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Report: Balata refugee camp fighters say PA ‘left them no choice’

March 21, 2017 7:16 P.M. (Updated: March 25, 2017 4:35 P.M.)
Palestinian security officers in Balata refugee camp (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After a detention raid by Palestinian forces in Balata refugee camp Sunday night erupted into armed clashes that left a Palestinian security officer dead, masked gunmen in Balata told Israel's Channel 2 that the Palestinian Authority “left them no choice,” and warned that fighters in the camp would continue to resist the ongoing security crackdown launched by the PA.

Another policeman and at least two “wanted fugitives” were also injured in Sunday night's clashes, with one of the gunmen being detained and treated for serious injuries while the other managed to escape.

According to the report, PA forces had continued to besiege the Nablus-area refugee camp, periodically opening fire, as of Monday afternoon.

Balata has been a site of violent clashes between the PA and armed locals since a massive crackdown was launched to seize weapons and detain “wanted criminals” across the West Bank, as a part of the Fatah-dominated PA’s security coordination with Israel, which has been denounced by critics as a “revolving door policy" of funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

In a televised interview Monday by Israeli journalist Ohad Hemo, members of Fatah's armed wing the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades -- anonymized with masks and voice changers -- said that “at any moment, the whole camp could be targeted and exposed to death due to the security policy.”

According to Hemo, members of the brigades exchange heavy fire with PA forces “almost every evening,” with the Israeli reporter describing Sunday night's “bloody confrontation” as another episode of the "Fatah against Fatah” conflict.

One brigades members said, in an apparent message to the PA, “Who are you using this policy against? Your own people? When you seek to kill us using Mossad (Israeli intelligence) methods, you are leaving us no other choice,” and issued a warning that there would be “consequences” for the injury of Ahmad Abu Hamada, who was hospitalized for multiple gunshot wounds after the clashes.

The masked gunman said that Abu Hamada, who is also known as “al-Zabour,” was a leader in the brigades and “has been wanted by the Israeli occupation for four years."

"If they want war, we are ready, and if they choose peace, we are ready. We do not oppose the law," one fighter said.

According to the report, members of the brigades rejected accusations that they support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s longtime rival Muhammad Dahlan, a dismissed member of the Fatah movement now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

However, in a statement to the press included in the report, Nablus Governor Akram Rujoub said: “I am not revealing a secret when I say they support Dahlan. They have publicly hailed Dahlan and not president Abu Mazen,” he said, using a nickname for Abbas.

When asked what his message was for Abbas, one brigades member said: "We ask the president to come to Nablus in person. If you are a president of all the Palestinian people, the Nablus district deserves a half-hour tour so you can carry out your responsibilities."

‘The ghettoization of Balata’

A report released last week by Ramallah-based NGO Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) also described a reality of daily gun violence in the camp, in addition to nightly detention raids by both Palestinian and Israeli forces.

Locals in Balata -- one of most crowded and impoverished localities in the occupied West Bank -- told DCIP that conditions in the camp have only deteriorated in recent years, describing “an atmosphere of permanent anxiety,” particularly for children who “exhibit aggressive behaviors" as a result of the ongoing violence.

“The ghettoization of Balata refugee camp has created a sense of abandonment among residents, who claim that the PA has abrogated its responsibilities toward them. This claim is not baseless,” DCIP wrote, citing a 2015 interview with Palestinian security forces spokesperson Adnan Dmeiri when he said, “the problems in Balata camp are UNRWA’s responsibility. The camp is under the jurisdiction of UNRWA; it’s not under the law of the municipality.”

In response to Dmeiri's claim, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness explained to DCIP that law enforcement falls clearly outside of the remit of the “neutral humanitarian organization."

Balata was established in 1950 by the United National Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as a temporary solution to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 that saw at least 750,000 Palestinians forcibly displaced.

Originally designed to provide temporary shelter for 5,000 people, this camp is now home to 27,000, making it the largest refugee camp by population in the West Bank -- despite its physical space having only expanded from its original area of 0.1 square miles by by 0.0004 square miles.
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