The accusation came after several days of armed clashes between Palestinian Authority policemen and gunmen from Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank and a traditional stronghold of Fatah-affiliated armed groups.

“The camp has been hijacked by an armed group that is terrorizing and threatening to kill residents who dare to speak out,” the Fatah Office of Information and Culture said. It accused the gunmen of extorting money from wealthy businessmen from Nablus and running a big market for drugs and weapons.

The “outlaws” have been operating for some time, committing various types of crimes against residents of the camp and Nablus, it said.

Because of the “sensitivity” of the issue of refugee camps, the PA and its security forces tried to tackle the problem by giving the “outlaws” a chance to be “rehabilitated and integrated into society,” the Office of Information and Culture said.

The PA security forces even released some of the “outlaws” from prison, a move that only resulted in an upsurge of criminal activity inside the camp and in Nablus, the office said.

One of the senior gunmen in the camp was well known for extorting money, blackmail and trading in weapons and drugs, it said. The Fatah office claimed that the IDF recently arrested some of the “outlaws” and seized various types of rifles and pistols. However, the suspects were released after a short time and allowed to return to the camp, it added.

It quoted camp residents as saying that two cars carrying weapons and ammunition enter the camp every day.

“The group controls the entrances to the [Balata] camp and doesn’t allow anyone, including journalists, to enter without coordination,” the Office of Information and Culture said. “They decide whom the visitors see and meet with, while the residents remain silent out of fear for their lives and property.”

The gunmen were responsible for a series of attacks against local residents and institutions, it said. The gunmen also kidnapped a number of people and opened fire at houses and businesses, as well as at a Christian convent, Fatah’s Office of Information and Culture said.


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