In over a decade, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made his first visit to Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
It follows a massive Israeli military assault on the city's refugee camp a week prior. The visit was an attempt by the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reassert control during the region's worst security and political crisis in the past two decades.
He promised to rebuild the camp, which he referred to as "a symbol of struggle." Mr. Abbas arrived amidst chaos at the camp's entrance, where flags of the internationally recognized PA flew alongside those of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. He had flown to Jenin in a Jordanian military helicopter from his headquarters in Ramallah, 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the south.
There was a massive military deployment. Parts of the camp are still devastated by Israel's aerial and ground attack, but PA security personnel joined a thousand-strong squad of Mr. Abbas' elite presidential guard to clear a way for the 87-year-old. The Palestinian president spoke of defiance, labeling Jenin camp "heroic" and stating that it "stood against the aggression and sacrificed its people for the homeland" while using a microphone that repeatedly malfunctioned and made it difficult for the audience to hear him.
He also requested cooperation. "We came to declare that we are a single authority, state, law, security, and stability." But, as a further indication of the decline in public support for the PA, there were only a few hundred individuals in the crowd out of the 24,000 residents of the urban refugee camp.
During the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, the PA was established, granting Palestinians limited self-governance prior to a hoped-for transition to an independent state. Now, many Palestinians perceive it as a security subcontractor for Israel's 57-year-old military occupation of the West Bank. Polls indicate that the majority of Palestinians now support armed resistance because they believe the PA fails to defend them.
Mohammed al-Ghoul, a resident of Jenin, was present during the speech by Mr. Abbas, also known by his alias Abu Mazen. He urged Palestinian factions to unite, but criticized the Palestinian Authority for standing by when Israeli forces entered.
In response to the intensification of Israeli military raids in the West Bank, Mr. Abbas has vowed to halt security coordination with Israel, a pledge he has made numerous times in the past but rarely keeps. As Mr. Abbas spoke, militant gunmen continued to patrol deeper within the compound, and his forces did not advance further.
According to Palestinian sources, militant factions and PA security forces coordinated the president's visit. They reported that on Tuesday, militants permitted PA forces to defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDS) placed beneath streets to repel Israeli military assaults. Mr. Abbas also paid a brief visit to the nearby cemetery where nine of the twelve Palestinians who were slain last week are interred. Militant groups have claimed ten of the deceased as members. Additionally, one Israeli soldier was slain.
The camp is dominated by militants who name themselves the Jenin Brigade. It is a loose alliance of armed organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are more established factions. They are all designated as terrorist organizations by Israel and the West.