This Week in Palestine – a service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.org, for the week of Friday May 13th to Thursday19th, 2005.
On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began his tour of Asia in Tokyo for a series of talks with Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi and other government officials before visiting China on Tuesday, and both Pakistan and India on Thursday to meet with officials there as well. It is the first official visit of its kind since that of Late President Arafat’s Asian tour in 2000.
Following his meeting with the Palestinian President, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi committed an additional $100 million USD to the Palestinian Authority. The funds are envisioned as part of the Japanese effort to promote peace in the Middle East. As well, Abbas, after thanking Koizumi for his country’s support, told Japanese media that Hamas would be welcome to participate in July elections and that there might be a role for the Islamic group in a future government.
Meanwhile in local news, last Sunday morning, in an action organized by Palestinian, International and Israeli peace activists, five activists barricaded themselves inside metal barrels placed alongside the separation wall in Belein, near the West Bank City of Ramallah, while others demonstrated along the wall route. The Soldiers declared the area a closed military zone and used metal cutters to remove the peace activists from the barrels. Five Israelis and one Swedish peace activist were arrested. After his arrest, but prior to his deportation Thursday night, Swedish citizen Johan Persson, explained why he placed himself inside one of the barrels:
In other news, the WAFA news agency said that last Monday morning, Israeli soldiers stationed at al-Kafriyyat checkpoint, south of Tulkarem, opened fire and killed Omar Asrawi, a- 22 years old and prevented Palestinian ambulances from evacuating him.
Also on Monday, in the town of Al-Ram near Jerusalem , Israeli soldiers arrested Walid Al-Bustanji, age 33, from Bethlehem, at the entrance of Al- Ram town near Jerusalem and took him to unknown location.
On Tuesday, a senior Israeli security source stated that the army will resume its assassinations policy against Palestinian resistance fighters after preparing a list of names of potential targets for assassination or arrest. Israel claimed that the decision was made after receiving several warnings that resistance groups are planning to carry out bombings in Israel. The decision includes targeting all members of armed factions.
On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Hamas member, who was guarding the edge of the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border. The 22 year old local, Ahmed Barhoum, was hit in the head by a bullet and died immediately. Army sources said it did not know of the incident. Army officials said gunshots and anti-tank grenades were fired at an army post near the city of Rafah, and that soldiers returned fire.
And the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate, with on-going violence threatening the collapse of the unilateral period of calm declared by the Palestinian factions last March in Cairo:
Wednesday afternoon, in an act that could drag the area into a non stop spiral of violence, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at two Palestinian resistance fighters in the southern Gaza strip; killing Ahmad Shahwan a- 25 year old member of al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and mildly injuring other residents. A medical source at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis reported that resident Ahmad Shahwan died on Wednesday night of wounds sustained after the Israeli military air-strike.
In response, Hamas began a series of 40 mortar shellings and Qassam rockets aimed at Israeli settlements in Gush Katif, just south-east of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaoul Mofaz threatened the Palestinian Authority with plans to resume offensive operations in Gaza if the PA does not move immediately to halt the Hamas mortar fire. Sharon is set to meet with Mofaz and other senior security officials on Thursday to weigh possible courses of action.
Wednesday at night, Israeli soldiers arrested two residents in Dar Salah village, east of the West Bank city of Beit Sahour.The WAFA news agency reported that soldiers installed a military check post on the main road between Beit Sahour and al-Obeydiyya, stopped dozens of vehicles forcing the residents out, and conducted military searches. The agency stated that soldiers arrested Khaled Attalla, 29, and Tamer Saleh, 24, and transferred them to a military camp near Beit Sahour.
Wednesday night, Israeli soldiers installed a military checkpoint on the western entrance of al-Asakrah village, south of Bethlehem. Besides stopping and searching vehicles, soldiers held and interrogated dozens of residents, mostly youth. No arrests were made.
Thursday at dawn, Israeli soldiers invaded the northern West Bank city of Nablus, and fired rounds of live ammunition. A local source in Nablus reported that soldiers invaded al-Sikka street in the Northern Mountain area, Ein Beit al-Ma’ refugee camp and the popular Housing area east of the city. Soldiers conducted military searches of homes and interrogated several residents; Some damage was reported, but no arrests were made. Also on Thursday, soldiers invaded kafer Qaleel, south of Nablus and conducted military searches on homes, but no arrests were reported.
