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PA arrests son of Gilboa prison escapee, sparking clashes and gun battle in Jenin

Palestinian security forces arrest Muhammad Zubeidi, whose father briefly broke out of Israeli jail; reportedly released hours later; rioters said to fire on government building

Illustrative: A Palestinian gunman during a funeral for  police officer who died in a shootout with Israeli troops, in Jenin, June 10, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Palestinian gunman during a funeral for police officer who died in a shootout with Israeli troops, in Jenin, June 10, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Clashes erupted in the West Bank city of Jenin in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning after Palestinian Authority security forces arrested three people, including the son of a terror leader who broke out of an Israeli prison last year.

PA security forces forcibly arrested Muhammad Zubeidi, son of Zakaria Zubeidi, a terror convict who broke out of Israel’s Gilboa prison and went on the lam for a week before being recaptured.

The Palestinian officers also arrested two other individuals, Haaretz reported. The reason for the arrests was unclear.

Video clips that were said to show officers arresting younger Zubeidi and roughing him up circulated online, sparking furor in the restive city.

Dozens of armed Jenin residents confronted the PA security forces to oppose the arrests. Arabic media reports said protesters fired live bullets at the PA’s headquarters in the city in a gun battle with security forces.

Video from the scene showed a masked gunman firing down a city street, while crowds look on near a burning dumpster. Other clips recorded the sounds of dozens of gunshots.

The Ynet news site reported that Zubeidi was released a number of hours later and appeared to have a bandaged head and hand.

Officials from Ramallah were attempting to calm the waters in the city early Saturday morning.

The northern West Bank city has seen a string of violent incidents in recent months, including other shootings directed at the municipality building, and the PA has vowed to crack down on the perpetrators. Saturday morning’s events were seen as particularly severe.

The city is widely seen as a hotbed of activity for the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups.

Jenin’s governor told The Times of Israel in November that illegal weapons have spread widely in the area and shootings had also increased, spurring a government response.

In late November, the PA launched a series of crackdowns in Jenin but denied they were targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, saying instead that it was a law and order operation.

Israeli soldiers entering the area to conduct arrests have also repeatedly been met with gunfire. In late September, Islamic Jihad member Osama Soboh was killed during a shootout with Israeli troops near Jenin. Another four Palestinians, including two members of the PA security forces, were killed during a gun battle with Israeli soldiers in August.

A report last week said the IDF had been poised to launch a large-scale operation in Jenin in recent months, but halted the raid after PA forces were pressured into acting.

The Channel 12 report cited a conversation between IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and confidants. Kohavi reportedly said the ability to get the PA to act in the city was a result of the close security cooperation between Israel and the PA.

The security cooperation was a central theme of recent talks when PA President Mahmoud Abbas met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his home, the first time the Palestinian leader has held talks with a senior Israeli official in Israel since 2010.

The Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, is dominated by the nationalist Fatah movement. Fatah and Hamas have long fought one another; a bloody 2007 civil war between the two parties saw Hamas expel their rivals from the Gaza Strip.

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