RAMALLAH, West Bank—Palestinian Authority security forces clashed with armed groups and gangs of young men who were hurling stones in the city of Nablus on Tuesday, as unrest intensified in the West Bank amid a series of Israeli military raids and arrests of militants.
The early-morning gunbattles left at least one Palestinian dead and demonstrated how the Western-backed Palestinian Authority is losing control of northern parts of the West Bank, where officials say there is a growing but diffuse movement that is hostile to both the Israeli occupation and a Palestinian governing body seen by many of its subjects as corrupt and ineffective.
In videos from Nablus viewed by The Wall Street Journal, dozens of young men are shown pelting Palestinian Authority security jeeps with stones as plumes of tear gas hang over the city center. In other videos, gunfire echoes across the hills of Nablus, a city of 170,000 people set between two holy mountains.
The militants blocked roads leading into the city and set fire to tires in the middle of the streets, according to witnesses and videos of the scene.
The violence erupted after the Palestinian Authority arrested two Hamas militants overnight, including an official in the group’s Nablus leadership. Hamas, the ruler of the coastal Palestinian enclave of Gaza, is banned in the West Bank by Israel. The Palestinian Authority and Israel have worked to keep the group from gaining a foothold.
The rising violence comes as Israeli forces have repeatedly raided Nablus in recent months in a crackdown on rising militant activity there. Young people, many unaffiliated with any major faction, have joined local militias as the Palestinian Authority’s grip on West Bank security loosens.
Palestinian Authority President
called for public order and warned against following unspecified “biased agendas.” Gen. Talal Dweikat, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority security services, said it remained unclear who was responsible for death of the Palestinian man but said no security officers were in the area.
A Palestinian official said he was concerned the Palestinian Authority’s security forces were “losing the trust of the street.”
“The security forces and the people are like fish in water. The forces need the embrace of the people to survive,” said the official. “When that’s gone—the situation will become very difficult.”
The authority administers major Palestinian areas across the West Bank. After it was founded in 1994 as part of the Oslo Peace Accords, many Palestinians hoped it would lead to an independent state. The peace process ultimately collapsed in the early 2000s and subsequent negotiations failed.
In polls, majorities of Palestinians regularly call for Mr. Abbas’s resignation and oppose security coordination with Israel. The last elections for the authority’s leadership were held in 2006, when Mr. Abbas was elected president. He has ruled by emergency decree since his term ended in 2009.
Israel regularly sends intelligence about suspected militants to the Palestinian Authority in the hopes that they will arrest them, an Israeli military official said. He wouldn’t say if Israel had asked for the two Hamas members to be arrested on Monday.
The militants fighting the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday, and more broadly against Israeli forces in recent months, are from a variety of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Others are unaffiliated with any faction.
In a public statement Monday night, a group of unidentified militants said that the city “will not open up before the two men arrested are released.”
“This will bring grave consequences upon the city because of your action, because you will not be able to protect them,” the militants said.
Israel has stepped up its raids in Palestinian areas over the past year following a deadly wave of attacks inside Israel that left 19 dead. In the West Bank, at least 81 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, a seven-year high, according to the United Nations.
Israeli military officials have blamed the Palestinian Authority for failing to stamp out militant activity in the West Bank. Palestinian officials blamed the Israeli incursions for the increase in violence and said the raids were further weakening their control of the territory.
Hamas condemned the arrests of its members as “a new mark of shame” on the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
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