In a step that could cause Hamas to suffer an election blow, a Palestinian court, on Thursday, canceled some municipal results in the northern Gaza strip city of Beit Lahia. Such a step could mount already existing tension between Hamas and Fatah over the elections results due to previous court annulments of the results from 51 of 141 stations in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, in which Hamas also defeated Fatah. The court decision, which annulled Hamas’s victory, takes effect in five of 42 balloting stations in Beit Lahia due to complaints of irregularities in voter registration lists.
Thursday evening Hamas announced that it objects to the court ruling and refuses to recognize it. In a press conference, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, believed to be the leader of Hamas in Gaza, decribed the rulings as "a plot that was born in the dark whose aim is to forge the well of the Palestinian people and rob Hamas of its achievements in the local councils under the guise of a court ruling. Overall, the local election results stand with Fateh capturing about 50 of 84 councils in Gaza and the West Bank. And preliminary results showed Hamas winning around 30, including larger towns such as Rafah and Qalqilyah in the West Bank.
In further election news, Wednesday afternoon, the Palestinian Legislative Council rejected a proposal submitted by 25 percent of its members to conduct parliamentary elections by proportional representation, a senior Palestinian official told IMEMC. Former Minister of Justice and member of the council’s legal department, Abdul Kareem Abu Salah, said the council decided that elections will be held on a mixed basis, with two-thirds of the 132 seats chosen on a regional basis and one-third according to proportional representation. In his interview, Abu Salah said the council has not discussed the postponement of elections proposed by the ruling Fateh party.
Also this past week, violence of Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories continues unabated.
Saturday, a local source in Hebron reported that settlers attacked dozens of homes and attempted to occupy them. Najeeb al-Sharabati, a resident of the old city, said that settlers attempted to break into his home after hurling stones and empty bottles at it. Also, settlers of the illegal outpost of Ramat Yeshai, in Tal Rmeida neighborhood in the center of Hebron attacked a number of homes and hurled stones at them. Israeli soldiers, who were present in the area, made no effort to stop the settlers, nor evacuate them from the area. Wednesday evening, more settlers of Ramat Yeshai attacked a 70-year-old woman in Tel Rmeida neighborhood; the woman was hospitalized. Thursday morning, another incident occurred in which three women and one child were attacked by settlers. Ashraf Abu Aisha, 11, was badly bruised after settlers of the Ramat Yeshai settlement outpost attacked and punched him.
On Sunday, Palestinian media reported that Israeli soldiers watched as Khaled Mahmoud Abu Khalaf, a local of Aseera Al-Qibliya, was attacked and brutally beaten by Israeli settlers. Three other villagers were also attacked.
Also on Wednesday, settlers from Qadumim bulldozed farmlands belonging to residents of Kafer Qaddoum, east of the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia. A local source in the village reported that settlers bulldozed more than 30 Dunams of Olive groves. Last year settlers burnt 50 Dunams while the army annexed 20 Dunams of olive groves.
On Thursday, settlers of Keryat Arba’ settlement, in the center of Hebron, attacked three women in the Wad al-Nassarah neighborhood adjacent to the settlement. A medical source in Hebron said that the three women sustained mild-to-moderate injuries.
Also Thursday, Israeli soldiers and a group of settlers closed the southern entrance of Qaryout, south east of the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The Head of Qaryout village council said that soldiers and settlers of Shelo settlement adjacent to the village blocked its entrance with sand hills and boulders. The Israeli army has closed the entrance several times over the last several years forcing the residents of Qaryout and the villages around it to use bypass roads in order to reach Ramallah and other northern West Bank areas.
And finally in International News, Thursday, the undersecretary-general for political affairs at the UN, Kieran Prendergast, cautioned against the increasing violence in the Palestinian territories, urging the Palestinian Authority to end all violent acts, and calling on Israel to support the P.A. He said, in his briefing to the UN, that the recent escalating events deteriorate trust and confidence between Israel and the P.A, directly harming peace efforts in the region.