Home News Palestinian fighters in West Bank try to emulate Hamas in Gaza

Palestinian fighters in West Bank try to emulate Hamas in Gaza

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The alleys are perpetually shrouded in semi-darkness, with black nylon tarps shielding Palestinian fighters from Israeli drone strikes. Green Hamas flags and banners honoring “martyrs” hang from the buildings, many of which have been badly damaged in raids and airstrikes carried out by Israel in its crackdown on the movement. Rising activism The Gaza war has exacerbated the situation in the region.

This is not Gaza, nor is it a traditional Hamas stronghold, but a refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Tulkarem, where the relatively moderate Palestinian faction Fatah has long dominated.

I recently met one of the young militants’ local commanders, Muhammad Jaber, 25, in a dusty, run-down alley. Jaber is one of Israel’s most wanted men, and he and other fighters like him say they have switched allegiance from the relatively moderate Fatah faction that has controlled the Israeli-occupied West Bank since 1966 to more radical groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

ask What lessons did he learn? Mr. Jaber paused for a moment as he recalled the Gaza war.

“Patience,” he said, “and strength and courage.”

Refugee camps in the northern West Bank, such as the one in Tulkarm, have been A hotbed of radicalism for yearsEven before the Gaza war, Hamas had been fighting against Israel’s growing settlement activity and blocking a peace process that failed to establish a Palestinian state. After October 7, Hamas urged Palestinians to join its uprising against Israel, and some in these camps appeared to heed that call.

Militants like Jaber want to drive Israelis out of the West Bank, which Israel occupied after the 1967 war, while militants like Hamas want to drive Israelis out of the region entirely.

More weapons and explosives are being manufactured in the West Bank, according to fighters and Israeli military officials. They say the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority controls parts of the West Bank but is being eroded by more radical Palestinian factions that are actively fighting Israel and receiving more support in the form of cash and weapons from Iran. Smuggling into the country.

Fatah recognizes Israel’s right to exist and cooperates with its military. But some Fatah fighters (the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were a key force in the second Palestinian uprising in the early 21st century) have never respected the Palestinian Authority and its compromise with Israel and the occupation. Some, like Mr. Jaber, have simply declared allegiance to more hardline Islamist factions.

Mr. Jaber, better known by his pseudonym Abu Shuja (meaning “Father of the Warrior”), is the commander of the local branch of Islamic Jihad, which controls the Tulkarm camp. He also leads a coalition of all militant factions in the area, including the local Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, also known as the Khatibah. He said he switched from Fatah to Fatah because Islamic Jihad and Hamas are waging war on Israel to end the occupation and establish Palestine by force.

This spring, the Israeli military declared it killed him During the raid on the Tulkarm camp. Three days later, He survived At the funerals of other Palestinians killed in the same attack, camp residents cheered with joy.

We met in an alley, where the streets were rustled by Israeli bulldozers, and ducked into a storefront to avoid being spotted by drones. Mr. Jaber, a thin, bearded man in a black Hugo Boss T-shirt and with a Sig Sauer pistol slung at his waist, was guarded by six bodyguards, some of whom were armed with M16 and M4 rifles with full magazines and optical scopes.

The weather was scorching hot, and dust covered everything, even the leaves of the few trees. The area was badly damaged by Israeli drone strikes and armored bulldozers that the military said were aimed at finding roadside bombs and other explosives, destroying miles of road.

The atmosphere was stifling and alertness low as scouts and bodyguards searched for undercover Israeli soldiers, who sometimes posed as city workers, garbage collectors or vendors pushing fruit and vegetable carts.

Even before October 7, Israel is fighting Palestinian militants like Mr. Jaber pose a growing threat to refugee camps in northern West Bank towns such as Tulkarm, Jenin and Nablus, where militant groups are establishing footholds in the camps, which were originally set up for refugees from the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war but have since become impoverished urban settlements.

In the months leading up to the Gaza war, Israeli troops raided refugee camps in the West Bank to root out weapons, locate explosives factories and arrest or kill leaders like Jaber. Israel launches massive incursion into Jenin About a year ago, among other actions.

Palestinian authorities and police no longer control the camps, and militants have threatened to shoot officials if they try to enter, according to the militants, Israeli military officials and Palestinian officials, including Jenin Governor Kamel Abu Rubu.

