PA steps up crackdown on Hamas, Islamic Jihad members

The Palestinian Authority drew sharp criticism for its crackdown on Hamas and other faction members, which it stepped up recently.

 Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021.

The Palestinian Authority has stepped up its security crackdown on members of Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the West Bank, drawing sharp criticism from the groups, political activists and human rights organizations.

In separate statements, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), whose members are the prime targets of the ongoing clampdown, called for an end to the measures taken by the PA security forces.

A PA official in Ramallah said that the security measures were designed to “enforce law and order” and “prevent attempts by thugs and armed gangs to undermine the Palestinian Authority and disturb the peace.”

The official dismissed accusations that the PA leadership was exploiting the security crackdown to target political rivals and silence critics.

In the past week, PA security officers prevented Hamas, PIJ and PFLP supporters from carrying their flags and banners in public. The officers also arrested several Hamas and PIJ members in different parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest in Ramallah last month. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest in Ramallah last month. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

On Friday, PA plainclothes security officers intercepted a funeral procession in Bethlehem and confiscated flags and banners belonging to the three groups.

The incident took place during the funeral of 14-year-old Amjad Abu Sultan, who was killed by IDF soldiers last month as he was trying to throw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli vehicles from an area that overlooks Route 60. His body was handed over to the Palestinians last week.

On Thursday, PA security officers raided the town of Tammun in the Jenin area and confiscated PIJ banners during a reception held by the group for Azmi Bani Odeh, a local resident who had just been released from Israeli prison.

Odeh was arrested by Israeli authorities shortly after his brother, Saddam, was killed during a clash with IDF soldiers. Saddam, 26, was known as a leading PIJ activist.

EARLIER LAST week, PA security officers attacked a number of Palestinians during a reception in Ramallah for Mu’tasem Zaloum, a Hamas member who was also released from Israeli prison. The officers confiscated Hamas flags and summoned several participants for interrogation. They also used tear gas to disperse the Hamas supporters.

A similar incident took place in the village of Bala’ah, near Tulkarm, where Palestinian security forces prevented residents from holding a reception for Hani Barabrah, another Hamas activist released from Israeli prison.

Sources in the village said that the PA security officers confiscated also Hamas flags, and arrested a number of residents who participated in the celebration.

The decision to ban flags and banners belonging to Hamas, PIJ and PFLP came after the recent mass funeral held in Jenin for Wasfi Kabaha, a senior Hamas official who died of coronavirus earlier this month.

The participation of Hamas and PIJ masked gunmen in the funeral was seen as a huge embarrassment for, and a direct challenge to, the PA’s leadership.

In response, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to replace the commanders of the various branches of the Palestinian security forces in the Jenin area.

Abbas is also reported to have issued strict instructions to the PA security forces to ban all public events held by Hamas, PIJ and other groups that are not affiliated with his ruling Fatah faction.

According to Palestinian sources, at least 65 Palestinians have been detained by the PA security forces in the past two weeks. Most of the detainees are suspected of being affiliated with Hamas and PIJ, the sources said.

In addition, more than 50 Palestinians were summoned for interrogation by the security forces, especially in the northern West Bank.

Hamas condemned the PA crackdown, dubbing it a “national and moral crime.”

Referring to the PA ban on public events, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said that such actions by the Palestinian security forces “only serve the occupation.” He pointed out that the PA crackdown coincided with an increase in “the Zionist aggression against Palestinians” in the West Bank. “Instead of targeting Palestinian factions and preventing them from holding activities, the Palestinian Authority should be defending Palestinians,” Qassem said in a statement.

HUSSEIN ABU KWEIK, a senior Hamas official from Ramallah, condemned the PA for targeting events to celebrate the release of Palestinians from Israeli prison. “This behavior violates Palestinian values that respect the prisoners and glorify their struggle,” he said.

The targeting of Hamas members and its banners will not “discourage the movement from continuing with its honorable path of resistance and pursuit of national unity,” Abu Kwiek added.

PIJ said in a statement that the “abduction of our activists by the Palestinian security forces in Jenin is an unpatriotic and immoral act.” The group also claimed that the PA crackdown was intended “to serve the occupation.”

Commenting on the incident during the funeral in Bethlehem, the PFLP accused the PA security forces of carrying out a “brutal assault” on the mourners.

“What happened confirms that the security forces have not learned lessons from their assaults on public freedoms and that they insist on proceeding with their repressive measures,” the PFLP said in a statement. “The attack on the funeral represents a dangerous shift in the practices of the Palestinian security services, which requires the prosecution of those involved in it and of those who gave the orders.”

The Palestinian Lawyers for Justice group also lashed out at the PA.

“Lawyers for Justice denounces the scenes of suppression of freedoms and the prosecution of activists and citizens on the basis of their political affiliation,” the group said, referring to the ongoing trial of dozens of political activists and academics accused of protesting the killing of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat, a resident of Hebron, who was beaten to death by PA security officers in late June.

The group pointed out that the authority’s recent measures, including the confiscation of flags and banners, were in violation of a “presidential decree” issued by Abbas earlier this year. The decree, which came ahead of the planned general elections, called for “boosting public freedoms in all the territories of the State of Palestine, including the freedom of political and national action.”