Palestinian raid sparks gunfights and protests

Palestinians chase police vehicle in Nablus (20/09/22)

There have been fierce gun battles in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, after Palestinian security forces arrested militants wanted by Israel.

A 53-year-old man was killed and there have been violent street protests.

It marks a further deterioration of security in the West Bank and is a sign of growing dissatisfaction among Palestinians with their leadership, after months of Israeli incursions.

An official warned of the risk of “civil war” if calm was not restored.

Meanwhile, the militant group Hamas accused its rivals in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the West Bank, of a “national crime” by carrying out the raid.

The atmosphere in the cities of Nablus and Jenin has grown more volatile as ordinary Palestinians contend with near-nightly raids by the Israeli army, sparking gun battles with increasingly well-armed militants, while control by the PA has been disintegrating.

Since January, more than 90 Palestinians, including militants and civilians, have been killed in the West Bank, mostly by Israeli security forces. The raids intensified from April, after a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinians and Arab Israelis on the streets of Israel which killed 18 people.

Monday’s raid appears to have involved a botched attempt by the PA to revive its authority in the heart of Nablus.

PA security forces detained two militants, including Musab Shtayyeh, who was described by Hamas as one its senior members. He has previously been jailed several times by Israel and was added to its wanted list in 2020.

The raid sparked armed confrontations with Palestinian gunmen. Later, during protests, 53-year-old Firas Yaish was killed. He was reportedly a bystander. PA officials said security forces were not present in the area and that it was not clear how he died.

The protests have continued into the day, with gunfire heard in the centre of Nablus, where demonstrators called for the prisoners’ release and pelted PA patrol vehicles with stones.

The mayor of Nablus is holding a meeting involving the Palestinian factions in an attempt to restore calm.

Israel and the US had been putting pressure on the PA to re-establish control in the northern West Bank. PA officials responded that Israel’s growing incursions were undermining their authority.

Under agreements dating back to the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, Israel and the PA conduct security co-ordination, one intention of which was to marginalise Hamas and other militant groups to allow the PA to rule effectively and to prevent attacks against Israelis.

But the process is opaque and is denounced by the PA’s critics.

Politically, the security co-ordination has often suited the Palestinian leadership, which is dominated by President Abbas’ Fatah movement, rivals of Hamas. But it has always been controversial.

Militant groups and many ordinary Palestinians argue that in practice it reduces the PA to a secondary security force bolstering Israel’s military occupation.

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