Palestinian Authority Initiates Nablus Crackdown
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Palestinian Authority has launched a campaign to impose law and order in the West Bank's largest town Nablus. It's a stronghold of anti-Israel militant groups and criminal gangs that have long terrorized the local population. The crackdown is seen as a test case for Palestinian Authority efforts to impose order throughout the West Bank. NPR's Linda Gradstein recently visited Nablus.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
At 12:30 every afternoon, the steep streets of Nablus fill with children walking home from school. As they stroll, cars zoom by. There are no sidewalks here and no speed limits. Osama Abdul Lami(ph), a 40-year-old car painter, says he often worries about his four children as they return from school.
Mr. OSAMA ABDUL LAMI: (Through Translator) You can't imagine how scary it was. Many of the drivers were unlicensed and driving stolen cars. It was so dangerous.
GRADSTEIN: But in the past few weeks, he says, he's become a little less worried. Hundreds of Palestinian police have been deployed on the streets of Nablus checking cars for license and registration. Abdul Sitar Kassam(ph), a professor of political science at An-Najah University, says the campaign to impose law and order in Nablus is off to a good start. Now, he says, it's time for the Palestinian Authority to begin collecting illegal weapons.
Professor ABDUL SITAR KASSAM (An-Najah University): The major problem for Nablus is those who are carrying arms for personal reasons. They are threatening people. They are blackmailing them. They are shooting everywhere.
GRADSTEIN: Colonel Abilay Hijawi(ph), the security commander of the Nablus region, says the Palestinian Authority has issued an order to impose law and order here. His face hardens as he says he intends to carry out that order.
Colonel ABILAY HIJAWI: (Through Translator) We have a clear program to restore the sovereignty of the law. Anything that violates the Palestinian law will not be tolerated.
GRADSTEIN: When pressed, Hijawi says that includes confiscating illegal weapons, but at the same time, he says, as long as Israel pursues a policy of assassinating Palestinian militants, these men need weapons to defend themselves. Colonel Maher Faris(ph), the head of Palestinian military intelligence in Nablus for the past seven years, acknowledges that some of the armed thugs who have been plaguing Nablus are actually part of the Palestinian security services.
Colonel MAHER FARIS: (Through Translator) They trade in stolen cars, they blackmail shop owners, and they are protected by senior officials in the Palestinian Authority.
GRADSTEIN: Some of the gunmen are also members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a breakaway group from the ruling Fatah movement that is especially strong here. Al-Aqsa has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Israelis over the past few years. Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority must go after the militants of the Aqsa Brigades and other groups before there can be a resumption of peace talks, but Palestinian leaders say to do so would spark civil war. Instead, the Palestinian Authority is seeking to co-opt the militants. More than 250 members of Aqsa Brigades completed an intensive training course to become members of the Palestinian security forces. Now local officials say they hope these men will help impose law and order in the city. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.
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