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UN envoy warns West Bank camp could ‘explode’

Analysts say Abbas sees the camp as a base for support for his political rival Mohammed Dahlan

Published: Updated:

The UN’s top official on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process said Monday he was concerned the West Bank’s largest refugee camp could “explode” if intra-Palestinian clashes worsen, during a rare visit to the Balata camp.

In what his officials said was the first visit in “years” by a top UN official to the camp near Nablus in the northern West Bank, Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov met with civil society figures and politicians including those believed to be opposed to President Mahmud Abbas.

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.

Mladenov said he had visited the camp to send a message that the “international community is watching” the situation on the ground.

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

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.

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.

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 nonviolence and a peaceful resolution. If he is undermined that will affect the Palestinian cause,” he said, using the Arabic nickname for Abbas.

In the run-down camp residents were wary of talking politics but one who did not want to be named said the Abbas-run Palestinian Authority was deeply unpopular.