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Fugitives Demand Jobs and Protection from Israeli Forces

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Gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - the armed wing of the Palestinian Authority's governing Fatah movement - seized the rooftop of Bethlehem's city hall near Manger Square just after noon on Tuesday, pointing their weapons at Palestinian police below, witnesses report.

The two-hour standoff came just four days before Christmas close to the Church of the Nativity - the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

According to the German Israelnetz news service, the men were calling for money and more protection against the Israeli army but were eventually persuaded to come down by local Fatah officials.

An al-Aqsa spokesman said the protests were to remind the PA to pay the salaries owed to Palestinian fugitives sought by Israel. Eyewitnesses added that the gunmen were also trying to highlight the fate of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

While the gunmen claimed that they did not intend to obstruct Christmas celebrations in the town of Jesus' birth, they admitted that they had timed the protest to take advantage of the high international media presence in Bethlehem in the run-up to Christmas.

After convincing the gunmen to end the standoff, local Fatah leader Abdullah Abu Adid, told journalists that quiet in the Palestinian areas could not be achieved as long as fugitive gunmen were being targeted by the Israeli army.

The incident is another sign of growing chaos and lawlessness in PA-controlled areas where armed gangs continue to exercise more authority than security and police forces.

In the Gaza Strip Palestinian gunmen held a similar protest at the same time Tuesday, seizing the offices of the Fatah movement in Khan Yunis, Israelnetz reports.


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