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What's behind rare intra-Palestinian clashes in West Bank

The rare clash between the Palestinian Authority and local Palestinians came amid increased Israeli security raids in the territory.
Palestinian militants march during the funeral of Palestinians killed in clashes the previous day in the Israeli military operation in Jenin in the occupied West Bank on July 5, 2023.

A Palestinian man was killed in a gunfight with Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank on Wednesday, a rare instance of violence between the PA and local Palestinians.

PA security personnel arrived at Tulkarm near the Israeli border to clear roads leading to the refugee camp in the town. The roads had been blocked by unidentified gunmen to prevent Israeli incursions, but the PA said locals complained that the obstacles posed a threat to passersby. A gunfight ensued and a Palestinian man was killed. Locals said the deceased was not a member of any armed groups, Reuters reported.

Further details were not immediately clear. Reuters reported that gunmen blamed the Palestinian Authority for the death, while a PA security official said they responded to gunfire toward the Tulkarm governorate.

The PA did not otherwise comment on the incident via its official channels.

The Gaza-based Hamas movement condemned the PA for the death, referring to it as a “dangerous crime against security and civil peace in the West Bank,” according to a statement.

Hamas identified the deceased as 25-year-old Abd al-Qader Nidal Zaqdah and referred to him as a “martyr” but did not mention any affiliations.

Civilians were also injured in the incident, including the son of deceased Hamas fighter Ramzi al-Aridha, according to Hamas.

Violence between the PA and Palestinians is relatively rare. This week's incident is the first since September of last year when a Palestinian man was killed in clashes between the PA and locals during a protest in Nablus against the PA, Al Jazeera reported at the time. 

Palestinian security forces also fired tear gas at protesters during a Hamas member's funeral in Nablus in March, according to The Associated Press. 

Why it matters: The incident occurred at a time of growing tensions in the West Bank involving Israel, the PA, Hamas and other armed groups.

Israel has significantly increased its security raids in the occupied territory this year in response to attacks against Israelis both in Israel and West Bank settlements. Last week, unknown perpetrators killed an Israeli woman settler in a drive-by shooting close to Hebron, while Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager during a raid and ensuing clashes near Jenin, according to Agence France-Presse.

Israeli settler violence against Palestinians is also increasing. The United States notably used the word “terror” to describe settlers fatally shooting a Palestinian near Ramallah earlier this month.

There are also concerns in the United States and Israel that the PA is at risk of collapsing. In July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet said it would take steps to prevent the PA's collapse, though it did not elaborate on what that means. 

"We have seen a crumbling of the Palestinian Authority’s level of control over the West Bank. The PA is seen by many Palestinians as a corrupt organization that no longer represents their interests," read a May report from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. 

The Palestinian territories have not had elections since 2005. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled elections that were scheduled to take place in 2021. 

Abbas and the PA are further vulnerable due to the PA’s declining popularity in the West Bank, as well as growing support for Hamas. A March opinion poll administered by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 52% of Palestinians think the dissolution of the PA serves the Palestinian people’s interests. The PA’s increasingly authoritarian rule is contributing to its falling popularity, Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute told Al-Monitor earlier this month.

Other Palestinian armed groups have emerged amid the stagnation in the West Bank. The most notable is the Nablus-based Lions’ Den, which formed in 2022 and has carried out attacks against Israel since.

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