Hamas may be planning to “stage a coup” against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a Palestinian official in Ramallah warned on Monday.
The warning came amid an increase in Hamas terror activities in the West Bank and ongoing incitement by the Islamist group against the PA and its security forces.
In recent weeks, Hamas claimed responsibility for a number of terror attacks, especially the shooting attacks in the Jordan Valley, where Lucy Dee and her two daughters, Maia and Rina, were killed.
Last week, an Israeli man was lightly injured in a shooting attack at the Avnei Hefetz junction on the western edge of the West Bank.
The two attacks were carried out by members of Hamas’ military wing, Izzaddin al-Qassam, the group announced in separate statements.
The four members of the Hamas cells who carried out the attacks were killed last week by Israeli security forces during separate raids in Nablus and Tulkarem.
The official told The Jerusalem Post that “there is a feeling that Hamas has raised its head again in the West Bank.”
Hamas has "increased its military activities [in the West Bank],” the official said. “They (Hamas) are now boasting that members of their military wing are involved in attacks.”
He said he did not rule out the possibility Hamas was trying to compete with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups that claimed responsibility for a series of terror attacks in various parts of the West Bank.
The official further said that he does not rule out the possibility that Hamas may try to stage “another coup” in the West Bank, similar to the one it carried out in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Then, Hamas seized control of the entire Gaza Strip after killing dozens of its rivals in the ruling faction of Fatah and overthrowing the PA.
Last Friday, dozens of masked Hamas gunmen participated in a rally in the Jenin Refugee Camp to commemorate Yusef Shraim, another member of the group, who was killed by undercover Israeli troops a few weeks ago. The appearance of the large number of Hamas gunmen on the streets of the camp surprised some residents, who said it was a sign of the group’s growing power in the area.
Hamas cells are also said to be operating in Nablus and some of its surrounding villages and refugee camps, particularly Askar Refugee Camp. Abdel Fatttah Kharousheh, a resident of the camp, was behind the February shooting attack in the town of Hawara in which brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv were killed. Kharousheh was later killed by the Israeli security forces during a raid on Jenin Refugee Camp.
Earlier this month, Hamas announced that 17-year-old Jibril al-Lada’ah, who was killed during an armed clash with IDF soldiers at Aqbat Jaber Refugee Camp near Jericho was also a member of the group.
“Hamas appears to have armed cells in several parts of the West Bank,” the official told the Post. “Hamas may use these armed groups to undermine the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian security forces. Hamas’ goal is to prove that it is capable of establishing armed cells despite the crackdown by the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli army.”
“Hamas may use these armed groups to undermine the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian security forces. Hamas’ goal is to prove that it is capable of establishing armed cells despite the crackdown by the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli army.”PA official
The PA is also worried about allegations by Hamas and other Palestinian factions that its security forces are helping Israel track down and eliminate some of the gunmen in the West Bank.
PA tension with Hamas, other Palestinian factions
Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have repeatedly called on the PA to halt security coordination with Israel. Some Palestinians are convinced that many of the gunmen in the West Bank were killed or captured thanks to the security coordination between the Palestinian and Israeli security forces.
The Palestinian leadership is not oblivious to the campaign of incitement against the PA and its security forces in light of the success of the Israeli security forces in hunting down and killing several gunmen over the past year.
The assessment in Ramallah is that Hamas is mostly responsible for the campaign, which aims to discredit the PA and its security forces in the eyes of the Palestinians and depict them as “traitors” and “collaborators” with Israel.
Last Friday, Mohammed al-Aklouk, a prominent Hamas-affiliated preacher from the Gaza Strip, urged the Palestinians in the West Bank to collect information about Palestinian security officers suspected of working with Israel.
“I say to our people in the West Bank, remember the names and faces of all those who are harming you and collaborating with the occupier against you,” Aklouk said in a sermon during Friday prayers. “Remember the names of those who are harassing your sons and arresting them. We won’t have mercy on any of them when we cleanse the West Bank of the occupation and its collaborators as we already cleansed the Gaza Strip. By God’s will, the arm that helped the occupation against the mujahideen (warriors) shall be amputated.”
Fatah and PA officials said that the preacher’s threats were proof that Hamas and its supporters are seeking to extend their control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
A senior Fatah activist in the West Bank called on the Palestinian leadership to immediately take the necessary steps to prevent Hamas from staging a coup against the PA. “We need to take these threats seriously,” the activist said. “We don’t want to repeat the scenario of 2007, when Hamas staged a bloody coup in the Gaza Strip.”
Mahmoud al-Habbash, religious affairs adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Hamas of exploiting the mosques in the Gaza Strip “to promote sedition and incite to murder.” He said that preachers such as al-Aklouk were causing damage to the Muslims and therefore must be stopped.
Omran al-Khatib, member of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the PLO, also denounced the exploitation of mosques by Hamas-affiliated clerks to stir up strife and incite to murder. He told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station that Hamas also used the recent prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan to incite against the PA leadership.