Palestinian Authority officers clash with Jenin gunmen

Clashes began shortly after security officers entered Jenin Refugee Camp to arrest Palestinians wanted by the PA for possession of illegal weapons and involvement in criminal activities.

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)

Armed clashes erupted on Friday night between Palestinian Authority security forces and several gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

The clashes began shortly after the security officers entered the camp to arrest Palestinians wanted by the PA for possession of illegal weapons and involvement in criminal activities, said a senior Palestinian security source.

The raid on the Jenin refugee camp, a traditional stronghold for armed groups belonging to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the ruling Fatah faction, came less than a week after PA President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the commanders of all the branches of the security forces in the Jenin area.

Abbas’s move came after thousands of Palestinians, including Hamas and PIJ gunmen, participated in the funeral of Wasfi Kabaha, a senior Hamas official from Jenin who recently died of COVID-19 complications.

The large turnout at the funeral and the appearance in public of Hamas and PIJ gunmen on the streets of Jenin were seen by many Palestinians as a direct and major challenge to Abbas and the PA. In addition, they were also seen as an indication that the PA was continuing to lose control of the situation in the West Bank, especially in Jenin and Hebron.

Members of Palestinian Authority security forces patrol following clashes with Palestinian gunmen in which a Palestinian woman was shot dead, in the old town of the West Bank city of Nablus, November 16, 2016. (credit: ABED OMAR QUSINI/REUTERS)Members of Palestinian Authority security forces patrol following clashes with Palestinian gunmen in which a Palestinian woman was shot dead, in the old town of the West Bank city of Nablus, November 16, 2016. (credit: ABED OMAR QUSINI/REUTERS)

Kamal Abu al-Rub, deputy governor of the Jenin area, said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station that the funeral was a “dangerous indication” because of the large turnout.

Hamas leaders and officials, for their part, said that the mass funeral showed that their Gaza-based group enjoys huge popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank.

Friday night’s incident at Jenin refugee camp, where Palestinian security forces failed to apprehend suspects, was described by some Palestinians as a “humiliation” for the PA.

In a scene reminiscent of clashes between Palestinians and IDF troops, dozens of camp residents hurled rocks and various objects at armored vehicles belonging to the PA security forces, forcing them to retreat. Masked gunmen opened fire at the vehicles from rooftops and narrow alleyways, but no casualties were reported.

“The Palestinian Authority wanted to show that it has new security commanders in the Jenin area who are going to change the reality on the ground,” said Hussein Ammar, a resident of the town of Kabatiya in the Jenin area. “But as we saw on Friday night, this is not going to be an easy mission.”

Shortly after the clashes in the camp, unidentified gunmen attacked the headquarters of the PA security forces in Jenin. The headquarters have been the target of several shooting attacks over the past two years. No one was hurt.

Abu al-Rub, the deputy governor, said the PA security forces were continuing their efforts to end increasing scenes of lawlessness and anarchy in the Jenin area. He played down the significance of the clashes at the refugee camp, saying it began when a security patrol spotted a wanted man and tried to arrest him.

“Some children and teenagers threw rocks at the officers,” he said. “Then the situation deteriorated into an exchange of gunfire and one of our vehicles was hit by a bullet.”

Four camp residents were lightly injured by tear gas inhalation, while a fifth was struck with a stray bullet fired by the gunmen, he added.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to ease tensions in Hebron, where members of two large clans – Ja’bari and al-Uwaiwi – have been engaged in street fighting over the past week.

Several houses, businesses and vehicles have been torched during the clashes, according to sources in Hebron.

On Thursday evening, Sanad Juweid Da’na, a 26-year-old resident of Hebron, died of wounds he sustained after being shot a few days earlier by unidentified gunmen in the city. A young woman, whose name was not released, was lightly injured, the sources said.It was not clear whether the shooting was linked to the feud between the Ja’bari and al-Uwaiwi clans.

During last week’s fighting, gunmen opened fire at a power plant in Hebron that provides electricity to large parts of the city. As a result, the southern neighborhoods and suburbs of Hebron were left without power for several hours.

“The Palestinian Authority is determined to put an end to the security chaos,” said a senior PA official in Ramallah. “We will not tolerate anarchy and lawlessness. The Palestinian security forces have been instructed to deal firmly with these phenomena, whether in Jenin or in Hebron.”