Armed clashes erupted on Tuesday night between Palestinian security officers and gunmen in Jenin refugee camp in the latest sign of mounting tensions between the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
A senior PA official described the gunmen as “thugs” and “car-thieves” and said the Palestinian security forces would chase each one of them and bring them to trial. The official accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas of working on instructions from Iran to undermine the PA and increase violence and instability in the West Bank.
“They want to keep the Gaza Strip quiet while creating trouble in the West Bank,” the official said. “These two organizations receive direct orders from Tehran.”
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad members reacted by condemning the PA security forces as “agents of the Zionist security establishment” and “spies of the Zionist enemy.”
Why did clashes erupt between Palestinian forces in Jenin?
The clashes erupted after the PA security forces refused to release Khaled al-Ararawi, whose nephew, Majdi, was killed during last month’s large-scale Israeli military operation in the camp. Majdi was a member of the Jenin Battalion, an armed group affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Khaled al-Ararawi was recently for allegedly insulting and expelling senior Fatah officials Mahmoud al-Aloul and Azzam al-Ahmed during the funerals of some of the Palestinian gunmen killed during the Israeli operation.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of Jenin Refugee Camp to demand the immediate release of Ararawi. PA officers fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters, witnesses said. At least three people were injured, they added.
A number of gunmen later opened fire at the headquarters of the PA security forces in the city of Jenin, but no one was hurt. The PA security forces arrested two men from the village of Jaba’ near Jenin on suspicion of involvement in the attack.
Later, PA security forces stormed the main hospital in Jenin in an apparent attempt to arrest gunmen who reportedly fled to the building.
Sources in Jenin claimed that the masked men who exchanged gunfire with the Palestinian officers belonged to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
As the clashes were underway, activists used mosque loudspeakers to denounce the PA for ordering its security forces to arrest Palestinian gunmen, especially in the Jenin area. The activists called for the immediate release of al-Ararawi.
The clashes came days after several Palestinian factions held a meeting in Egypt to discuss ways of achieving national unity and forging a joint vision toward Israel. The gathering was called by Abbas during an emergency meeting of the PA leadership in Ramallah in response to the Israeli military operation in Jenin Refugee Camp.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad and two other factions – As-Sai’qa and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command – boycotted the meeting in Egypt in protest of the PA security crackdown on Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank.
The meeting ended without agreement as Hamas rejected Abbas’s call for endorsing a “peaceful popular resistance” against Israel.
The tensions between the PA and the armed groups in the Jenin area began when Palestinian officers arrested two Palestinian Islamic Jihad members from Jaba’, Murad Malaysheh and Mohammed Barahmeh, on the first day of the Israeli military operation in Jenin Refugee Camp.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad claims the men were arrested while they were on their way to join the fighting against IDF troops in the camp. A PA security official, however, denied the claim, but refused to provide details about the arrest.
After the arrest of the two men, several Palestinian gunmen attacked the PA police station in Jaba’ and set it on fire. In response, PA security officers arrested five suspects for their alleged involvement in the attack. Some of the suspects are said to be members of the Jaba’ Battalion armed group.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad said on Wednesday that the PA was continuing its “fierce campaign of arrests” against members of the organization in the West Bank. In the past 10 days, the PA security forces arrested Yousef Ikhlil, Arkam Ahmaro, and Ahmed Nawasreh – all members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition, they arrested Fawaz al-Birri from the city of Kalkilya. He too is believed to be affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“The Palestinian Authority campaign against leaders and cadres of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank is an crime rejected on moral and national grounds,” the organization said.