By Charles A. Radin and Sa’Id Ghazali, July 23, 2003
JENIN, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his followers are
supplying financial and political support to armed groups that reject the current
cease-fire and the leadership of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas,
according to the Palestinian Authority and local officials.
The groups include units of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades organization, a
military affiliate of Arafat’s Fatah movement that is listed as a terrorist group by
the US State Department.
In recent days, the Brigades led attacks on pro-Abbas leaders in major
West Bank cities and hounded from office the governor of Jenin. Control of this
chaotic and lawless city, from which numerous terror attacks have been
launched against Israel, is essential if the Palestinian Authority is to meet its
commitments under the US-backed ”road map” toward Mideast peace.
“They won — they have forced me to resign,” a bruised and battered Governor
Haider Irsheid said in his home as he recovered from his abduction and public
beating last Saturday at the hands of armed militants in Jenin. He said he would
continue functioning as governor until he leaves on a two-month vacation
today, then will insist that Arafat accept his resignation.
“I am exhausted,” the 49-year-old Jenin native and former diplomat said.
“They beat me all over my body.”
Irsheid said Arafat knows of and supports the continuing payments to the
militant groups despite their rejection of the cease-fire. The governor said Fatah
is making the payments in numerous places in the West Bank, even as internal
Palestinian reforms and US pressure have begun to choke off previous sources
of funding for the paramilitary groups.
Abdel Fattah al Hamayel, who is a Fatah leader and a Palestinian Authority
minister without portfolio, confirmed that Fatah is providing money to the
Defiance of the Abbas government by paramilitary groups that are loyal to
Arafat and are affiliated with his Fatah movement is the latest in a growing
number of signs that the road map initiative is in danger of breaking down.
The road map, embraced by President Bush, Abbas, and Israel’s prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, at their summit conference last month in Jordan, sets
out steps that the Palestinians and Israelis must take to move toward a
Israel began, but has not continued, to fulfill its commitment to dismantle
settlement outposts erected after March 2001, and the Palestinian Authority
has made no effort to confront and dismantle terrorist groups, although both
issues were supposed to be dealt with early in the process.
Israel has withdrawn from Palestinian-populated territory in the Gaza
Strip and Bethlehem, and Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israelis has
declined, as have attacks by both sides. But as Abbas and Sharon head toward
Washington for consultations with Bush over the next week, talks between the
sides have bogged down over Palestinian demands that Israel release prisoners
and stop building its new security fence — neither of which is a major topic of
the road map.
Failure of the Abbas government to control principal Palestinian cities could
soon make all the talks, and the road map itself, irrelevant. With the support of
Arafat, Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades members are in control of the streets on
Jenin, the fourth-largest Palestinian city, and the Brigades and other Fatah
splinter groups have initiated a wave of car-torchings, extortions, and
abductions, in Nablus, the third-largest city.
Irsheid, the Jenin governor, was abducted from his home last Saturday
afternoon, publicly beaten, marched barefoot through the Jenin refugee camp,
and thrown into a cave, where he was beaten again. On orders from Arafat, he
was released four hours later. He had cuts and bruises on his face, arms, and
legs, and his feet were badly cut from the sharp stones of the camp roads.
Irsheid said he spoke with the Palestinian leader two days before the abduction
and told him “it was 100 percent wrong” that Fatah had given $10,000 to
Brigades members from the Jenin camp on July 12. Irsheid said Arafat “told me
that `they are our children. We have to control them.’ I advised him not to do
this, that it was dangerous…. The only way to control them is through the rule
Hamayel, who made the payment from Fatah funds, said the Brigades members
“are employees and they are Fatah. They are also human beings. They need to
pay rent for their homes and telephones.” He said the groups “are committed to
the cease-fire. They told us in writing that their commitment to the cease-fire is
When told that Zakariah al Zubaidi, the head of the Brigades in the Jenin camp,
told Globe reporters that they did not accept the cease-fire and mounted
attacks as recently as Sunday, Hamayel said, “That’s not true.”
Irsheid said he recognized the leaders of the Brigades in the camp and in Jenin
city among the people who abducted and beat him. “I was kidnapped; I don’t
know why,” he said. “I don’t think it was encouraged by [Arafat].”
But Irsheid said the attackers told him one reason for the assault was
that he tried to discourage Arafat from giving them financial support.
Irsheid said he has had tense relations with militant groups in Jenin for the past
two years “because I stopped them from attacking people and doing injustices,”
which he said included extorting money from the public.
Both he and Zubaidi said the Brigades and the Palestinian Authority
administrator were at odds over the cease-fire that most militants — but not the
Brigades in Jenin and Nablus — are observing. Irsheid said the Authority’s
declaration of an end to armed attacks on Israelis set a policy that had to be
obeyed. But Zubaidi said the governor’s contacts with the Israelis over
enforcing the cease-fire and negotiating Israeli withdrawal from Jenin made him
a collaborator with the enemy.
Ata Abu Irmaileh, the head of Fatah in the Jenin camp, said he believes “Arafat
is against the cease-fire with the Israeli aggressors, [but] Arafat is under siege
and he is under pressures. His position is always with the martyrs.”
Fatah-affiliated militias also are sending waves of shock and fear through
Nablus, where, during an attempt to abduct an alleged collaborator last week,
they shot dead a 36-year-old woman carrying her 3-month-old baby along a
street. Two cars belonging to Nablus Governor Mahmoud al Aloul and one
belonging to another Palestinian official who criticized the activities of armed
gangs in the city were torched.
“These people are like bats in the night, spreading chaos and destruction in our
society,” said Talal Dweikat, chief of Palestinian intelligence in the city. “Many
criminals are using the slogans of homeland as a cover for their criminal attacks.”
Dr. Randa Abu Rabe’e, a prominent Nablus physician, said residents are
outraged at the use of weapons on the streets. “It has become easy to say that
somebody is a collaborator and then use it as a justification for kidnapping and
shooting. Nobody knows who these people are.”