West Bank: Detention of Palestinians wanted by Israel sparks deadly clashes

Palestinian demonstrators protesting the arrest of two Palestinian fighters clash with Palestinian 'security forces', in Nablus om September 20, 2022 (Reuters)

Shatha Hammad

Middle East Eye  /  September 20, 2022

One Palestinian was killed during an armed confrontation between Palestinian Authority security forces and protesters.

Armed clashes broke out between Palestinian security forces and protesters in the early hours of Tuesday after the Palestinian Authority arrested a high-ranking Hamas member wanted by Israel in an ambush on the occupied West Bank city of Nablus the night before. 

The confrontation persisted through the morning, leaving a 53-year-old Palestinian, Firas Yaish, killed and another critically wounded.

PA forces arrested Musab Shtayyeh, who had been the target of several assassination attempts by Israel, in an ambush on Faisal Street, east of Nablus, shortly before midnight. PA forces also arrested Ameed Tabileh, a Palestinian fighter close to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who is also wanted by Israel, in the same raid.

Shtayyeh had had a close relationship with Ibrahim Nabulsi, a leading member of Fatah’s armed wing, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who was shot and killed by Israeli forces in August.

Shtayyeh’s family called for his immediate release and denied PA reports that they had handed him over to security forces. 

“We hold the security forces fully responsible for the life of our hero son Musab Shtayyeh and the ensuing events and attacks on our people,” the family said in a statement, demanding access to Shtayyeh to check on his condition after he was beaten during his arrest.

Hamas, longtime rival of the PA’s leading party Fatah, condemned Shtayyeh’s arrest, calling it a “kidnapping… a national crime” and a “stain” on the PA’s image. 

To Israel’s benefit

Hundreds of Palestinians have participated in marches coming out of the city’s refugee camps, including Balata camp, Al-Ain camp and Askar camp, demanding the immediate release of the detainees. Protesters closed off streets with burning tyres and hurled rocks at PA armoured vehicles. 

Meanwhile, armed Palestinians exchanged fire with security forces, in clashes that lasted throughout the morning and during which Yaish was killed.

Gunmen also targeted the PA’s district headquarters with bullets in protest against the authority’s policies.

The PA’s security services spokesperson Talal Dweikat confirmed Yaish’s death in a statement, adding that they “are waiting for the medical report” on the circumstances of his killing.

Dweikat said Yaish was killed “in a place where no security personnel were present”.

Unconfirmed eyewitness reports said Yaish was killed by PA police fire. 

Four Palestinian protesters were also wounded, including Anas Abdel-Fattah, a student at Al-Najah University and former detainee in Israeli prisons, who sustained bullet wounds to the stomach and is in a critical condition. 

“We had hoped that popular anger would erupt against the Israeli occupation, and we have worked towards that, but what the PA’s actions have done destroyed all our efforts,” leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Khaled Mansour, told Middle East Eye.

“We’ve never expected the events that we have been witnessing in Nablus since last night. They are a result of the PA’s mistakes and transgressions, which they must retract,” Mansour said.

“Calm will not return until the authority stops detaining and persecuting people wanted by Israel.”

Mansour also held the PA responsible for the casualties.

“The authority arrests Palestinians and pursues them in accordance with its obligations with Israel. But Israel violates all treaties with Palestinians and does not abide by any of them,” he said. 

“Israel is the only one benefiting from the events in Nablus today, and we, the Palestinian people and our resistance, are the losers because of these unfortunate events.”

The PA’s ‘own reasons’

The PA did not give a clear account of the unrest, but Dweikat said in its statement that Shtayyeh and Tabileh were detained “for the security establishment’s own reasons that will be disclosed later”.

he detainees “will not be exposed to any harm” and “human rights organisations would be allowed to visit them immediately”, he added.

The statement attempted a calming tone, but labelled the protests against the PA as “foreign agendas”.

“Today, when we are in dire need of closing ranks and not being drawn into some malicious agendas,” Dweikat said.

The Nablus-based armed group Lion’s Den, which was founded following Nabulsi’s assassination, released several statements calling for escalation against the PA over Shtayyeh’s arrest and the authority’s persecution of Palestinians on Israel’s wanted list.

The group threatened that the PA security forces would not be allowed in Nablus city if Shtayyeh was not released.

“We direct an urgent message to the security services: the sons of ‘Lion’s Den’, and all the Palestinian political factions in Nablus, will not accept the [Israeli] occupation’s number one wanted person being held in the PA’s prisons,” the group said.

Shatha Hammad is a Palestinian freelance journalist

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Clashes with Palestinian security forces in Nablus leave one dead

Zena al-Tahhan

Al-Jazeera  /  September 20, 2022

Firas Yaeesh, 53, was killed at dawn on Tuesday during clashes between PA security forces and Palestinian fighters.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank A Palestinian man has been killed during ongoing clashes between Palestinian fighters and Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

Local media identified the man as 53-year-old Firas Yaeesh. His death was announced at dawn on Tuesday.

Witnesses, as well as local journalists, have said that Yaeesh was killed by PA police fire, but this has not yet been confirmed.

