Palestinian militants in a West Bank refugee camp shot and killed two alleged collaborators with Israel early Saturday, Palestinian officials said. Mobs then kicked the bloodied corpses and dragged them through alleys before trying to tie them to an electrical tower.
The killings took place in the Balata camp near the city of Nablus, where tensions have been high between Palestinian security forces and armed groups that oppose any cooperation with Israel. The camp is home to some 30,000 refugees and is considered a stronghold of the Lions’ Den group, a militant faction that has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Israeli targets in recent months.
According to witnesses, the militants stormed the homes of the two men, identified as Zuhair al-Ghaleeth and Ahmad al-Sheikh, around 4 a.m. and dragged them out to the street. They accused them of providing information to Israel that led to the killing of four Lions’ Den members by Israeli forces in April. The militants then shot the men in the head and chest, and left their bodies on the ground.
Soon after, a crowd of angry residents gathered and began to abuse the corpses, kicking them and spitting on them. Some tried to hang the bodies from an electricity pole, but were prevented by Palestinian security forces, who arrived at the scene and fired warning shots in the air. The security forces eventually took the bodies away and handed them over to the local hospital.
The killings were the first of their kind in the West Bank in nearly two decades, and sparked condemnation from Palestinian officials and human rights groups. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank under interim peace agreements with Israel, denounced the killings as a “heinous crime” and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. The PA also said it would launch an investigation into the allegations of collaboration, and urged the residents of Balata to respect the rule of law and refrain from taking matters into their own hands.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based watchdog, also condemned the killings and called for an end to the “state of chaos and lawlessness” in the Palestinian territories. The group said that the killings violated the right to life and the right to a fair trial, and that the accusations of collaboration should be verified by a competent judicial authority. The group also urged the PA to protect the lives and dignity of all Palestinians, and to prevent any further acts of violence or revenge.
Collaboration with Israel is a highly sensitive issue in the Palestinian society, and is punishable by death under Palestinian law. However, such executions are rare and require the approval of the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has not authorized any since he took office in 2005. The last time a suspected collaborator was killed in the West Bank was in 2004, when a Palestinian court sentenced a man to death by firing squad for spying for Israel.
The killings in Balata came amid a surge in violence between Israel and the Palestinians, triggered by the 11-day war in Gaza in May, which killed more than 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Since then, there have been several clashes, shootings, stabbings and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes. The violence has raised fears of a new uprising, or intifada, against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.