The Fatah movement of moderate Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas deployed a new militia in the streets of the West Bank town of Jenin on Saturday, in a show of force against the Hamas government.
The new unit, which Fatah officials said numbers 2,500 members, is the movement's answer to a new militia of 3,000 Hamas activists that the government deployed
last month defying Abbas' objection. The presence of a new Fatah militia, on top of the official security branches that the movement dominates, ratchets up tensions between Fatah and Hamas that have already erupted in deadly violence and raised the specter of all-out civil war.
Hamas spokesmen weren't immediately available for comment. More than 2,000 members of the new unit gathered in Jenin on Saturday morning wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with "Special Protection Unit" on the back, and a photo of the iconic Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat, on the front. Some 60 to 70 were armed with assault rifles, and several dozens carried pistols.
Aim: To back up official security branches
A Fatah leader in Jenin, Ata Abu Rmeileh, said the aim of the force was to back the official Palestinian security branches.
“You are here to protect your people and the Palestinian Authority institutions," Abu Rmeileh exhorted the force over a loudspeaker at the local high school where it gathered. "We are loyal to our people, not like those who have sold themselves to Arab and non-Arab capitals," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to Hamas, which is supported by Syria and Iran. The new fighters raised their arms in a salute and shouted "Fatah, Fatah."
The force then split into 23 groups that paraded throughout the streets of Jenin. The deployment of the militia on Saturday was intended to drive home the message that unless Hamas disbands its new force, then Fatah will create parallel units across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Fatah officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose policy to the press.
Fatah officials said they have information that Hamas, whose power base is in Gaza, has begun organizing a militia in the West Bank. Hamas has not confirmed this.
Violence in PA
Meanwhile, on Saturday Nabil Amr, a media consultant to Abbas, reiterated that the president would not travel to Gaza unless Hamas dissolved its recently deployed militia.
Fatah's militia was deployed just hours after a senior member of Hamas' military wing was shot in the chest in a drive-by shooting.
Also Saturday, Palestinian sources in Gaza reported that two infant sisters were lightly to moderately wounded by shrapnel from IDF shells. According to the report, the shells hit a home in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. The IDF, however, said they had not fired any shells in the direction of Beit Lahiya Saturday, but did confirm targeting Beit Hanoun in a reprisal after two Qassam rockets were fired at Israel earlier in the day.
AP contributed to the report