For the first time, armed and uniformed Palestinian Authority security forces entered and toured parts of the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron, a senior official in the PA Hebron governor’s office said Tuesday.
Under the Hebron Protocol signed by the PLO and Israel in 1997, the Jewish state controls the segment of the West Bank city known as “H2,” where some 500 Israeli settlers live surrounded by 40,000 Palestinians. Hebron’s Old City falls within the area.
The official PA news site, Wafa, published photos on Tuesday showing members of the PA security forces in uniform, some armed, walking around Hebron’s Old City and interacting with Palestinian residents there.
Thirty members of the PA Police and National Security Forces participated in the tour, Col. Hazem Abu Hanud told Wafa.
“This is the first time that our forces have toured the part of Hebron under Israel’s control, carrying their weapons and wearing their uniforms,” the senior governor’s office official told the Times of Israel. “The tour was symbolic, but we hope that it foreshadows us establishing a permanent presence there in the near future.”
The official said that the Israeli army had given the PA security forces permission to tour the area.
An Israeli security source confirmed that the local IDF brigade commander granted the PA security forces permission to tour parts of H2 with their weapons and in uniform.
The source also said that the tour was an “exceptional matter,” emphasizing Israel has no intention to change its security policies in Hebron.
Noam Arnon, a spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community, expressed concern that the armed and uniformed PA security forces were allowed in H2.
“This is a serious and dangerous step,” he said.
PA security forces have entered the parts of H2 where Palestinians live on several occasions since 1997, but only in civilian attire and after receiving permission from Israel, according to the senior PA official.
The senior PA official added that many areas in H2 where Palestinians reside have long served as a safe haven for Palestinian criminals.
“Criminals have for years sought refuge in those areas because Israel does not take action against them and we are only allowed to go there with permission,” the official said. “That is why we need a permanent presence there.”
The IDF does not station its soldiers in some parts of H2, especially in the areas of the Old City where Palestinians live.
A March 2018 report on the PA security forces authored by Neri Zilber and Ghaith al-Omari, scholars at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the lawlessness of areas like the part of Hebron’s Old City where Palestinians reside.
“No-man’s-lands between Israeli and PA control have become havens for criminal activity, replete with drug dealers, arms merchants, car thieves, and prostitution rings,” the report said, alluding to such areas.