Palestinian security forces on Tuesday exchanged fire with militants in the center of the West Bank's second-largest city, as angry residents pelted an armored jeep with objects and chased it away. One man was reported dead.
The incident, sparked by an arrest raid against local militants, marked a rare case of deadly internal Palestinian fighting in the occupied West Bank. It also reflected the deep unpopularity of the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, which is widely seen as collaborating with an entrenched and unbearable system of Israeli military domination.
Amateur videos posted to social media showed local youths pelting a Palestinian military-style jeep with bricks, stones and metal bars before chasing the vehicle from the central Martyrs Square. The sound of gunfire echoed through the city, known as the West Bank's business capital, for several hours. The violence was reminiscent of how Palestinians typically protest against Israeli troops.
By midafternoon, the Palestinian forces had withdrawn and the city remained quiet.
The northern West Bank is known as a stronghold of Palestinian militants, and the Palestinian Authority has frequently had difficulties maintaining control in the area over the years.
The authority maintains close security ties with Israel in a shared struggle against Islamic militants. This has helped fuel the perception that the PA is merely a subcontractor for Israel — interested more in its own survival than improving the lives of its people.
Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is now in its 55th year, with no signs of ending anytime soon. The last substantial round of peace talks ended in 2009. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, home to some 500,000 Israeli settlers, as the heartland of a future independent state.
In recent months, the PA's standing has been further weakened as Israel carries out nightly arrest raids. Israel launched the crackdown last spring after a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, some of which were launched by militants from the area. Some 90 Palestinians have died in the arrest raids, many said by Israel to have been militants, or local youths who came out to protest the raids.
Israel says it is forced to act because the Palestinian security forces have failed to do so. The Palestinians say it is difficult and humiliating to cooperate with the Israelis at a time when there is no political horizon.
The United States has pushed both sides to restore quiet. But the Biden administration has failed to present a diplomatic plan, focusing instead on small measures to improve the Palestinian economy.
Palestinian officials refused to comment on Tuesday’s operation. But two Hamas militants were arrested in the raid, according to the men’s families. One of them was close to another militant who was recently killed in an Israeli raid.
Residents accused the Palestinian security forces of making the arrests on behalf of Israel and began shooting into the air and burning tires. Palestinian security responded with tear gas, and exchanges of fire took place.
Hisham Yaish, a local resident, wrote on Facebook that his 53-year-old brother Firas was killed in a gunfight. He did not accuse either side of firing the deadly bullet, saying only his brother “was killed in the tragic incidents.”
But Hamas, which is locked in a bitter rivalry with the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, said the Palestinian security forces had killed him.
Hamas condemned the raid and accused the Palestinian Authority of collaborating with Israel.
“While the enemy continues to carry out killings, arrests, Judaization and settlements, the authority identifies with it by continuing security coordination, suppressing our people, and pursuing and arresting resistance fighters in behavior outside all our national norms,” Hamas said in a statement.
In a statement to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Palestinian security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Talal Dwaikat, confirmed Yaish's death.
He said the cause of the death was unknown, but claimed an initial report found that security forces were not in the area where he was killed.
“Testimonies of eyewitnesses who were present in the area of the unfortunate accident confirm the authenticity of this account,” he said.