Muscle Men Ring Up Dollars With Gaza Private Security Firms

GAZA (Reuters) -

Trained in martial arts and firearms, muscular young men in Gaza are increasingly finding work with private security firms retained by banks, local celebrities and international visitors.

Three private security companies are now competing in Gaza, offering protection for high-profile Arab and Western delegations or cautious businessmen shifting goods and cash around the territory.

While Hamas has its own armed units to protect international visitors, it does not object to competition from private companies, as long as they coordinate with the authorities.

Akram Al-Balawi, who runs the Castle Security Company, said he had 6,000 applicants when he announced he was hiring. He snapped up 65 men.

“Our staff are carefully selected, they are body-built, highly educated and with good manners,” said Balawi, sitting in his office in the heart of Gaza City. “They are not affiliated with political factions.”

Balawi said his guards only carry guns when escorting a convoy of money or foreign ambassadors. Major missions, like visits by U.N. officials and senior European figures, are usually escorted by Hamas-run security, he said.

Those accepted receive paid training at a unit of Gaza’s Hamas-run Interior Ministry. They learn martial arts, the use of weapons and how to deal with volatile crowds.

Staff earn between $400 and $600 a month, Balawi said.

Eyad Al-Bozom, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said visits by international delegations are coordinated with them and Hamas’s security teams are not paid. Recently their units protected a group of Western diplomats in Gaza, he said.

“(Private security) is still a new experience but we are keen to pursue it and develop it so we give a chance to the civil community to be part of this issue,” Bozom said.