Palestinian fighters set fire to two Palestinian Authority buildings in the northern West Bank city of Jenin early Saturday, accusing officials of collaborating with Israel, according to the group's commander.
The attacks were led by Zakaria Zbeida, the leader in Jenin of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed faction affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement.
Zbeida and about a half-dozen of his men broke into the office of the newly appointed administrative governor at about 3 a.m., poured gasoline on desks and set offices ablaze while a cameraman from al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite network, filmed the attack. The group then torched the offices of the Palestinian intelligence services.
The attacks were visible evidence of the growing conflict between the armed fighters and political leaders within Fatah. A series of more violent attacks by al-Aqsa members took place two weeks ago against Palestinian Authority police stations in the Gaza Strip, prompting Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to submit his resignation.
Zbeida accused the Palestinian intelligence services of assisting Israel in hunting down Palestinian fighters, becoming the first militant leader to openly confront the government with that allegation. Such rumors have circulated for months in Jenin and Nablus, where Israeli raids and assassinations of fighters have been relentless.
"This message is directed to the intelligence service, to stop them from pursuing the wanted people and collecting information about them," Zbeida said in a telephone interview Saturday morning. "This kind of information will be leaked to the Israelis through their security coordination."
"What is happening is a state of chaos," Qaddoura Moussa, who was appointed governor of the Jenin area last Sunday by Arafat, said in a telephone interview. "These barbaric messages are no way to solve problems."
Zbeida, who was shown by al-Jazeera pouring gasoline on Moussa's desk, said the governor's office was targeted because the Palestinian Authority had "failed to support those people who struggled defending the Palestinian people." He also said Moussa "promised he'd solve the problems of the wanted fighters, the prisoners and the injured before accepting the position of governor, but he failed to do so."
Last year, Zbeida kidnapped Moussa's predecessor, paraded him through the town and beat him, accusing him of corruption.
No one was injured in the arson attacks Saturday, and while some interior offices were destroyed, both buildings remained intact, according to Palestinian officials in Jenin.
In another early morning incident, Palestinian gunmen briefly detained three foreign church volunteers in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The three men, an American, an Irishman and a Briton, were held for less than two hours and released unharmed, according to Palestinian security officials. No organization claimed responsibility for the abductions, and the incident did not appear to be related to the Jenin attacks, Palestinian security officials said.
Researcher Sufian Taha contributed to this report.