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(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority's refusal to receive members of the Hilles clan who fled the Gaza Strip Saturday did not come as a surprise to many Palestinians.
Although the Hilles clan has long been known for its loyalty to Fatah, the PA leadership in Ramallah asked Israel Sunday to send almost all those who fled the Gaza Strip back home.
For many of the Hilles clan members, returning to the Gaza Strip is tantamount to a death sentence. However, this did not stop the PA from asking the men to return home.
PA officials explained that the reason behind their refusal to absorb the new "refugees" was their desire not to encourage other residents of the Gaza Strip to leave.
"Everyone knows that if we allow people to leave the Gaza Strip, almost all the residents living there would try to cross the border into Israel," said a senior PA official. "We don't want to leave the Gaza Strip to Hamas."
Yet there are also other reasons why PA President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't want the new refugees in the West Bank.
One is related to Abbas's fear that the presence of the Hilles "refugees" in Ramallah and other West Bank cities would damage his efforts to impose law and order there.
The powerful Hilles clan had established their own "mini-state" in the Gaza Strip, where they had their own extraterritorial "security zone" and militia.
The clan, which has long been affiliated with Fatah, had a military training base and a number of small factories for manufacturing various types of weapons.
Several members of the clan were also involved in various types of criminal activities, including murder, rape, kidnappings and extortion, according to sources in the Gaza Strip.
Bringing dozens of these clan members into the West Bank would have caused a big headache for Abbas, who is still facing difficulties in reining in numerous Fatah gangs that are continuing to roam the streets of West Bank cities and villages.
The last thing Abbas needs is another 180 bitter Fatah thugs from the Gaza Strip patrolling the streets of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus and imposing a reign of terror on the local population.
Past experience has shown that the Palestinians in the West Bank have never been enthusiastic about the presence of their brethren from the Gaza Strip among them.
Shortly after the establishment of the PA in 1994, former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat deployed dozens of policemen from the Gaza Strip in a number of West Bank cities. This resulted in an "intifada" by the residents of these cities, many of whom openly rejected the presence of the Gazans in their communities. In many cases, West Bank families refused to rent out apartments to the "undesirables" from the Gaza Strip.
The experience was repeated in June 2007 when hundreds of Fatah members fled the Gaza Strip following Hamas's violent takeover of the area. Most of those who arrived in Ramallah are still finding it impossible to rent apartments in the city.
Many others continue to be shunned by local residents who treat them with great suspicion and often mock them for escaping from Hamas. A former Fatah security commander who was among the June 2007 "refugees" said recently that he had stopped going to public places in Ramallah because he felt that he was "unwanted" and because of the "ridiculing" looks he got from people.
Even the 150 Fatah men who fled to Egypt following the Hamas takeover have not been welcome there or in any other Arab country. In a recent letter to Abbas, the Fatah men, all former residents of the Gaza Strip, complained that they were being held in "military bases" belonging to the Egyptian army and were being treated as criminals rather than political refugees.