Photo credit Photo Caption lead in epa03536887 Masked Palestinians erect a barricade at an entrance to the Balata refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus, 15 January 2013. Some ten armed men marched through the Balata refugee camp for the second time this week demanding the return of weapons which were confiscated by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. The men claimed they were Fatah members supported President Mahmoud Abbas but opposing some security force leaders whom they accuse of arresting Fatah members and abuse of power. About a week before gunmen, who identified themselves as members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, had fired several shots in the air as they walked through the streets of Balata refugee camp in the city of Nablus for the first time since the Palestinian Authority outlawed all armed groups in the West Bank in 2007. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH Image Credit: EPA

Ramallah: Nablus has been the focus of a standoff between residents and the Palestinian Authority this week. The two main entrances of the Balatah Refuge Camp, east of the city of Nablus in the West Bank, have been closed off with burning tires to deny access to the Palestinian National Authority’s (PNA) security apparatus which is conducting house to house searches in the camp.

On Tuesday night, a significant number of PNA forces raided the camp in an operation that lasted till the morning. The aim was to search the houses and detain wanted members of the armed Fatah group branded by the PNA as ‘law violators’.

Tens of masked and armed members of Fatah came out in yet another march, firing in the air to send what they labelled a last warning to the Palestinian security apparatus to stay away, stop arrests of the group’s members, suspend weapon seizures and return seized weapons to the members, or face confrontation in the camp.

Sources in the camp told Gulf News that the armed group enjoys significant support from the camp’s residents. Hundreds of the Palestinian youth rushed to the camp’s entrances and blocked them with burning tires, but there were no reports of confrontations between the demonstrators and the security forces in the camp which is almost dominated by Fatah.

The sources said that the situation is still under control, but that can not be preserved for a long time, especially with the PNA insistence that it will search the houses and arrest the wanted members of the armed groups.

“We urge the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to get personally involved in the case to ban possible armed confrontations in the camp,” said the sources. “The situation here is very tense and looks like a time bomb which can explode in our faces any moment.”

The sources said that the security apparatus targeted the houses of the families of Palestinian martyrs, prisoners and wounded people and that it was not right to treat those who made sacrifices for Palestine that way.

The armed group said that it was time for President Abbas to act and set up an investigative committee to evaluate the force used. “We demand that the security apparatus return the weapons used in resisting the Israeli occupation forces to us,” said the group in a statement.

“The security apparatus is searching our houses, arresting our members on no proper grounds, and that is not acceptable at all,” added that the statement.

“The situation in the camp is very critical and intense,” warned the sources, adding that three wanted members of the group have already turned themselves in to the security apparatus during the search to defuse the situation.

“We do not believe that the group will give any more concessions in this regard; the situation should be handled with wisdom and by top officials who should be held really responsible,” said the sources.

Fatah in the West Bank refused to comment on the deteriorating conditions in the camp, branding it a security issue that would be handled by the Palestinian security forces only.

Ahmad Assaf, Fatah’s official spokesman in the West Bank, declined to comment to Gulf News on the issue, saying that he would give the security forces the chance to comment on the developments.

A senior security official said there was no room for leniency with armed people. “We have all the room for discussions and dialogues, but that should take place in the absence of weapons,” said the official.

“The security apparatus will detain all the wanted people in the camp and outside it to secure stability and order in the West Bank,” he said.

“This is an uncompromising official position,” he stressed.