IDF: PA cracking down on Hamas in Bethlehem

Move precedes anticipated arrival of some 120,000 tourists to Bethlehem during September, October.

Xmas in bethlehem 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Xmas in bethlehem 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority security forces in Bethlehem have begun cracking down on Hamas elements in recent months in anticipation of an unprecedented flow of tourists to the city, Lt.-Col. Aviv Feigel, the IDF District Coordination Liaison in the city, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Since Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June and the establishment of the emergency government led by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, the IDF has renewed relations with the PA and for the first time since 2005 has reestablished coordination committees in an effort to strengthen Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Feigel, who is wrapping up four years in his post, said the IDF had come to the realization that Israel's security was directly connected to the quality of life within the Palestinian territories. Since Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, PA security forces in Bethlehem, he said, had been rounding up Hamas members and at the moment, 10 were sitting in jail there. "The PA security apparatuses understand that they need to take care of [terrorist] elements," Feigel said in an interview at his office next to the Etzion Brigade headquarters near the settlement of Alon Shvut. "The PA forces are working to identify Hamas members in the city as well as from within their own ranks." Once identified, the Hamas members are in most cases asked to sign a document annulling their membership with the Islamist group. If they refuse, Feigel said, they were usually arrested by the PA. He said the PA realized that if it did not deal with Hamas elements today, it could face a violent takeover of the West Bank similar to that which occurred in Gaza. For the past month, Feigel has been coordinating with the PA Tourism Ministry ahead of the anticipated arrival of some 120,000 tourists to Bethlehem during September and October, the city's high season. By the end of the year, half a million tourists are expected to have visited Bethlehem. Feigel said 60 percent of the city's population depended on the tourism industry and that the number of tourists had been steadily climbing in recent years. In 2003, 37,000 tourists visited the city; 237,000 have already visited there this year. "Security equals tourism," said Feigel. "The Palestinians understand this and know that if they don't keep the city quiet then the tourists will not come."