By Raneen Sawafta

JENIN, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday, days after three of his senior officials were forced to flee a funeral by crowds furious at their response to an Israeli assault days earlier.

The anger of the crowd at the funeral for fighters killed in the two-day long Israeli operation highlighted the deep unpopularity of the Palestinian Authority and the widening rifts among different Palestinian factions.

The three members of the central committee of Abbas’ Fatah party were driven away as thousands of mourners turned on them, chanting “Get out! Get out!”.

The 87-year-old Abbas, who has rebuffed pressure to step down, visited the cemetery where the funeral was held, at the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp.

Flanked by his special presidential guards, he addressed the crowds at the edge of the camp, where torn-up streets and burnt out buildings bear witness to the intensity of the biggest Israeli operation in the occupied West Bank in 20 years.

“The heroic Jenin camp stood against the aggression sacrificed its casualties and offered all it has for the sake of the homeland,” Abbas said.

He told the cheering crowds that the camp will be rebuilt.

While Abbas has condemned the Israeli raid on Jenin and announced he was suspending a security cooperation accord with Israel, many Palestinians feel his position has been hopelessly compromised as violence across the West Bank has spread.

“Where were they all those years?” said one man in the camp, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals by security forces. “They don’t care about us.”

For well over a year, Israeli raids in cities like Jenin or Nablus have become routine. Hundreds of Palestinians, most fighters but many civilians as well, have been killed, while a spate of Palestinian attacks have killed dozens of Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority, set up following the Oslo peace accords three decades ago, exercises limited governance over parts of the West Bank, including Jenin but it has been powerless to stop Israeli raids or control militant groups.

Palestinian Authority security forces, including members of Abbas’ own presidential guard unit, have been deployed in large numbers in Jenin after the tensions with other factions burst out into the open during the funeral last week.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza and the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, have long been been at odds with the Palestinian Authority but Abbas has also faced growing criticism from within his own party Fatah, which also has an armed wing that is active in Jenin.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by James Mackenzie and Angus MacSwan)

Brought to you by