PA security forces suppress protest in Ramallah
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PA security forces suppress protest in Ramallah

Palestinian police use batons, tear gas to disperse demonstrators outside trial of prominent Palestinian activist; 11 injured and six detained

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Palestinian riot police clash with Palestinian protesters in Ramallah. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian riot police clash with Palestinian protesters in Ramallah. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority security forces on Sunday used batons and tear gas as they suppressed a protest outside the Magistrate’s Court in Ramallah.

Hundreds of Palestinians were protesting outside the court where the trial of Basel al-A’araj and five accomplices were taking place for illegal weapons possession.

A’araj, 31, a prominent activist in campaigns against Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was killed Monday morning in his hideout in Ramallah after he opened fire at Israeli forces who came to arrest him, the army said.

The court later dismissed the case against A’araj, but not the others.

His killing sparked widespread mourning in Palestinian society as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and among some in Israel.

Video showed Palestinian security forces beating back protesters with batons and violently dragging men and women away from the scene. Police also fired tear gas into the crowd.

PA police spokesman Louay Azriqat said the security forces were surprised that a number of citizens had blocked the street in front of the court compound in Ramallah, according to the official news agency Wafa.

Azriqat added that police, aided by the internal security forces, “treated the [protesters] with force, in accordance with the law, in order to open up the street and get things back to normal.”

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported six protesters were detained and 11 injured. Among the injured was Mahmoud al-A’araj, A’araj’s father, Palestinian media reports said.

Protesters shouted “the son of the martyr,” as security forces beat A’araj’s father while he lay on the ground, videos showed.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesperson for the Hamas terror group, which controls the Gaza Strip, called the injuring of A’araj’s father a “national crime,” and called for those responsible to be “held accountable and punished.”

Among the arrested was Palestinian Islamic Jihad West Bank leader Sheikh Khader Adnan. He was released soon after his arrest, according to the Palestinian news site Palestine Today said.

The Israeli army on Friday apparently backtracked on its decision to hand over the remains of A’araj, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, apparently fearing that the funeral would become a mass protest event.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that it would not yet be handing over the body, but declined to say if it had ever planned to.

A large funeral for A’araj was anticipated after many Palestinians on social media urged attendance at Friday prayers at the family’s mourner’s tent.

A’araj was dubbed by Palestinian media an “intellectual martyr” for his popular activism and because he was reportedly a noted historian of the Palestinian armed struggle. Since his death, A’araj has become a symbol of popular Palestinian resentment toward security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

He and two others had been arrested by PA security forces in April while camping out in a mountainous area near Ramallah. PA police said they were found with weapons, hand grenades and camping equipment, the Palestinian Ma’an reported.

A’araj was one of the best known personalities at protests in the Walaja area near his West Bank hometown of Bethlehem, and did not fit the classic profile of a wanted terrorist.

He was not known to be affiliated with any official terror group. He studied pharmacy in Egypt before returning to the West Bank, where he began working through various youth groups against the Palestinian Authority and against negotiations with Israel.

All this time, he maintained a high public profile, on social media, traditional media and in protests against the PA.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terror group, called A’araj “one of the most important Palestinian resistance men,” and a “revolutionary intellectual.”

Judah Ari Gross and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.

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