Palestinian Authority clamps down on Fatah dissidents ahead of elections

Tensions in Fatah are mounting ahead of the elections.

FATAH GUNMEN hold rifles during a demonstration in the West Bank. (photo credit: REUTERS)
FATAH GUNMEN hold rifles during a demonstration in the West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority security forces arrested five Fatah gunmen in the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus, on Monday.
Armed clashes between PA security officers and several gunmen erupted during the predawn raid, residents of the camp said. It was one of the largest security operations carried out by PA security forces in recent years.
The incident is yet another sign of mounting tensions in Fatah ahead of Palestinian elections.
Fatah leaders are worried that several members of the faction are planning to run as independents in the parliamentary election, slated for May 22. They believe such a move would negatively impact Fatah’s chances of winning the vote.
Balata refugee camp has long served as a stronghold for several dissident Fatah armed groups, including the faction’s so-called armed wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Most of the groups are opposed to the current leadership in Fatah and the PA.
Over the past few years, supporters of deposed Fatah operative Mohammad Dahlan, an archrival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have also popped up in Balata and other refugee camps in the West Bank.
Hatem Abu Rizek, a senior Fatah activist from Balata who was known for his affiliation with Dahlan, was killed in October during a clash with PA security officers. He was killed when a hand grenade he was carrying accidentally exploded, the PA said.
The five gunmen who were arrested on Monday were wanted by the PA security forces for their role in various criminal activities, a Palestinian security official said.
“They were responsible for anarchy and lawlessness in the camp and Nablus,” the official said.
One of the gunmen was wounded during the firefight.
Last Friday, PA security forces exchanged gunfire with gunmen in Balata during another security crackdown to arrest fugitives. Two Balata residents, Sami al-Janazreh and Ahmed al-Titi, were arrested during the operation.
Similar armed clashes have frequently erupted over the past few years between the PA security forces and gunmen in the camp.
Monday’s security operation was “a strange and terrifying action that did not take into consideration the difficult conditions the camp suffers from,” said Jamal Tirawi, a senior Fatah dissident from Balata.
What is happening in Balata is part of a “systematic policy to eliminate the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank,” he told the Palestinian news agency Khabar.
Tirawi accused the PA security forces of intimidating the elderly and children during the raid.
“Anyone who rejects these policies is targeted by the security services,” he said. “In my opinion, what happened goes against the simplest political, security and legal norms.”
Tirawi and other Fatah activists in Balata said they were unhappy with the results of the recent election for the Fatah leadership in the Nablus area. Influential Fatah leaders and PA security forces intervened in the electoral process to ensure the success of their favored candidates at the expense of Fatah cadres from Balata, they said.