UN envoy warns West Bank camp could 'explode'

UN envoy warns West Bank camp could 'explode'
3 min read
15 November, 2016
The UN's top official on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process expressed concern towards the West Bank's largest camp where worsening intra-Palestinian clashes continue to escalate.
Gun battles have erupted in the politically tense West Bank camp [AFP]

The UN is concerned the West Bank's largest refugee camp could "explode" if intra-Palestinian clashes worsen, during a rare visit to the Balata camp on Monday.

The UN's top official on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process visited the camp near Nablus, the northern West Bank, where he met with civil society figures and politicians including those believed to be opposed to President Mahmud Abbas.

The visit by the Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov - who said he had visited the camp to send a message that the "international community is watching" the situation on the ground - was the first in "years" by a top UN official to the camp.

"If you forget about these communities they will explode," he said in an interview with AFP.

Balata has seen an uptick of violence in recent weeks, with Palestinian security officials attempting a series of raids to capture alleged criminals in the camp - leading to gun battles.

Analysts say Abbas sees the camp as a base for support for his political rival Mohammed Dahlan, who is currently in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Balata, where 30,000 people live in 25 hectares (62 acres), is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank and played a key role in previous Palestinian intifadas, or uprisings, against Israel.

Mladenov stressed the UN was not interfering in Palestinian politics but was trying to stop political differences crossing "over into an environment that becomes violent in which Palestinians stand against other Palestinians with weapons".

"Our role is to be able to talk to everyone and to send everyone a very clear message that violence is not the answer."

He added the UN remains supportive of Abbas's efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

"Abu Mazen is the person most committed to non violence and a peaceful resolution. If he is undermined that will affect the Palestinian cause," he said, using the Arabic nickname for Abbas.

The lives of residents have worsened as the camps have been left behind economically compared with major Palestinian cities, said Mukhaimer Abusada, professor of politics at Azhar University.

"Dahlan, who is the main competitor against Abu Mazen, has exploited the situation in the camps by offering some assistance to those in the camps," said Abusada.

Dahlan, Fatah's former strongman in Gaza, was expelled from the party in 2011 but is now believed to have strong support in a number of key Arab states in the battle to replace Abbas, who is 81 and has been in power 11 years.

Mladenov met with local civil society leaders and teachers and also the camp's Popular Committee -a political leadership body - in a meeting closed to the media.

Abusada said a number of the committee’s members were believed to be allied to Dahlan.