is unlikely in the increasingly lawless Gaza Strip, where armed gangs roam the streets and the forthcoming Israeli withdrawal has led many to worry that civil war could break out between PA security forces and militant groups. PA officials called Arafat’s murder an attack on the government and put the security forces on high alert.

More on:

Global Governance

Palestinian Territories


Explore More on CFR

Southeast Asia

The U.S.-Indonesia relationship has often disappointed. It’s time to rethink U.S.-Indonesia ties and try to achieve real security goals, rather than make bold plans for cooperation that never come to fruition.

European Union

European leaders are rushing to implement new laws to curb disinformation on social media. However, existing European data protection laws might actually make it harder for bad actors to spread fake news online. 


The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe joins CFR's James M. Lindsay to discuss Russian president Vladimir Putin's political goals.