Bystander killed, 3 police hurt in renewed Nablus clashes
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Bystander killed, 3 police hurt in renewed Nablus clashes

Officials say gunmen took cover among IDF troops leaving West Bank town in overnight gunbattle

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

Members of the Palestinian security forces stand guard as they patrol the West Bank city of Nablus on August 23, 2016 during ongoing clashes between Palestinian gunmen and security forces. (AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
Members of the Palestinian security forces stand guard as they patrol the West Bank city of Nablus on August 23, 2016 during ongoing clashes between Palestinian gunmen and security forces. (AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

Clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Palestinian Authority police broke out in the city of Nablus on Wednesday, leaving one woman dead and three policemen injured.

The firefight reportedly erupted early Wednesday morning after gunmen opened fire on Palestinian security forces stationed in Nablus’s Old City, a densely populated warren of alleyways.

The woman killed was identified as Hilda al-Asta, 39, a bystander caught in the crossfire.

One of the policemen was gravely injured in the clashes, the official PA news outlet Wafa reported.

The gunmen also reportedly opened fire on the Nablus governorate headquarters.

The shooting was the second major assault on Nablus’s police forces in recent months, amid tensions between local gangs and the Palestinian Authority government.

Officials said the gunmen used Israeli troops operating in the area as cover to carry out their attack.

Nablus district Governor Akram Rajoub told Wafa that the gunmen began their attack “immediately after” Israeli security forces left the city. He added it wasn’t clear whose gunfire had led to the death of Asta.

Adnan Damiri, the spokesperson for the Palestinian security forces, told Ma’an the gunmen “took cover” among Israeli forces as they were leaving Nablus, and opened fire on the PA police.

Akram Rajoub, who said on April 26, 2016, that he had been fired from the post of governor of Nablus by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Akram Rajoub, who said on April 26, 2016, that he had been fired from the post of governor of Nablus by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Speaking to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Rajoub said the gunmen had “taken advantage” of IDF operations in the area. The identities of the gunmen were known to the Palestinian police, he added.

“What occurred was something deliberately planned,” Rajoub said.

The army did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

The IDF did not report any arrests in Nablus overnight, but may have been operating in the area.

The northern West Bank has seen a number of Palestinian police raids in recent months, amid a crackdown on illegal arms and factional infighting between rival groups.

In August, two police officers and two gunmen were killed in clashes in the Nablus’s old city.

The clashes in August were pinned on Ahmed Halawa, a senior member of the Fatah-linked al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. He was subsequently arrested and beaten to death by police forces while in custody.

Halawa’s murder was highly publicized and brought out thousands of Nablus protesters who called for the resignation of Governor Rajoub, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdalah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

A member of the Palestinian security forces displays weapons at a police station in the West Bank city of Nablus , that the police found on search operation for gunmen who are on the run, August 21, 2016. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
A member of the Palestinian security forces displays weapons at a police station in the West Bank city of Nablus , that the police found on search operation for gunmen who are on the run, August 21, 2016. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

Halawa was the fifth Palestinian to die in the PA’s ongoing hunt for members of a criminal gang wanted by Ramallah authorities.

On June 30, five Palestinians, including two PA security officers, were killed in separate shootings in the West Bank, while 16 people were injured.

Under the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel, Palestinian police operate in most of the major Palestinian towns, including Nablus.

AFP contributed to this report.

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