Palestinian leader cracks down on illegal weapons trading
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has launched his broadest weapons crackdown in years, for the first time confronting his own loyalists, including rogue security officers and gunmen linked to his Fatah movement.
The arrest raids conducted in recent weeks are a response to high-profile vigilante shootings that threatened to undermine law-and-order successes, seen as key to Palestinian statehood claims.
Some 200 people were detained and dozens of guns seized in recent weeks, many in the northern West Bank district of Jenin, Palestinian police said Monday.
Just under half the detainees were released after surrendering their weapons, while others remain in custody on suspicion of weapons dealing, extortion and shooting attacks, said police spokesman Adnan Damiri.
Until the crackdown, Abbas had largely avoided taking on armed men with ties to Fatah, apparently fearing a political backlash and unrest in the ranks. The recent shootings, including a May attack on the house of the Jenin district governor, who later died of a heart attack, seem to have left him no choice.
Among those arrested were several gangs involved in illegal weapons trading and extortion, as well as those who attacked the house of the Jenin governor.
At the same time, Palestinian human rights groups have criticized Abbas for curtailing basic freedoms in the West Bank under the guise of security.
Over the weekend, his security forces violently dispersed two protests against Abbas’s security co-ordination with Israel and a planned meeting with Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz. The meeting was later postponed.
Officers and plainclothes agents scuffled with dozens of young demonstrators, and kicked and beat several of them.
To the international community, the Jenin area, a former militant stronghold, had become a symbol of Abbas’ ability to assert control successfully. The recent violence has threatened to spoil that perception.