Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has launched his broadest weapons crackdown in years, The Associated Press reported on Monday.
The latest crackdown marks the first time that Abbas is confronting his own loyalists, including rogue security officers and gunmen linked to his Fatah movement.
AP reported that the arrest raids conducted in recent weeks are a response to high-profile vigilante shootings that threatened to undermine law-and-order successes in Jenin.
Some 200 people were detained and dozens of guns seized in recent weeks, many in Jenin, Palestinian Authority police told AP Monday.
Just under half the detainees were released after surrendering their weapons, while others remain in custody on suspicion of weapons dealing, extortion and shooting attacks, said police spokesman Adnan Damiri.
The report noted that until the crackdown, Abbas largely avoided taking on armed men with ties to Fatah, apparently fearing a political backlash and unrest in the ranks. The recent shootings, including a May attack on the house of the Jenin district governor, who later died of a heart attack, seem to have left him no choice.
Among those arrested were several gangs involved in illegal weapons trading and extortion, as well as those who attacked the house of the Jenin governor. PA officials have linked the deadly heart attack to the shooting, seen as the main trigger for the security crackdown.
Meanwhile, AP reported, local human rights groups have criticized Abbas for curtailing basic freedoms under the guise of security.
The report noted that over the weekend, his security forces violently dispersed two protests against Abbas' security coordination with Israel and a planned meeting with Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. The meeting was later postponed.
Officers and plainclothes agents scuffled with dozens of young demonstrators, and kicked and beat several of them.
Senior Fatah officials did not criticize the crackdown publicly, though local leaders in the Jenin district argued that disarming Fatah loyalists will leave them vulnerable in case of renewed clashes with the movement's main political rival, Hamas.
A previous crackdown in Jenin was launched in early May, soon after the death of the local governor.
One of those arrested in May was Zakaria Zubeidi, the former commander of the Fatah movement’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin. The reason for the arrest is unclear but may have been part of the same crackdown.
Zubeidi is considered one of the most powerful men in Jenin, and recently there has been friction between him and the PA.