Palestinian police boost presence in Nablus

People in the streets of the Ein Beit Alma refugee camp in Nablus. (Shabtai Gold/IRIN)

NABLUS, WEST BANK, 25 November 2007 (IRIN) - Palestinian militants in the Nablus area of the West Bank are in the middle of what seems to be a pincer movement — chased not only by the Israeli military but also by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which, under Acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, has taken it upon itself to crack down on the fighters.

Palestinian security forces say they are going after “illegal weapons” and the misuse of arms. All factions, they say, will be treated equally in an attempt to end “chaos.” The PA has arrested members of several groups, including the Islamic group, Hamas.

On 18 November, there was a stand-off in the Ein Beit Alma refugee camp in Nablus, between PA police and militants from a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) cell. Less than 36 hours earlier, the Israeli military conducted a midnight operation in the same camp, seemingly going after the same squad.

About 20 soldiers entered the home of the Hmidan family at about 3am, family members told IRIN, kicking them out.

“They woke us up with sound grenades right outside our door,” said Adel, aged 44, who said a relative was a militant but does not live in their home.

“They overturned all the cabinets and shelves,” he said, pointing out broken doors as he stepped over clothes tossed on the floor by the soldiers.

In a dilapidated kitchen with peeling plaster, where the shelves contain food aid from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Adel indicated a stove and fridge which he said were smashed during the operation.

“I can’t afford to fix the damage,” he said, adding he had little work.

Ali Hmidan, aged 12, told IRIN he was taken into a separate room and interrogated for 10 minutes by the soldiers in Hebrew, which he doesn’t understand.

The Israeli military said the activity was a typical arrest operation. Israelis deem Nablus “the terror capital” of the West Bank and officials regularly announce the discovery of bomb-making laboratories.

Improvement in security

While a PA police presence inside the camps (Ein Beit Alma and nearby Balata) remains rare, residents in Nablus say they are generally more secure since a new deployment earlier in November of some 300 PA armed officers, with Israel’s permission.

Israel has also allowed in armoured vehicles for the Palestinian police, and Israeli media reported that AK-47 rifles are also now reaching law enforcement officials.

Observers say the PA is trying to consolidate its power in the West Bank, in part to prevent a Hamas takeover, as happened in Gaza five months ago, but also to simultaneously prove to the Israelis it can control the security situation and show Palestinians it can make political gains, including an eventual Israeli withdrawal from cities.

However, the Israeli incursions are regular, nearly nightly, residents of the Ein Beit Alma camp say, while the propaganda material of radical groups has included calling the governor of Nablus a “tool in the hand of the Israeli occupation.”

Previous raids damaged homes

The new raids, which Israel says are “routine operations”, come on the heels of previous, more serious incursions. In November Nablus Municipality repaired the sewage system damaged in September.

Residents recently received cash assistance from the UN for damages incurred in a June incursion, but others are still waiting for help to repair their broken windows, walls and doors from September. Some of the gaping holes are covered by nothing more than plastic wrappings as the night temperatures begin to edge towards freezing.

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