Armed security forces from the Palestinian Authority conducted a rare operation in a Jerusalem neighborhood that is within the Israeli municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but on the West Bank side of the separation wall. Palestinian sources say Israel was notified of the operation in advance.
Palestinian security forces openly entered Kafr Aqab to calm the situation there, following a gun battle among Palestinians over a roadblock set up to enforce the lockdown the Palestinian Authority has imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the territory under its jurisdiction.
About two weeks ago, the residents of Kafr Aqab established their own neighborhood committee to combat the coronavirus. After the Palestinian Authority imposed a lockdown on all the towns and villages in PA-administered territory, the committee decided to set up a roadblock to halt traffic coming from the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, heading towards Kafr Aqab and Ramallah. The roadblock was manned by young people affiliated with the faction of Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority.
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The roadblock was placed within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and is therefore under Israel’s control rather than that of the Palestinian Authority. Although PA security forces are barred from operating there, Israel chose not to make an issue of the roadblock. However, friction between Kafr Aqab residents and the Fatah members at the roadblock degenerated overnight Monday into a gun battle. Witnesses said most of the shots were fired into the air, but one Kafr Aqab resident was hit in the neck and taken to hospital.
Residents of Kafr Aqab then contacted Nidal Abu Dukhan, commander of the Palestinian Authority’s National Security Forces, asking that he intervene. The residents reported that after the violence had died down, a group of police cruisers from the Palestinian Security Forces arrived and, in a highly unusual operation, openly entered Kafr Aqab with weapons. A Palestinian official claimed that this was done with Israel’s permission. The forces were from Unit 101, which is considered an elite unit.
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Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has been insistent that the Palestinian Authority not operate within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. About two weeks ago, for example, young men disinfecting the area were arrested by Israeli police based on the claim that they were acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. In recent years, the police have also acted dozens of other times to break up cultural events, news conferences and even a soccer match, events that Israeli authorities claimed were being conducted with the support of the PA.
Palestinian officials recently reported that Palestinian police have also been openly operating in the Shoafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, as well as that in Kafr Aqab, to shut down businesses and break up crowds to halt the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, the Palestinian village of al-Walaja, a portion of which is within Jerusalem’s city limits, is following directives from the Bethlehem district of the Palestinian Authority. But village residents said that they put up the roadblock at the village’s entrange without the involvement of Israeli authorities.
“We are paying taxes like anyone else in Israel, but in the first real test, the state is disassociating itself from us,” said Samih Abu Ramila, who chairs the Kafr Aqab coronavirus committee. “From their standpoint, we may as well die,” he said,
Meanwhile, the nonprofit organization Ir Amim sent a letter to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon this morning, in which they detailed the urgent issues in Kafr Aqab. Oshrat Maimon, director of policy advocacy at the organization, warned that the food baskets the city has been providing to residents only arrived to 300 families, while there are 800 families in need. He also said that the state of sanitation in the neighborhood has deteriorated after the city furloughed sanitation workers at the same time that household trash production has increased due to home isolation.
Maimon added that residents are suffering from serious issues with their water supply and that volunteers are lacking protective gear and disinfectant. “The organization of residents in Kafr Aqab has been working over the past few weeks to answer these different needs. However, it is clear that this does not relieve the municipality and the Israeli authorities of their obligation to work to provide services and answer the basic existential needs of East Jerusalem in general and these neighborhoods in particular,” Maimon wrote to Leon.