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Palestinian officer killed, 2 gunmen injured during armed clashes in Balata

March 20, 2017 10:36 A.M. (Updated: March 21, 2017 1:25 P.M.)
Palestinian security officers in Balata refugee camp (File)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- A Palestinian policeman was killed Sunday night during armed clashes that erupted in Balata refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, after Palestinian forces raided the camp to detain “wanted fugitives,” Palestinian security forces said.

The clashes left another policeman and at least two gunmen injured -- one of whom was detained while the other managed to escape.

Local sources told Ma’an that Palestinian security forces ambushed the camp at the eastern cemetery dressed as civilians, sparking clashes with gunmen that lasted some 15 minutes.

Governor of Nablus Akram Rujoub said that Palestinian security forces officer Hasaan Ali Abu al-Hajj was killed after being shot in the head, and was declared dead sometime later after succumbing to the injury. Rujoub noted that Abu al-Hajj was newly married, just six months ago.

Abu al-Hajj was buried on Monday afternoon in his hometown of Kobar northwest of Ramallah.
Palestinian security forces officer Hassan Ali Abu al-Hajj
The funeral of Hassan Ali Abu al-Hajj

A Palestinian security forces official said that “the most wanted man” in Balata refugee camp -- identified as Ahmad Abu Hamada and known as “al-Zabour” -- was seriously injured during the gun battle.

Official Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Palestinian security forces spokesperson Adnan Dmeiri as saying that as forces surrounded Abu Hamada and asked him to surrender, he refused and opened fire at police, fatally wounding Abu al-Hajj.

Abu Hamada sustained two bullet wounds in his head and another in his stomach, and police were able to detain the wounded man as forces retreated from the camp.

According to Dmeiri, Abu Hamada was wanted for murder, weapons dealing, and shooting at security forces in multiple incidents.

Ahmad Abu Hamada

Another unidentified gunman who was injured “refused to surrender for medical care” and managed to escape, the official added.

Abu Hamada was taken to the operating room at Rafidiya Governmental Hospital in Nablus, and transferred Monday morning to the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah, according a statement from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The ministry said that Abu Hamada “received proper medical care in Rafidiya hospital,” but was transferred to Palestine Medical Complex to undergo surgery. The statement said that medical staff were “doing their best to provide proper medical care” for Abu Hamada, noting that his condition had stabilized.

PA spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud released a statement later on Monday, mourning the death of Abu al-Hajj and expressing his general appreciation for security forces and their "dedication and bravery in protecting the people."

Al-Mahmoud said the officer "died while performing his duty to maintain security and pursue those responsible for instilling chaos and threatening the lives of citizens and their properties."

"The Palestinian government will continue to provide security and stability to our society. We will not hesitate to pursue fugitives and bring them to justice," al-Mahmoud declared, adding that the PA was "renewing its demands to all criminals to turn themselves over to authorities so they may be held accountable."

Balata refugee camp has been a site of violent clashes between Palestinian security forces and residents of the camp since a massive security crackdown was launched across the West Bank, which turned deadly last August, after two policemen were killed during a raid into the Old City in Nablus to uncover weapons and make arrests.

The ensuing manhunt for the gunmen responsible left three suspects killed by Palestinian security forces, sparking international outrage over what the UN deemed “extrajudicial executions,” particular after one detainee was beaten to death in police custody.

Last September, Palestinian forces also shot dead an alleged Palestinian gunman in Nablus, while three others were injured in contested circumstances.

After security forces conducted a failed ambush operation to detain a “fugitive” from Balata last month, Rujoub told Ma'an that police had begun implementing a “new method” of detaining wanted fugitives by conducting targeted ambush operations, which he said was a way to “avoid harming innocent citizens” in the densely populated refugee camp.

"These outlaws are trying to trick security forces into carrying out a major campaign in Balata to harm citizens,” Rajoub claimed at the time. “However, security services and political leadership refuse to do that. We insist that residents of the camp enjoy safety and security.”

Amid the ongoing security crackdown, the PA has faced widespread criticism over the unclear circumstances in which Palestinian fugitives have been arrested and killed.

The crackdown also comes as Palestinian political factions have repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority of “escalating security collaboration” with Israeli authorities and “adopting a revolving door policy" of funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

Opposition to security coordination has gained momentum in recent weeks after Palestinian police assaulted anti-PA demonstrators who were protesting an ongoing case against five activists charged by the PA for planning an attack on Israel -- despite the fact that four of them are held in Israeli prison and one, Basel al-Araj, was shot dead by Israeli forces. Charges against all-Araj were dropped after he was killed.
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