NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ In the first attempt by the Palestinian authority to impose its rule on the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian police hunted renegade street fighters in the twisting alleyways of Nablus on Sunday and surrounded the home of their leader.
The target of the roundup was the Fatah Hawks, a group headed by Ahmed Tabouk, which was formed with PLO backing two years ago as a vigilante force to rid the city of drug dealers.
In recent months the group has been blamed for killing at least three Palestinians, shooting 40 others and burning cars and shops of those who refused to pay extortion.
Israel handed over control of the city to the Palestinian Authority Dec. 11. Amin Maqboul, the head of Arafat’s Fatah faction in Nablus, said city leaders hoped to avoid confrontation with the Fatah Hawks but that the Palestinian Authority had run out of patience.
``Everyone in Nablus wants an end to the Tabouk story,″ he said.
Thirty members have been arrested since Friday, according to Fatah Hawks supporters. The arrest campaign came after Tabouk and his followers refused to comply with police demands to turn themselves in.
``We want to narrow the circle on Tabouk and arrest him,″ Palestinian officer Col. Alaa Hosni told reporters.
The search for 31-year-old Tabouk and his gang intensified Sunday when Palestinian police sealed all entrances to the centuries-old quarter known as the Casbah and checked pedestrians’ identity cards.
Tabouk, armed with an M-16 rifle, was spotted on a rooftop with three of his men, who were holding pistols and grenades.
``Surrender yourself and your weapons,″ shouted a Palestinian officer. ``We do not intend to harm you.″
Tabouk responded by shooting several times, jumping to a nearby roof and disappearing in the maze of narrow, winding streets. One of his three followers, Amjad Halaweh, was later arrested with a pistol and a grenade.
After Tabouk eluded police, they cordoned off his house and put officers with machine guns on nearby rooftops. The street fighter said he would surrender only to Nablus government Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Aloul.