Analysis: Fatah disarmed? Not in Nablus

Contrary to PA claims, dozens have not surrendered their weapons.

fatah gunmen great 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
fatah gunmen great 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
The massive IDF operation in Nablus has shown that, contrary to claims by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah's armed wing has not been dismantled. It has also proven that dozens of Fatah gunmen and activists in the West Bank have not surrendered their weapons and are continuing to plan attacks against Israel. During the operation, which began on Thursday, the IDF arrested 19 gunmen belonging to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The IDF has also arrested two security officers working for the PA's Military Intelligence Force: Shadi al-Sakhel and Ahmed Hisham. The two officers are suspected of helping the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the city. IDF soldiers discovered a workshop in Nablus's Old City where the group was said to have manufactured two rockets. The raid came days after PA Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yahya announced that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank had ceased to exist. It also came against a backdrop of media reports suggesting that the PA security forces had succeeded in imposing law and order in Nablus. The Aksa Martyrs Brigades has openly scoffed at Yahya's declaration, dubbing him a "collaborator" with Israel and calling for his dismissal. The group continues to issue daily statements about its members' activities both in the West Bank and in Gaza. And in the Strip, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are continuing to take credit for many of the rocket attacks on Israel. In one of the largest operations of its kind, the PA, with the help of Israel and the US, deployed some 300 policemen in Nablus several weeks ago. Many Palestinians in Nablus said over the weekend that while the PA security forces did clamp down on local criminals, they did not do enough to stop the Fatah gunmen from continuing to operate in the city. They added that while many of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades members had been recruited as officers by various branches of the PA security forces in the past few months, they were continuing to operate within the framework of the armed group. Col. Abdullah Kmeil, commander of the PA's General Intelligence Force in Nablus, confirmed over the weekend that most of those who were arrested by the IDF belonged to the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. He said that all the Fatah gunmen had been incorporated into the PA security forces. He also confirmed that two PA security officers were among those arrested by the IDF. Kmeil accused Israel of seeking to "thwart" the PA's efforts to impose law and order in Nablus by conducting the massive military operation. He and other PA officials said the IDF operation would also undermine the peace process. Ironically, the IDF operation is likely to serve the interests of the PA, which has failed to rein in the unruly Fatah gunmen. The Aksa Martyrs Brigades poses a big challenge to the PA leadership. Just last week the group, in a leaflet distributed in Gaza City, called to kill Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Moreover, many members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades have openly challenged the PA's call to hand over their weapons in return for jobs and salaries. These militiamen prefer to continue operating as an independent "security force" in most West Bank cities, where they can earn more by extorting businessmen and wealthy families. Further evidence that the group is still operating in the West Bank emerged last week, when many members of the group participated in public rallies marking Fatah's 43rd anniversary.