The Palestinian Authority security forces have stepped up the pressure on Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank as part of an effort to stop them from holding public rallies, Palestinian sources said on Wednesday.
The rallies, most of which have been taking place in the areas of Nablus and Jenin over the past year, have embarrassed the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership in the international arena, especially Western donors, the sources said.
The PA leadership has come under heavy pressure from the US and some European Union states to take real measures to end the phenomenon of gunmen roaming the streets of Palestinian communities, the sources added.
A Palestinian official in Ramallah, however, said there was no decision at this stage to use force to dismantle the armed groups or prevent them from holding "military parades."
Does the PA want armed Palestinian gunmen to surrender and join the PA security forces?
The official said the PA was working to convince many of the gunmen to surrender and join the PA security forces.
According to the official, nearly all of the Fatah-affiliated members of the Nablus-based Lions’ Den armed group have turned themselves in to the Palestinian security forces.
Most of the current members of the group, who are affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are refusing to follow suit, the official said.
In an attempt to appease the donors and other international parties, the PA has been dispatching senior security officers to the refugee camps in the Jenin and Nablus areas to meet with members of the armed groups operating there.
The officers, who belong to the Preventive Security Service and the General Intelligence Service, held a series of meetings with gunmen from various groups, including al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah faction.
The officers reportedly told the gunmen that the Palestinian leadership considers their presence on the streets as “problematic” and “harmful” to the interests of the Palestinian people, according to the sources. The officers warned that the Palestinian security forces would not tolerate any scenes of “chaos and lawlessness.”
But the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to rein in the armed groups – the first such efforts since the beginning of the year – have thus far been unsuccessful.
A senior intelligence officer who was sent to Balata Refugee Camp near Nablus last week failed to persuade the leaders of the gunmen to halt their public activities.
The officer, according to camp residents, offered some of the gunmen jobs and salaries in the PA security forces in return for laying down their weapons and dismantling the local militias, including the Balata Battalion, most of whose members are affiliated with Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Less than 48 hours after the meeting, dozens of gunmen held a rally in Balata camp to honor Mahdi Mohammed Hashash, a 15-year-old Palestinian killed during armed clashes with Israeli security forces last month.
Attended by hundreds of Palestinians, the rally was seen by the PA security establishment as yet another challenge to the Palestinian leadership.
After the rally, the PA’s Nablus Governorate issued an unprecedented warning to the gunmen. “The security establishment will intervene and prevent any gathering of armed men,” the Governorate said in a message directed at the armed groups in the city and Balata Refugee Camp.
“The security establishment will intervene and prevent any gathering of armed men.”Nablus Governorate
Palestinians told The Jerusalem Post that the PA security forces were behind the warning.
Also in an unprecedented move, the Governorate appealed to the families of Palestinian militants killed during clashes with the IDF not to participate in any event or celebration in which gunmen are present “so that they do not suffer harm and in order to preserve civil peace and protect lives and property.”