Palestinian security forces and terrorists agreed to a truce on Wednesday to end violent clashes in the flashpoint West Bank city of Nablus, local officials said. The violence highlighted deep disenchantment with the internationally backed Palestinian leadership.
For now, the deal to end the clashes eases tensions in the area, which on Tuesday was gripped by some of the fiercest antagonism directed at the Palestinian Authority in years.
The clashes erupted after an arrest raid by PA security forces against local terrorists. The two sides exchanged fire as angry residents pelted an armored jeep with objects and chased it away. One bystander was reportedly killed. The violence was reminiscent of the way Palestinians typically protest against Israeli troops.
The unrest in Nablus reflected the deep unpopularity of Mahmoud Abbas’s PA leadership, which is widely seen because of its security ties with Israel as entrenching Israel’s 55-year military control of the West Bank’s nearly 3 million residents. The PA has also been beset by corruption and has repeatedly delayed elections.
A semblance of normal life returned on Wednesday to Nablus, known as the West Bank’s business capital. Shoppers walked around the debris from the clashes as firefighters atop cranes smashed broken glass out of storefront windows bordering the city’s main Martyrs Square. PA security forces were deployed in armored vehicles in the city center.
A committee of Palestinian factions and other prominent figures said that under the truce, PA security forces would cease to arrest suspects wanted by Israel in the city, unless they broke Palestinian law. Authorities would discuss the release of one of the men arrested in the recent raid. They would also release Palestinians detained in Tuesday’s clashes, unless they’d damaged property or looted.
The Palestinian Authority maintains close security ties with Israel and the two often collaborate against Islamic terrorists in the West Bank. Israel has prodded the Palestinian Authority to do more to contain terrorism, especially in the months following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis in the spring, which killed 19 people.
At the same time, Israel has intensified its own activity in the area, sending troops on nightly arrest incursions into villages, cities and towns. Some 90 Palestinians have been killed during that time. including local youths killed while throwing stones or firebombs at Israeli troops. Israel says the vast majority of those killed were terrorists.
Some civilians have also been killed in the violence, among them veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and a lawyer who inadvertently drove into a battle zone.
Israel says the IDF’s raids are aimed at dismantling terrorist networks that threaten its citizens, and that it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians. Palestinians say the incursions are meant to maintain Israel’s military rule over territories they want for a future state — a dream that appears as remote as ever, with no serious peace negotiations held in over a decade.
The northern West Bank, including the areas around Nablus and Jenin, a city that has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israel, have been focal points in the raids. The Palestinian Authority has less of a foothold there and is viewed with deep suspicion because of its security ties to Israel.
That disenchantment, coupled with the soaring tensions driven up by the nightly Israeli raids, boiled over with the clashes on Tuesday.