Leaders of the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the ruling Fatah faction held a rare meeting in the Gaza Strip during which they discussed ways of strengthening bilateral relations between the two sides.
The meeting on Monday evening was held one day after the leader of PIJ, Ziyad al-Nakhaleh, and his deputy, Mohammed al-Hindi, met in Beirut with Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
A statement issued by Hezbollah said the talks focused on the “latest developments in Palestine, Lebanon, and the region,” as well as “threats facing the axis of resistance during the current phase.”
It was not clear whether the meeting in Beirut was linked to the discussions between Fatah and PIJ officials in the Gaza Strip.
Meeting comes amid high tensions surrounding PA arrests of PIJ members
The meeting in the Gaza Strip came amid mounting tensions between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and PIJ, the second-largest armed group in the coastal enclave after Hamas.
The tensions reached their peak last month, when the Palestinian security forces arrested several members of PIJ’s armed groups in the northern West Bank. Since then, several PIJ members have been arrested by the Palestinian security forces in other parts of the West Bank.
The latest tensions between the two sides erupted after the Palestinian security forces arrested two PIJ gunmen from the village of Jaba, near Jenin. The two, Murad Malaisheh and Mohammed Barahmeh, were reportedly on their way to join the fighting against IDF troops during last month’s large-scale Israeli military operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
After the arrest of the two PIJ men, several Palestinians attacked a Palestinian police station in Jaba and set it on fire. In response, the Palestinian security forces arrested a number of gunmen from the village, some of them members of the PIJ-affiliated Jaba Battalion.
Among those detained were Eid Mohammed Hamamreh, Mohammed Salim Alawneh, Mohammed Faye’s Malaisheh, Mu’men Adnan Fashafhseh, and Emad Khaliliyeh.
In Hebron, the Palestinian security forces arrested Arkam Khaled Ahmaro, a senior PIJ activist who had spent time in Israeli prison for security-related offenses.
In Bethlehem, at least five PIJ activists were arrested, including Ali Arafat Za’oul and Nouh Mohammed Za’oul. Seven other PIJ activists were arrested by the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Tulkarm over the past two weeks, according to Palestinian sources.
The crackdown on PIJ members has sparked a number of limited armed clashes between Palestinian security officers and gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp. PIJ officials have condemned the arrests and called for the release of all their men from Palestinian prison.
Late last month, PIJ and two other Palestinian factions, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and As-Sai’qa, boycotted a meeting of Palestinian factions in Egypt in protest of the crackdown by the Palestinian security forces. The two terror groups are based in Syria.
The meeting was called by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss ways of achieving “national unity” and forming a new Palestinian unity government.
The gathering, however, ended without agreement after Hamas and the other factions that attended the meeting rejected Abbas’s demand that they accept the PLO’s political platform and United Nations resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict out of fear that such a move would constitute recognition of Israel and abandonment of the armed struggle against Israel.
Abbas, for his part, is said to have turned down requests to end security coordination between the Palestinian security forces and the IDF.
Monday’s meeting in the Gaza Strip was attended by Maher al-Helles, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, and Sheikh Khaled al-Batsh, a member of the PIJ political bureau, as well as several officials from the two groups.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said that it came “within the context of strengthening bilateral relations between the two movements and strengthening the home front in the face of projects to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
The statement did not say whether the two sides discussed the Palestinian security crackdown on PIJ members in the West Bank.
According to the statement, the two sides “agreed to continue these meetings in a way that contributes to strengthening bilateral relations between the members and leaders of the two movements in confronting the occupation, restoring the unity of our Palestinian people, strengthening their resistance, and preserving the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”