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Abbas cracks down on weapons as West Bank faces uncertain future

Leading Fatah officials are arming their followers in preparation for the post-Abbas era in the West Bank - but the president is having none of it
Palestinian security forces in the West Bank (File/AFP)

The West Bank is arming itself for the post-Abbas era, but the 81-year-old Palestinian Authority president is striking back and ordering a crackdown on the recent proliferation of weaponry, Palestinian officials have told Middle East Eye.

After receiving credible reports that senior Fatah officials were arming their followers in anticipation of future clashes, Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security chief Majed Farai to crack down and confiscate weapons in the restive enclave.

Faraj was ordered to start in Nablus, the stronghold of militants loyal to several senior officials including the ubiquitous Mohammed Dahlan, sources said.

Former Nablus governor Akram Rajoub told MEE: “The security campaign in Nablus has so far resulted in twenty M16 guns and a large amount of ammunition being seized.”

“The M16 guns are worth 70,000 shekels (over $18,000),” he said. “These jobless young people cannot afford to buy such expensive weaponry and ammunition.”

Rajoub feels that a conspiracy is afoot: “Of course there are parties behind them, and we will find them and get them.”

The security campaign in Nablus, which started on 18 August, has led to the deaths of two policemen and three militants. One of these militants – Abu al-Ez Halaweh – was beaten to death in custody.

A senior security official told MEE that the policemen who detained him were outraged at the killing of their two colleagues and believed Halaweh to be the mastermind.

The two slain policemen, both aged in their mid-twenties, were killed in an ambush in Nablus on the first day of the crackdown.

“All those behind this chaos will be arrested and if they were not arrested I will resign,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told local TV. “There is no immunity for anyone,” he said, referring to high-ranking Fatah officials.

Security sources in Fatah say that it was Dahlan who first started arming his followers in the West Bank, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in his strongholds of Nablus, Jenin and Qalandia refugee camp. These areas brimming with young, jobless activists from whom politicians can easily recruit, sources said.

“Lots of young people are ready to be recruited for any cause – they are willing to fight Israel, they are willing to fight any system,” one senior security official told MEE.

But Dahlan is far from the only culprit. According to sources, leaders all the way to the top of Fatah are arming their respective followers and providing protection to militants in case they need to be relied upon in a time of unrest.

One senior Fatah official even told MEE that Prime Minister Hamdallah himself is in on the arming frenzy. The source claims the premier is abusing his position as president of the West Bank’s biggest university to arm the university guards.

The official added that Abbas recently received a photo of Hamdallah’s men training with live ammunition around Nablus, and that he referred it to his security chief for further investigation.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.