PA arrests 250 Islamist operatives to prevent West Bank violence

Despite fiery statements against Israel, Abbas leading tough policy against Hamas, Islamic Jihad; PA believes Hamas also behind Jerusalem escalation

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at Palestinian Authority security forces blocking the road to an Israeli checkpoint in the center of the West Bank town of Hebron on August 22, 2014, following a demonstration to show support for Hamas. (Photo credit: AFP/ Hazem Bader)
Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at Palestinian Authority security forces blocking the road to an Israeli checkpoint in the center of the West Bank town of Hebron on August 22, 2014, following a demonstration to show support for Hamas. (Photo credit: AFP/ Hazem Bader)

Palestinian Authority security forces have carried out a major series of arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in recent weeks in a largely successful effort to prevent riots and unrest against Israel from spreading throughout the West Bank, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel Tuesday night.

Palestinian officials said over 250 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives have been detained in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank in the weeks since the end of Operation Protective Edge on August 26, even as demonstrations intensified against Israel in East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount — areas under Israel’s control. Israeli defense officials confirmed the arrest details.

PA officials recognize that Hamas is directly responsible for the upsurge in violence in Jerusalem, and has also been seeking to foment violence in the West Bank, in an effort to destabilize the area, the sources said. Hamas has also been trying to escalate activities against the PA itself. Therefore, despite the PA leadership’s stated wish for reconciliation with Hamas, it has been forced to act against the Islamists, said the sources.

Around 150 operatives were arrested in September, and over 100 in October. While many of those detained have since been released, dozens remain in PA holding facilities. Among those taken into custody are well-known Hamas religious figures, some mid-level operatives and several organizers of recent West Bank rallies and parades. The arrest operations have been overseen by two of the PA’s intelligence bodies: General Intelligence under Majed Faraj and Palestinian Preventive Security under Ziad Habalreeh.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly castigated Israel for its actions to quell the unrest. In a condolence letter to the family, he described Mu’taz Hijazi, the Palestinian who allegedly attempted to assassinate right-wing activist Yehudah Glick in Jerusalem last Wednesday before being killed by Israeli security forces, as a martyr. This prompted furious Israeli condemnations. And he called Israel’s one-day closure of the Temple Mount last Thursday, in the wake of the Glick and Hijazi shootings, a declaration of war. Nonetheless, it is Abbas who is personally dictating the tough policies against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, the sources said.

Israeli security officials have noted with some satisfaction that despite the death toll and devastation in parts of Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, and the ongoing violence in East Jerusalem over recent weeks, the West Bank as a whole has remained relatively peaceful, and levels of violence there have remained low, despite Hamas’s attempts to ignite the region.

Concurrently a large number of criminal arrests are being made in Hebron, in close cooperation between the PA and Israel. This is an arrest operation by PA security forces in H2 territory under Israeli security control, carried out in full coordination between the PA and the IDF. Seven Palestinian policemen were injured by one such criminal during an arrest attempt, before the man was shot dead by PA forces. The Coordinator Of Government Activities in the Territories refused to comment on these incidents.

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