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3 injured after armed clashes break out with PA security forces in Balata refugee camp

Oct. 29, 2016 4:28 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 30, 2016 4:53 P.M.)
An aerial view of the Balata refugee camp
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Armed clashes broke out early Saturday morning between Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces and residents of the Balata refugee camp, just south of Nablus city in the northern occupied West Bank.

PA security forces had entered the camp “to arrest fugitives” when clashes broke out with armed gunmen from the camp, according to PA security sources.

The sources told Ma'an that PA security was “determined to reach all fugitives and bring them to justice," without providing more details on why the people wanted for arrest were considered as fugitives by the PA.

According to local sources, the clashes broke out around 2 a.m. near the camp's cemetery.

Two young men from the camp were injured -- one with shrapnel and another by a baton strike to the head -- while one PA security officer sustained minor wounds.

All three were evacuated to nearby hospitals.

Locals added that most of the camp's “fugitives” were hiding in the al-Jamasin neighborhood of the camp, and that PA security forces were deployed on several rooftops in the camp.

Both locals and PA security sources confirmed that machine guns and “homemade explosive devices” were used against security forces.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Football Federation decided on Saturday to postpone a match between the Balata football team and the Wadi al-Neis team from Bethlehem, seemingly in response to the clashes.

The match, which was supposed to have been played on Saturday, was postponed until Monday.

Balata refugee camp has remained 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 in 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” -- particularly that of Ahmad Izz Halaweh, the alleged “mastermind” behind the police shooting, who was beaten to death in police custody.

Last month Palestinian forces also shot dead an alleged Palestinian gunman in Nablus, while three others were also injured. While Palestinian forces had claimed the men opened fire on them, forcing them to respond, others have claimed the four were unarmed at the time of the incident and were surveilling the Palestinian police while they carried out a detention raid.

Amid the ongoing security crackdown, the PA has faced widespread criticism over the unclear circumstances in which Palestinian fugitives have been arrested and killed, with prisoners’ rights group Addameer saying that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

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

The Israeli army’s central command said that the Palestinian security forces were responsible for approximately 40 percent of all arrests of “suspected terrorists,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in May.

Meanwhile, the densely populated Balata refugee camp has historically shown high levels of unemployment, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of basic services such as access to clean water and effective sewage systems, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The camp was established by the United Nations in 1950 to provide housing and services to refugees resulting from the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, which forced more than 700,000 Palestinians to flee their homes.

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