In a sign of the growing unrest in the Palestinian Authority, masked gunmen claiming to be members of Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces took to the streets of the Balata refugee camp on Thursday to put on a show of force. Firing in the air and intimidating passersby, the men flexed their muscles, sending a warning to officials in the Palestinian Authority who, they claim, are persecuting them.
A Channel 2 News crew accompanied the ex-terrorists affiliated with the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade on their march through the camp outside Nablus, where they spoke about their plight.
“Our message is directed at President Mahmoud Abbas. We support him, we have his weapons here, but there are those in the Palestinian security establishment who wish to harm the fighters in the cities, the refugee camps and the villages,” said one of the men, who served as the group’s spokesman. “The young people active in the struggle have become targets. They treat us as if we were not members of Fatah, not Abbas’s men.”
The al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade is also known as the military branch of Fatah. Its members played a large role in the Second Intifada between 2001 and 2003, carrying out some of the most deadly terrorist attacks of the time. Many members of the organization joined the ranks of the Palestinian Authority security forces following an amnesty deal in which they surrendered their arms and renounced the path of violent resistance.
The men claim that the Palestinian Authority used them for years in an effort to prevent Hamas from gaining a foothold, but has now abandoned them and is no longer paying their wages. They also say that members of their group are being arrested and tortured in Palestinian Authority prisons.
Using Channel 2’s television crew to send a message to Abbas, the spokesman read from a note: “Your security forces are abusing and torturing us. Hundreds of your sons, Fatah men, are in Palestinian Authority prisons.”
Balata is the West Bank’s largest refugee camp and is considered one of the most crowded places on earth. It has long been seen as a stronghold of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli presence in the West Bank, but Thursday’s march was directed at the Palestinian Authority.
Asked whether their march was also a message to Israel, the man said, “No, certainly not. We are committed to the hudna [Arabic for "truce"] to which the chairman agreed.” He also claimed his group was against Hamas and would not let the rival group’s members act openly in the streets. He added, however, that if Fatah reached a reconciliation arrangement with Hamas, his men would support it.
“Our message is clear: We support the president as the legitimate ruler. But if PA officials dare to enter the refugee camps without direct orders from him….”
The end of the sentence may have been drowned out by the rounds fired in the air, but the message was clear: The Palestinian Authority cannot afford to trifle with them.