Palestinian Authority security forces clad in riot gear clashed with supporters of six Palestinians who had been charged with possessing weapons illegally, in front of a courthouse near Ramallah on Sunday. The security forces forcefully broke up a gathering of the supporters, leaving a number of them injured.
The protesters arrived in front of the courthouse a couple of hours after a PA criminal court decided to close a case against Basel al-Araj, one of the six indicted Palestinians, and postpone cases against the five others, four of whom are currently in Israeli prison.
The closed case against Araj, who the IDF killed in gunfight last week, and the five ongoing cases are viewed by many Palestinians as a byproduct of the unpopular security cooperation between Israel and the PA.
Dozens of protesters initially gathered in the center of the main road in front of the courthouse, chanting in support of the indicted Palestinians and against security cooperation. “Security cooperation is treason,” they yelled.
The security forces shortly thereafter attempted to clear the streets and clashes between the two sides broke out.
Some protesters attempted to push their way past the security forces, who used shields and batons to repel them.
At one point, the security forces shot rounds of tear gas at the protesters, pushing them further away from the courthouse, and exploded sound grenades.
At a number of other points, the security forces beat protesters with their batons.
A video on social media shows a member of the security forces dismantling the TV equipment of a Palestine Today reporter. A number of other journalists reported that the security forces prevented them from doing their jobs.
A handful of Palestinians were briefly detained, including Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan, and a number of others were injured and transported to local emergency rooms.
After more than a hour of clashes, the streets were cleared and the situation returned to normal.
Muhannad Karaja, a lawyer representing the six Palestinians, told The Jerusalem Post that the security forces violated Palestinian Authority laws.
”This was a peaceful demonstration, which the law permits,” Karaja said. “What the security forces did is a violation of the law and we need to make sure that all of the law breakers are held accountable.”
While the PA security forces infrequently clash with Palestinian protesters, they have previously used force to break up protests.
Farid al-Atrash, a Palestinian human rights leader, blasted the security forces for their conduct.
“”Today is a dark day for human rights. What happened today was planned aggression against participants in peaceful protest,” Atrash stated.
PA Police spokesman Louay Zreikat said the security forces were trying to stop the protesters from illegally closing the street.
”The police were surprised this morning by a number of citizens closing the street in front of the courts complex in Ramallah and immediately went with the support of other security forces to the scene to ask the people there to open the streets,” Zreikat said. “After they refused, the security forces dealt with situation in accordance with the law and worked to reopen the street.”
Security forces arrested Basel Araj and the five others in April 2016, suspecting that they were planning an attack against Israelis.
PA intelligence forces found Araj, Haytham Siaj and Muhammad Harb in the hills outside Ramallah on April 8, allegedly armed with a gun and hand grenades. In the following days, other PA security forces arrested Muhammad Elsalameen, Saif al-Idrissi and Ali Dar al-Sheikh, who they suspected of collaborating with Araj, Siaj and Harb.
For six months, the PA security forces held the suspects without indicting them.
In early September, however, PA Attorney-General Ahmad Barak charged all six with possession of weapons and a Palestinian court ordered their release on bail.
Since then, Israel has imprisoned Siaj, Harb, Elsalameen and Idriss and killed Araj in a gunfight. The sixth suspect, Dar al-Sheikh, is not being held by the PA or Israel.
Sunday’s protest is the second protest in the last week against security cooperation between Israel and the PA.
Both PA and Israeli security officials hold that security cooperation is a key element of maintaining safety and stability in the West Bank and Israel.
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