Ahead of Palestinian elections, homes of 2 West Bank candidates hit by gunfire
Tensions in the West Bank city of Hebron have escalated over the past two days as the homes of two local politicians were bombarded ahead of the Palestinian parliamentary elections in May.
Armed gunmen reportedly opened fire on the home and office of parliamentary candidate Hatem Shaheen early Monday morning. Shaheen, a lawyer, is currently on a list sponsored by former Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan.
Dahlan is a bitter rival to current leaders in Ramallah, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He was exiled to the United Arab Emirates in 2013, but hinted that he could use the Palestinian vote to initiate a return to the West Bank.
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âAround 2:30 am before dawn, we woke up to the sound of heavy gunshots towards our house. We rushed to see what was going on and saw a white car flee the scene, âShaheen told reporters outside his home in Hebron.
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Following the incident, supporters of Dahlan accused Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, of creating an “unfree” environment for the elections.
Another shooting incident took place on Tuesday morning, when gunmen reportedly shot at the house of Hebron Fatah party chairman Emad Kharwat.
Kharwat appeared to blame Dahlan’s faction for the gunfire, telling Palestinian media: âWe know full well that Dahlan, his people and his supporters are wreaking havoc. We will not allow anyone to wreak havoc in my city of Hebron. ”
The Mayor of Hebron, Tayseer Abu Sneineh, described the Hebron shootings as reflecting “a security vacuum and the chaos of the spread of weapons in our homeland in general, and in Hebron in particular”.
âThis shooting was an attempt to create internal discord on the eve of the elections,â Fatah member Abu Sneineh wrote in a signed statement.
Palestinian security officials told The Times of Israel they could not confirm whether the two incidents were related.
Separately, Israeli forces arrested Hamas parliamentary candidate Najih Asi early Tuesday morning. According to the terrorist group, Asi is the director of Hamas’s parliamentary campaign in the West Bank.
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Hamas has repeatedly accused in recent weeks that Israel has called senior Hamas officials for questioning and issued stern warnings not to participate in the upcoming elections.
“Obviously, Israel is concerned about the current elections, which it believes will end the Palestinian state of division,” a spokesperson for Hamas’s candidate list said, “Jerusalem our destination,” to reporters at a press conference in Ramallah.
The Shin Bet security service declined to comment on the allegations in the case. A security official told The Times of Israel that such claims “have nothing to do with reality,” without giving further details.
“[Asi] was arrested for participating in recent terrorist activity. There is no link between his arrest and his political activities, âsaid the security official.
Abbas announced in mid-January that the Palestinians would return to the polls for the first time in 15 years. He issued an electoral decree fixing three rounds of elections, the first – legislative elections – being scheduled for May 22.
Observers were initially skeptical that the decree would lead to elections, given Abbas’s fear of seeing his main rival, Hamas, overthrow him. But nearly three months later, the electoral decree has yet to be overturned, 93 percent of Palestinians are registered to vote and 36 parliamentary lists have been presented and approved.