Palestinian militias swap stones for M-16s : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thursday, October 26 12:39 PM SGT

Palestinian militias swap stones for M-16s in conflict with Israel BALATA REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank, Oct xx (AFP) -

With a stolen M-16 assault rifle on his lap, Khaled says Palestinians have never been more organized to fight Israel with real weapons than now.

Khaled, who received six months military training in Baghdad, is a commander of the armed Palestinian militia that has been engaging Israeli troops and Jewish settlers in and around the West Bank town of Nablus over the past four weeks of deadly street battles.

A member of Fatah, the political faction of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Khaled calls his group "the militia".

"The guns do the talking," said Khaled, 30, fingering his US-made M-16, which he said he bought for the equivalent of 4,000 dollars from an Israeli cocaine addict who purloined it from his army base.

"(Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak is a military leader, not a political one. He understands the language of force and he gave the orders to raid Palestinian cities and use heavy weapons against us," said Khaled, clad from head to toe in black.

Khaled works in coordination with Abed, a Fatah leader in Nablus, but said he is authorized to make decisions independently as to where and when to fight Israelis, so long as it does not jeopardize the goals of Arafat's self-rule authority or interfere with the more than a dozen security services under its auspices.

"We are not a substitute for the security services or a rival to them, but here to assist them," said Khaled, adding that there are some 500 militia members in Nablus and surrounding villages, an area encompassing some 250,000 people.

He said many of the leaders of the armed cells were trained in Iraq and that others served in one of the Palestinian security services.

"According to the Oslo peace accord, the security services of the Palestinian Authority can only patrol in area A," said Abed, referring to the patchwork of cities and towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip fully controlled by Arafat's administration.

The Israeli army handles security in the remainder of the Palestinian territories -- divided areas where Arabs have civil control known as B, and area C where they have no authority.

"But since the Palestinian security forces cannot act in areas B and C, that is where the militias come in," said Abed, who wore a dark tailored suit and was brought to the interview, in an apartment in the destitute Balata refugee camp near Nablus, by two bodyguards in a new Audi with a red licence plate reserved for officials in Arafat's authority.

"The militias defend our citizens in these areas from the army and the settlers who are killing them daily," said Abed, considered a founder of the Fatah garrisons.

While many Fatah members have long owned guns privately -- most illegally -- they organized themselves on October 10 into cells, according to Abed.

While Israel considers the Fatah irregulars to be little better than terrorists and regards them as an immediate threat, most Palestinians feel they are the ones under siege by Israeli troops and settlers, and therefore need to protect themselves.

The militias patrol the streets of Arab cities and towns at night, looking out for settlers they allege routinely descend on them under cover of darkness.

They also watch, often through binoculars, what have been near daily clashes and open fire on Israeli troops when they use live rounds on the Palestinian youths who throw stones and molotov cocktails at them.

"After the soldiers move from tear gas to rubber bullets then to live bullets, we call the children out and fight, guns against guns. It is not fair that the kids with stones are fired on with live bullets," said Khaled.

Israel has called on Arafat to rein in the gunmen and warned that he is trying to ride a tiger, implying he could lose control and be destroyed himself.

Khaled said potential fighters are screened to ensure their loyalty to Fatah and to weed out collaborators with Israel or those with a weakness for women that could distract them from their mission.

Once selected, their training begins immediately with the M-16, anti-aircraft guns, covert communications and the use of "bombs".

"To give you an example of our training, when the settlers came to shoot at us we were in a gunfight for six hours and the army couldn't get their helicopters in," boasted Khaled.

A Palestinian gunman and a Jewish settler were killed in that battle on October 19.

While most of the weapons in Balata were bought on the black market from the Israeli armed forces, others bore the cedar-tree stamp of the South Lebanon Army, the Jewish state's proxy militia that collapsed ahead of its pullout from Lebanon in May, ending 22 years of occupation. Others were smuggled in from Jordan.

"Israel is trained to fight from far away with heavy weapons that shoot great distances, we train for a street war," said Khaled. "Israel is not ready for a street war, no military can handle it."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 27, 2000

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