PLO to try top Nablus gunman

Jerusalem - Ahmed Tabouq, the gunman whose militia has ruled the Old City of Nablus for six months, is expected to stand trial in Jericho in the next three days, writes Patrick Cockburn. He was arrested after a 10-hour siege of his house and will face charges of resisting the authority of the self-rule administration, which took control of Nablus from Israel last week, said Palestinian sources.

Mr Tabouq, 30, the leader of the Fatah Hawks, was cornered after Palestinian police, who are really combat troops, sealed off the medieval Old City at the weekend. At one moment he was seen on his roof armed with an assault rifle and accompanied by three of his men with pistols.

A Palestinian officer shouted: "Surrender yourself and your weapons. We do not intend to harm you." Mr Tabouq is said to have fired back and jumped on to another roof before disappearing into the tangle of old streets. Police cordoned off his house - he has a wife and three children - until he surrendered.

Mr Tabouq was taken to Jericho because his detention in Nablus might face resistance. He told the Independent in an interview in the Old City or casbah two weeks ago that "we consider ourselves soldiers of the Palestinian Authority".

A thin man with a gaunt face and a chain-smoker, Mr Tabouq was a leader of the Palestinian intifada in Nablus who was released from jail two years ago. After quarrelling with the local Fatah leader appointed by Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO, earlier this year, he set up the Fatah Hawks as a vigilantes.

His reputation in Nablus was mixed. To Said Kana'an, director of the Palestinian Research and Studies, he was a kidnapper who extracted protection money from local shopkeepers by threats and knee-capped anybody who resisted him. To others he was closer to Robin Hood than Al Capone.

The move against Mr Tabouq came after local businessmen protested about him to Mr Arafat when he visited the city last Friday. His power depended on the vacuum as the Israelis prepared to leave and the Palestinian Authority moved to take control.

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