Dozens of Fatah gunmen held a press conference in Nablus Thursday to demand an inquiry into the arrest of Fatah activists by Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank.

The masked gunmen held the press conference in Balata refugee camp near Nablus. This was the first time in several years that Fatah gunmen appeared in public in the West Bank. Balata has long served as a stronghold for disgruntled Fatah gunmen and activists who have openly challenged the PA leadership. The gunmen belong to Fatah's armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, sources in the camp said.

The Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency quoted the gunmen as saying that they continued to support PA President Mahmoud Abbas "as the one and only leader of the Palestinian people." The agency also quoted the gunmen as saying that their guns would be used only against the enemies of Abbas and Fatah.

However, the gunmen denounced the arrest of dozens of Fatah activists at the hands of various PA security services in the West Bank in the past few months.

"We call upon President Mahmoud Abbas to form an official and unbiased commission of inquiry to look into the arrest campaign by the Palestinian security forces," a spokesman for the gunmen told reporters. He claimed that hundreds of Fatah activists have been arrested by the PA, something which, he added, constitutes an "insult" to Fatah's dignity.

"We are facing only two options," the spokesman said. "We either live in dignity or die in an honorable way." The gunmen accused the heads of the PA security forces in the West Bank of seeking to "humiliate" Fatah activists and supporters by cracking down on them.

They also accused the PA security forces of torturing some of the Fatah detainees. The masked gunmen also warned of an Israeli "scheme" to hand over the West Bank to a Palestinian party other than the PA.

"This scheme will pass only over our bodies and we won't allow it to happen," the gunmen warned. "We are with President Abbas and his policies." Following the press conference, the gunmen marched through the streets of the refugee camp while firing into the air from automatic assault rifles.

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