Palestinian Officer Killed in Shoot-out at West Bank Refugee Camp

Plainclothes officer shot in head in gun battle with wanted men in Balata, near Nablus.

Palestinian policeman Hassan Abu Ali Elhaj.

A Palestinian policeman was shot to death in a gun battle between local security forces and armed Palestinians at a refugee camp in the West Bank on Sunday night.

The policeman, Hassan Abu Ali Elhaj, took a bullet to the head and died on the spot during an exchange of gunfire with wanted men from the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus, said Palestinian security sources.

The sources added that Ahmad Abu Hameda, among the most-wanted men in the camp, was also shot in the head during the skirmish and was evacuated to a Nablus hospital, where he is in grave condition.

Abu Ali Elhaj was from the village of Kobar, near Ramallah, and was only married six months ago.

The incident began when Palestinian plainclothes officers entered the camp in order to make arrests. At some point, however, the officers’ actions became known and a gun-battle ensued.

Palestinian security forces often operate in Balata, and exchanges of gunfire between them and the camp’s residents have happened before.

Most of the suspects fought during the second intifada and never handed in their weaponry. In recent years, they have begun to turn their guns on the Palestinian Authority itself. They are also using their arms to pursue criminal activity, say Palestinian sources, and have even been known to challenge the PA – to the extent that they block traffic routes into Nablus and the camp.

The PA began to crack down some months ago, placing special forces in Nablus in order to handle the criminal activity.

Palestinian sources in Nablus say the criminal elements are receiving backing from certain politicians and clan leaders in order to rile the PA, but qualify that these elements are not a strategic threat to either the PA or its mechanisms.