The Palestinian Authority will not allow gunmen in Nablus and Jenin to drag the population into an all-out confrontation with Israel, a Palestinian official in Ramallah said on Saturday.
The official told The Jerusalem Post that some of the gunmen were acting “on direct orders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
He accused the two groups of working to undermine the PA by “encouraging chaos and lawlessness” in the West Bank.
The official claimed that some members of the ruling Fatah faction who are opposed to PA President Mahmoud Abbas have also been inciting the armed groups to openly challenge the Palestinian leadership.
On Friday, Hebron Mayor and Fatah official Tayseer Abu Sneineh and former General Intelligence Force Chief Tawfik Tirawi met in Jenin with Fathi Khazem, the father of a man who carried out a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv earlier this year. Another of his sons was killed during an armed clash with IDF troops in Jenin last week.
The father, a former senior officer with the PA’s National Security Force, has since become a “symbol of Palestinian resistance” against Israel.
The official confirmed that the PA was under pressure from Israel and “some international parties” to rein in the armed groups in Nablus and Jenin.
One of the ideas floated in Ramallah mentions the possibility that the PA would try to convince the gunmen to hand over their weapons to the PA security forces as part of a deal that would see an end to Israeli military operations.
In separate meetings with Palestinian security and political officials over the past 48 hours, Abbas stressed the need to restore law and order to Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank.
The meetings came amid growing concern in Ramallah over the activities of armed groups in the two hotbed Palestinian cities. Many of the gunmen are affiliated with Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinian leadership is worried that the current security deterioration could prompt the IDF to launch a large-scale military offensive similar to 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield, which resulted in the killing of dozens of gunmen in Jenin and Nablus.
Control slipping, Abbas tries for calm
On Thursday evening, Abbas chaired a meeting of the commanders of the PA security forces to discuss the latest developments in the West Bank in light of the ongoing violence, especially in those two cities.
At the meeting, which was attended by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and PLO Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh, Abbas “stressed the need to implement the rule of law and provide security and stability to protect the Palestinian people and their national institutions,” according to the authority’s official news agency Wafa.
The meeting also dealt with the involvement of a number of PA security officers in recent clashes with IDF soldiers, a senior PA official revealed.
“The commanders of the security forces have been instructed to make every effort to stop their men from taking part in armed clashes with the Israeli army,” the official said.
He warned that the PA will not allow “a small group of individuals and armed cells to drag the Palestinian population into a disastrous confrontation with Israel.”
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip have welcomed the involvement of PA security officers in attacks against the IDF. The officials renewed their call to the PA security forces to join the fight against the Jewish state, urging the authority to end security coordination with the IDF.
On Friday, Abbas also chaired a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, the highest decision-making body of the ruling faction, and “reiterated the importance of imposing the rule of law on everyone without exception and working hard to provide security and safety for the Palestinians,” Wafa reported.
Tirawi, the former intelligence chief, did not attend the meeting although he is a veteran member of Fatah. Abbas recently dismissed him from his job as head of the Jericho-based Al-Istiqlal University, which functions as a military academy.
The move came after Tirawi reportedly criticized Abbas’s decision to appoint his confidant, Hussein al-Sheikh, to the top job of PLO secretary-general, thus boosting his chances of succeeding the PA president.
Abbas calls for Fatah to regain control
In an implicit criticism of the phenomenon of armed groups, the Fatah leaders emphasized the “significance of combating everything that harms the Palestinian national and social fabric.”
At the end of the meeting, the committee issued a statement in which the Fatah leaders “condemned the dangerous and continued Israeli escalation against the Palestinian people.”
The committee claimed that the IDF counter-terrorism measures were linked to the upcoming elections in Israel. “This is unacceptable and we will not allow it to continue,” the statement cautioned. “The [Israeli] occupation must understand that this aggression, killing and destruction will not bring it security and stability.”