After keeping a low profile for the past few years, Fatah’s armed gangs have resurfaced in the West Bank.
The reappearance of the masked gunmen could only mean one of two things: either the Palestinian Authority is really losing control, or that it is using the gunmen as a means of intimidating donor countries, especially the US and EU, into resuming financial aid to the Palestinian government in the West Bank.
Either way, the sudden reappearance of the masked gunmen, who are believed to be members of Fatah’s armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, could pave the way for a new round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
The gunmen first took to the streets of the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus, carrying assault rifles and firing into the air.
The gunmen then held a “press conference” in which they denounced the Palestinian Authority security forces for arresting some of their friends and confiscating their weapons.
Yet at the same time the gunmen heaped praise on Palestinian Authority President, and Fatah head, Mahmoud Abbas, saying they “fully supported” his policies.
A few days later, another group of Fatah gunmen made a public appearance in Jenin, where they too criticized the Palestinian Authority security forces for arresting their friends and seizing their weapons.
The statements made by the gunmen in both cases left Palestinians in a state of confusion.
How can the gunmen condemn the Palestinian security forces for their actions and, in the same breath, praise Mahmoud Abbas, the commander-in-chief of these forces?
Do the gunmen assume that the Palestinian Authority security forces act independently from the leadership in Ramallah? Or, as some gunmen have suggested, perhaps they believe that these security forces receive instructions from Israel or the US?
Or is it possible that the Palestinian Authority wants the world to see the gunmen on the streets in order to send a message that it may completely lose control unless it gets more funding?
In any event, to have Fatah gunmen once again roaming the streets of West Bank villages and refugee camps proves that the Palestinian Authority’s claims that the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had been disbanded and disarmed are untrue.
Unless the Palestinian Authority leadership takes immediate action to stop the Fatah gunmen, scenes of anarchy, lawlessness and violence could soon return to the West Bank. The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was responsible for hundreds of armed attacks against Israelis during the second intifada.
The US and EU, which have been funding and training the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, need to bang on the table — now — and demand that Abbas rein Fatah militiamen, most of whom receive their salaries from the Palestinian Authority government.