NABLUS, West Bank (AP) – Thousands of angry Fatah activists, led by masked gunmen firing wildly in the air, marched in the West Bank on Saturday, demanding the resignation of party leaders following Fatah’s defeat by the Islamic militant Hamas in this week’s parliament election.
Some of the gunmen threatened to resume attacks against Israel, and others warned they would kill Fatah politician who join a Hamas government.
The marches were part of the growing finger-pointing in Fatah following the election defeat. The protesters demanded that members of Fatah’s main decision-making body, the Central Committee, step down. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is part of the committee, but Fatah activists did not mention him by name.
In the city of Nablus, about 2,000 Fatah members marched through the streets, led by dozens of gunmen from the Fatah-allied Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, who climbed aboard the back of a truck and fired in the air.
“Al Aqsa, from Rafah to Jenin, has stopped the cease-fire,” one of the gunmen aboard the truck, Nasser Haras, told the crowd. “We are now no longer part of the cease-fire.”
Haras said Fatah gunmen would now join forces with Islamic Jihad militants, a small faction that has not observed the cease-fire and carried out six suicide bombings in Israel in the past year. “There will be surprises soon,” Haras told the activists.
In Bethlehem, about 400 activists, including dozens of gunmen, took over the party’s local office and demanded the resignation of party leaders. The activists threatened to go after Fatah politicians if they joined a Hamas government. Fatah has said it would serve in the opposition.
In the town of Tulkarem, about 200 Fatah activists marched in the streets, shooting in the air. One of the gunmen, Ibrahim Khreisheh, warned against cooperating with Hamas.
“Whoever will participate in a government with Hamas, we will shoot him in the head,” he said. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath, who ran the failed Fatah campaign, blamed the defeat on dozens of Fatah politicians who ran as independents after not getting a place on the party slate. “This led to a split of the votes, and prevented us from winning in many districts,” he said.
The Fatah Central Committee on Friday expelled six members who had run as independents and lost. The car of one of the independents, Burhan Jarar, was torched Saturday morning in the West Bank city of Jenin.