Israel’s operation was aimed at hitting what a senior Israeli military official called terrorist infrastructure — command centers, explosives labs and underground facilities — that the militants tried to set up there with the help of Iranian money and weapons.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in compliance with Israeli military ground rules, noted that refugee camps in the West Bank have become safe havens over the past two years because the Palestinian Authority is no longer active there.

Local residents said that when Israeli troops attacked Tulkarm or Jenin, Palestinian Authority security forces stayed in their barracks in the city center and did not clash with them.

Although Jaber insisted he was not at war with the Palestinian Authority, he condemned those who “stand in front of Israel with guns and do nothing.”

“Liberating our land is what we believe in. This is not my conflict, this is the conflict of the people, a war for land, freedom and dignity,” he said.

On Sunday, an Israeli drone strike on a house in the camp killed a relative, Saeed Jaber, 25, a wanted militant who had also defected from Fatah to Islamic Jihad.

The provincial governor, Mr Abu Rub, did not deny that the authorities’ security forces had not entered the camps, but he placed the blame on Israel. “If Israel had not come, there would have been no problem,” he said. “Israel has been trying to create divisions among us because if they kill people, they can take the land.” He said it was Israel that “created chaos, entered our camps for no reason, killed our young people, weakened the Palestinian Authority and ensured that people lost respect for the government.”

In an alley in another impoverished refugee camp, Tulkarm, a young man emerged, dressed in stylish black clothes emblazoned with the logos of North Face and Under Armour. He is 18 years old, says he has been wounded many times, and will identify himself only as Qutaybah, a pseudonym for an Arab general who lived more than 1,000 years ago. He belongs to Hamas, the group that controls his camp.

Kutaiba has a long scar on his left arm and another on his abdomen, and wears a black patch over his left eye, which he said was inflicted in a drone strike on Dec. 19. His previous wound, he said, was in May 2023, when Israeli soldiers disguised as city workers entered the camp.

He said he was seriously wounded in the attack, in which two other people were killed, a claim later confirmed by his relatives but could not be confirmed directly to Israeli authorities.

Qutaybah was carrying an M16 rifle equipped with an optical scope, one of two weapons he claimed to have stolen during the attack. The May attack on Bat HeferThe attack shocked many Israelis and appeared to make the peaceful part of Israel less safe, foreshadowing further Israeli military action against Palestinian fighters.

“No one comes to tell you to join the resistance,” Kutaiba said. “What do we get here? We live in a prison.”

He added that he and his friends had learned some lessons from Gaza.

“We see the Israelis killing our innocent women and children. Their plan is to carry out genocide here next,” he said. Gaza would at least “encourage more resistance in the West Bank.”

Kutaiba shuffled along the broken pavement in the alley in his black sneakers.

“There are bombs here,” he said. “The Israelis are coming.”

Bodyguards and fighters take turns on duty at the camp’s entrance. They carry walkie-talkies to guard against Israeli raids and any strangers who venture inside.

Most of these fighters, like Hassan, 35, are in Israeli prisons. Hassan has three daughters but won’t talk about them, their future or his last name, only about his mission.

“Every entrance is blocked and monitored,” he said. “The Israelis can come in at any time.”

Also in the alley was Ayham Sroudji, 15, who was born in a refugee camp. He is not a member of any militant group and said he studies well as long as his school is not closed because of violence.

Did he want to be a teacher, to help his people in that way? “Be a teacher?” he answered. “There is no such thing here. Is it only Israeli soldiers invading my camp that I have seen in my life?”

When asked about his dream, he said, “I want to see the beach. I’ve never seen a beach in my life.”

Next to him was Ahmed, 17, holding an M4 rifle. “Doesn’t anyone want to see the beach, see the land they took from us?” Ahmed said.

“I dream of seeing Jerusalem liberated,” Aiham added. “Israelis live and enjoy our land, and we are going to force them to give up what they stole.”

Then he pointed around at the dust, rubble, and guns.

“Look at what we see when we wake up,” he said. “Do you see the sidewalk? Sometimes I dream of smooth pavement and sidewalks.”

Rami Nazar There were also contributions from Tulkarm and Jenin. Nathan Odenheimer From Jerusalem.

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