Analysis: Understanding the Militant Groups Behind the Violence in the West Bank

Jenin: Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant Emjed Walid al-Fayed, killed during an IDF raid on May 21.

After clashes with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops in the West Bank village of Ya’bad last week, the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades issued a statement mourning the death of one of its militants, Bilal Kabaha. Kabaha’s killing signals an upward trend of militant activity in the West Bank since last year.

There are several reasons behind the onset of violence in the West Bank, particularly in Jenin.

The cancelling of Palestinian elections and the May conflict in Gaza last year were the initial catalyst for the violence. Adding to that was the escape of six militants (most of whom are members of PIJ) from a prison in northern Israel in September, just across the line from Jenin, which rallied fighters across the Palestinian territories. Lastly, IDF operations in the West Bank throughout 2021 resulted in an unusually high number of militant deaths exacerbating the already mounting tensions.

Ultimately, it was likely the killing of a significant number of militants last year that motivated terrorist organizations in the West Bank to reorganize and establish a joint operations room. Groups such as Katibat Jenin (Jenin Unit), Hizam al-Nar (Belt of Fire) and Katibat Nablus (Nablus Unit) were formed and resulted in a marked increase in clashes with IDF troops. Though, it is unclear if the initiative to form these umbrella groups was directed from a local level or abroad (Gaza, Lebanon, Turkey).

Of these groups, FDD’s Long War Journal has identified five Palestinian militant organizations who have issued statements identifying their affiliation with the newly established formations or have claimed responsibility for attacking IDF troops with these groups.

Katibat Jenin and Katibat Nablus are led by Palestinian Islamic Jihad while Hizam al-Nar is headed by Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Hamas, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine are active in these formations but play a smaller role. While all of these groups have their own political movements and so-called military wings, they operate under the Katibat and Hizam al-Nar organizations as a single unit to combat IDF operations.

A similar model has been employed in Gaza with the joint operations room of the Palestinian factions. Approximately a dozen militant organizations operate under the Hamas-led operations room umbrella during times of conflict against Israel.

Evidence of the new formations was highlighted in a recent VICE News segment in May. At the beginning of the video, four of the previously mentioned organizations can be seen conducting a training operation in Jenin. VICE News did not specifically mention the name of these groups, however, FDD’s Long War Journal identified them by the bandanas worn by the fighters.

While clashes in the West Bank with militant groups have clearly been on the rise for more than a year, the IDF has yet to publicly acknowledge the new and aggressive approach the nascent organizations have undertaken against them. It’s unclear if this is due to not wanting to publicly reveal the significant escalation in the West Bank by Palestinian factions or an unwillingness to credit the groups for organizing a somewhat effective method of so-called resistance operations against the Israeli military.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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