“Armed men had been shooting at the Nablus police centre, then the police began shooting indiscriminately – a bullet from the police hit him and killed him in front of his home,” Nablus-based journalist Hazem Nasser told Al Jazeera, citing witnesses.

An autopsy will be conducted later on Tuesday.

The spokesperson for the PA’s security services, Talal Dweikat, said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that “the death of citizen Firas Yaeesh came as a result of an injury, the nature of which has not yet been determined,” adding that they “are waiting for the medical report”.

Dweikat added that “no security personnel were present” at the scene where Yaeesh was killed, and said “there are testimonies of eyewitnesses who were in the area of ​​the unfortunate accident confirming the authenticity of this story.”

Another Palestinian man Anas Abdelfattah, who is said to be a student at An-Najah National University in Nablus, sustained serious wounds from a bullet to the stomach and is in a critical condition.

Clashes and confrontations unfolded in Nablus shortly after midnight following the PA’s arrest of two Palestinian fighters, including 30-year-old Musab Shtayyeh, who is high on Israel’s wanted list.

Shtayyeh is a commander with the Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Gaza-based Hamas’s armed resistance movement.

The other fighter was identified as Ameed Tbaileh.

In his statement, Dweikat commented on the arrests and said: “the decision to detain the citizens, Musab Shtayyeh and Ameed Tbaileh, came for the security establishment’s own reasons that will be disclosed later”.

He added that the two “will not be exposed to any harm” and that “human rights organizations would be allowed to visit them immediately”.

Ongoing clashes

Clashes were still ongoing at midday on Tuesday, with live ammunition being fired by both sides.

Young people have also hurled rocks, while PA security forces have launched tear gas at crowds.

Local journalists told Al Jazeera that a number of people had been injured after inhaling tear gas. PA police have closed off the Martyrs’ roundabout and the area around the Old City in the centre of Nablus.

“The situation is difficult. There is indiscriminate fire. It’s very tense,” said Nasser.

Atef Daghlas, who is reporting from near the roundabout, said that “since the morning, the clashes have reduced in intensity, but there are confrontations with youth ongoing”.

“If there is a funeral procession for Yaeesh, particularly at the Martyrs’ roundabout, the situation may escalate,” Daghlas told Al-Jazeera.

The Nablus city municipality and the An-Najah University suspended work on Tuesday, and most stores in the city center were shut.

Upon news of the arrest of the two fighters, armed groups in Nablus and Jenin released statements calling for their release, and dozens of fighters descended onto the streets and fired live ammunition into the air.

Hamas said in a statement shortly after midnight that it condemned the arrests and called for the immediate release of the detained fighters.

“While the enemy [Israel] continues its killing and arrest operations, and Judaization and settlements, the PA persists with security coordination and the oppression of our people and persecution and arrest of fighters,” the movement stated.

Photos of Shtayyeh with Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a fighter that was recently killed by Israel in Nablus and whose case caused local outrage, were shared widely on social media.

In a video statement, the Lion’s Den armed group in Nablus said: “We direct an urgent message to the security services: the sons of ‘Lion’s Den’, and all the Palestinian political factions in Nablus, will not accept the [Israeli] occupation’s number one wanted person being [detained] in the PA’s prisons.”

The group threatened that “not one [PA] security force officer will be allowed to operate in Nablus city” if Shtayyeh was not released.

The Jenin brigades, another armed group in the northern occupied West Bank, said “the prisoner Musab Shtayyeh must be released, so that we do not reach a situation you are unhappy with,” and added in their video statement “we did not ask you to fight with us or on our behalf, but do not be a poisoned dagger in our backs”.

The PA’s arrests of the two men come during an Israeli military campaign called Break the Wave, during which Israeli forces have gone after Palestinian fighters, particularly in the northern occupied West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, where Palestinian armed resistance has become more organized since May last year.

Following a string of attacks in Israel by Palestinians since March, which killed 19 people, the Israeli army has carried out near-daily raids and arrests in the two cities and has often killed Palestinian fighters, including in targeted assassinations.

The PA, which has limited control over city centers in the occupied West Bank, has faced growing opposition in recent years, including over its controversial policy of “security coordination” in which it shares intelligence information on Palestinians wanted by Israel for their political activism or armed activity.

The PA also regularly detains and mistreats prisoners over their criticism and opposing political views – including over the last period during which its arrests have increased.

In June 2021, Palestinian security forces, which are trained and financed by the European Union and the United States, beat to death outspoken critic Nizar Banat in Hebron. His killing prompted weeks of protests in Ramallah, with hundreds calling on PA President Abbas to resign, which security forces responded to with force.

Tuesday’s intra-Palestinian clashes may signal a new phase in the reality on the ground in the occupied West Bank.

ُThe confrontations signal “a stage of [armed groups] putting boundaries with [PA] security forces,” Nasser, the journalist, said.

“That yes, there are political arrests, but arresting those wanted by the occupation – that will be prevented.”

Zena al-Tahhan is Al-Jazeera English’s digital correspondent in Jerusalem