Nablus governor survives Fatah hit

Attack seen as latest in series of blows to US-backed efforts to end state of anarchy in West Bank.

Muheissen dayton 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Muheissen dayton 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority's attempts to enforce law and order in Nablus, the largest West Bank city, suffered a setback earlier this week when Fatah militiamen tried to assassinate the local governor, Jamal Muheissen. Muheissen, the highest-ranking Palestinian Authority official in the city and its surroundings, escaped unharmed when the militiamen opened fire at his vehicle inside the Balata refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Nablus. The governor, accompanied by his bodyguards, was invited to Balata over the weekend to attend a ceremony marking Palestinian Orphan's Day. After leaving the ceremony's location, Muheissen's vehicle came under fire from automatic weapons. "As we were driving on the main road inside the camp, someone opened fire at us," the governor recalled. "Despite the shooting, I decided to continue with my visit and headed toward the home of Khaled Khadish, a former security prisoner who had served time in Israeli prisons." He said that while he was inside Khadish's home, a group of young men slashed the tires of his vehicle and later set it on fire, destroying it completely. "Those who attacked me are known and they were operating on the instructions of a man inside the Balata refugee camp," the governor said. "This man was previously held in our detention centers." Muheissen was referring to Omar Akoubeh, a top member of Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who, together with 11 Fatah gunmen, escaped from a local PA security installation two weeks ago. Akoubeh and his friends were being held in the security installation as part of a deal between the PA and Israel, according to which the Fatah gunmen would be disarmed and merged into the Palestinian security forces. The Fatah gunmen said they fled the security installation because of the PA's failure to provide them with jobs and money, although they had agreed to halt their activities against Israel. They also claimed that Israel had violated the agreement by continuing to target their Fatah gunmen in the area. An attempt by the PA security forces on Tuesday to arrest Akoubeh failed after he and some of his friends opened fire at the policemen. The two sides exchanged gunfire for nearly one hour in the center of Nablus. At least four people were wounded, one of them seriously, eyewitnesses reported. Akoubeh has been wanted by Israel for more than five years because of his role in terror-related activities. The incident, along with the botched assassination attempt against the governor, is seen as a severe blow to the PA's US-backed efforts to impose law and order and end the state of anarchy in the West Bank. The PA's security plan is being challenged mostly by disgruntled Fatah gunmen belonging to the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, some of whom have long been accused of terrorizing the local population. Just a few weeks ago, the PA was boasting that its security plan, which saw the deployment of hundreds of policemen in Nablus, was a "huge success." The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has claimed responsibility for the attack on the governor, accusing him of failing to fulfill his promises. The group suspects that the PA leadership is "conspiring" with Israel to eliminate the phenomenon of armed militias in the West Bank. Another group whose members are continuing to openly challenge the PA is the Horsemen of the Night [Fursan Al- Lail]. The group, which is based inside the old city of Nablus, consists largely of former members of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and some dissident Fatah security officers. "What is happening in Nablus and other parts of the West Bank shows that the PA is far from achieving its goal of asserting its full authority there," said a senior PA official in Ramallah. "Many of the militiamen have agreed to lay down their arms, but there is still a large group that is refusing to comply." The official pointed out that the PA was also facing similar challenges in Jenin and Tulkarem. He said that scores of Fatah gunmen were trying to "blackmail" the PA leadership to gain money and jobs and that they were being incited by top political figures in Fatah.