Tensions in the West Bank city of Hebron have risen over the past two days, with the homes of two local politicians sprayed with bullets ahead of the Palestinian legislative elections in May.
Armed gunmen allegedly opened fire on the home and office of parliamentary candidate Hatem Shaheen early on Monday morning. Shaheen, a lawyer, is currently running on a list sponsored by former Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan.
Dahlan is a bitter rival of the current leadership in Ramallah, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He was exiled to the United Arab Emirates in 2013, but has hinted that he may use the Palestinian vote to launch a comeback in the West Bank.
“Around 2:30 before dawn, we awoke to the sound of heavy shooting towards our home. We rushed to see what was happening, and saw a white car fleeing the scene,” Shaheen told reporters outside his home in Hebron.
#فلسطين : تيار الإصلاح الديمقراطي في حركة فتح: ندين الجريمة النكراء التي قامت بها أيادي عابثة ومنفلتة بإطلاق الرصاص على منزل ومكتب وسيارة المحامي حاتم شاهين، المرشح على قائمة المستقبل في محافظة الخليل لانتخابات المجلس التشريعي. pic.twitter.com/M7o0NdqnNO
— شبكة فلسطين للأنباء (@shfanews_net) April 12, 2021
Following the incident, Dahlan’s supporters accused the Palestinian leadership, including Abbas, of creating an “unfree” environment for elections.
Another shooting incident took place early Tuesday morning, when gunmen allegedly fired at the house of Hebron Fatah party chairman Emad Kharwat.
Kharwat appeared to blame Dahlan’s faction for the gunfire, telling Palestinian media: “We know well that Dahlan, and his people, and his supporters are wreaking havoc. We will not allow anyone to cause chaos in my city of Hebron.”
Hebron mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh described the Hebron shootings as reflecting “a security vacuum and the chaos of the spread of weaponry in our homeland generally, and in Hebron in particular.”
“This shooting was an attempt to create internal discord on the eve of the elections,” Abu Sneineh, a Fatah member, wrote in a signed statement.
Palestinian security officials told The Times of Israel they could not confirm whether the two incidents were related.
Separately, Israeli forces arrested Hamas parliamentary candidate Najih Asi early on Tuesday morning. According to the terror group, Asi is the director of Hamas’s parliamentary campaign in the West Bank.
تصريح صحفي للناطق باسم قائمة "القدس موعدنا" علاء حميدان: ندين ما أقدمت عليه قوات الاحتلال من اختطاف لممثل القائمة الأخ ناجح عاصي من منزله في مدينة رام الله.
حملات الاعتقال المستمرة منذ سنوات ستفشل في كسر عزيمة أبناء الشعب الفلسطيني. pic.twitter.com/aQ4aoYlyEx
— فلسطين الآن (@paltimes2015) April 13, 2021
Hamas has charged numerous times in recent weeks that Israel has called senior Hamas officials for interrogation and issued stern warnings not to participate in the upcoming elections.
“Clearly, Israel is concerned about the ongoing elections, which it knows will end the Palestinian state of division,” a spokesperson for Hamas’s slate of candidates, “Jerusalem Our Destination,” told reporters at a press conference in Ramallah.
The Shin Bet security service declined to comment on the allegations on the record. A security official told The Times of Israel that such claims “have no connection to reality,” without elaborating.
“[Asi] was arrested for involvement in recent terrorist activity. There is no connection between his arrest and his political activities,” the security official said.
Abbas announced in mid-January that Palestinians would be returning to the polls for the first time in 15 years. He issued an electoral decree setting three rounds of elections, with the first — legislative elections — scheduled for May 22.
Observers were initially skeptical that the decree would lead to elections, given Abbas’s fear of his main rival, Hamas, unseating him. But nearly three months later, the election decree has yet to be canceled, some 93% of Palestinians are registered to vote and 36 parliamentary lists have been presented and approved.