Clashes over Arafat curbs

April 19, 1996

Clashes between Palestinian police and students on campuses across the West Bank have escalated as Yasser Arafat continues his clampdown on supporters of Muslim fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A round-up of suspects brought fresh demonstrations which resulted in security forces returning to the university grounds to disperse the crowds.

Tension remains high and has fuelled speculation about how much autonomy the tertiary education sector will have in the new Palestinian Authority regions.

The worst incidents were reported from A-Najah university in Nablus where a press conference had been called by all the various political groups in the student body to protest at the detentions. According to a Reuters correspondent who was present, the police moved on to the university grounds as a spokesperson for Hamas began addressing the meeting. Five hundred Palestinian police, led by the elite Force 17 unit, fired shots into the air and used tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd, who responded with stones and bottles. More than 30 students were reported as having been treated for the effects of tear gas and two are said to have gunshot wounds.

With about 6,000 students, A-Najah is the largest university on the West Bank. In response to the incidents, students have called for a halt to classes and university employees have demanded that an inquiry be set up to identify who gave the order for the police to enter the university grounds. At a meeting with A-Najah students before the inaugural session of the Palestinian parliament, Yasser Arafat authorised an inquiry and said that he would not hesitate to dismiss senior police officers if they were found guilty of improper action.

Staff at the university were said to be shocked and are seeking a meeting with officials of the Palestinian Authority. One university worker said: "I am ashamed. The Israelis never dared come on to the campus, even when there were wanted men here. The actions of the Palestinian security forces prove that we are no different from any other Arab state."

Meanwhile, at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, Palestinian police intervened to stop students throwing stones at Israeli army vehicles following a demonstration on campus.

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