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This week in Palestine – a service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.org, for the week of Friday, July 1, to Thursday, July 7, 2005.

Palestinian unity government

On Monday, the Islamic group Hamas refused President Mahmoud Abbas’ invitation to join the Palestinian cabinet and help oversee Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also refused to participate in a unity government. Abbas is reportedly concerned that Hamas may seize control of Gaza after the withdrawal, and is trying to enlist the cooperation of the Islamic groups in order to maintain the Palestinian Authority’s control over the area. Hamas claims that Abbas’ offer was a ploy to avoid holding scheduled parliamentary elections, in which Hamas is expected to offer a strong challenge to Abbas’ Fatah party. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP offered to set up a ‘national committee’ to work with the Palestinian Authority to oversee the withdrawal. But Abbas refused, saying he did not want to create a parallel administration to run Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority leadership also came under fire from within its own party. Legislative Council members criticized Prime Minister Ahmad Qorei for failing to address the deteriorating security situation after dozens of armed members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with the ruling Fatah party, stormed the PA legislative building in Rafah on Saturday demanding jobs in the PA security forces.

Child detainees

346 children are currently being held in Israeli prisons, according to a new report from the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Liberated Detainees. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reports that child detainees are subject to torture, death threats, and unhealthy living conditions, and are often deprived of medical care and education. Last week, Israeli soldiers arrested 13-year-old Salah Ibrahim abu Rayya. The soldiers broke into his family’s home at dawn, and punched and clubbed the boy in front of his parents until he fainted; they also threatened to shoot both Salah and his family, according to his parents. While imprisoned, the boy was again beaten and told he would be executed. His mother said, “When he was brought to court, he was so weak, and his clothes were torn and filled with blood.”

Disengagement

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned the Palestinian Authority that Israel will react with extreme force to any Palestinian attacks during the pullout. On the ground in Gaza, settlers and right-wing activists created a new illegal stronghold in the Gush Katif settlement block, after Israeli soldiers removed them from a barricaded hotel last week. They were joined by Moshe Feiglin, leader of a faction of the ruling Likud party. Also in Gaza, a Palestinian teenager who was severely beaten by settlers last week stated that the Israeli soldier credited with protecting him actually initiated the violence against him. The boy, Hilal Al Majaydeh, said the soldier beat him with a rifle butt, and then made way for settlers to stone him.

Safe Passage Agreement

On Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement on the creation of a safe passage route between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after Israel withdraws from Gaza. During the first stage of the plan, Israeli forces will escort convoys of Palestinian vehicles travelling between the two areas. Later, Israel has proposed linking the two territories by railroad. The safe passage route was promised to Palestinians under the Oslo Accords, but has never been implemented, and has been an ongoing source of conflict in the negotiations on disengagement.

The Separation Wall

In an effort to accelerate the construction of the West Bank Separation Wall, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has proposed re-routing the Wall in the northern West Bank. The current route has been delayed by legal challenges, since it would cut several Palestinian villages off from the rest of the West Bank in order to annex the Israeli settlement of Ariel, 17 kilometers inside the West Bank. Under Israeli law, it is illegal to build the wall based on political considerations like annexing land. Mofaz’s proposed new route would still annex Ariel, but would take in fewer Palestinian villages than originally planned. Until recently, Israel claimed that the wall was a temporary barrier built purely for security purposes. Hoever, in response to a petition to the Israeli High Court by residents of a village near Qalqilya, Israel admitted Monday that the wall would be permanent, and that its route was planned in part for political reasons. Israel then asked the court to leave the wall in its current location, which has been ruled illegal, because it would be very expensive to move.

Meanwhile, protests against the Wall continued this week across the West Bank. In Bil’in on Friday, 50 Israeli and 25 international peace activists joined village residents to protest the construction of the Wall on village land. Troups fired tear gas and sound bombs at the protestors, and arrested four Israelis who refused to leave the area. Israeli soldiers also shot at and arrested local residents protesting the annexation of their land for Wall construction in villages near Jerusalem, Hebron and Qalqilya, and in a refugee camp near Bethlehem.

Home demolitions and military violence

Israeli soldiers killed 16 Palestinian residents, injured 140, and arrested 245 last month, according to the monthly report of the International Solidarity for Human Rights organization. The deaths include two elderly people who were forced to wait in the heat for hours at checkpoint, as well as a man who died of internal bleeding after being tortured in an Israeli detention center. A total of 131 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military since the beginning of the year.

The report also documents the demolition of 17 homes in the West Bank. A separate report from the Israeli group Peace Now charges that Israel issued construction permits for 142 new settler homes in the West Bank in the first half of 2005. The movement said that the permits are a direct violation of the ‘Road Map’ peace plan, which calls for a freeze on all settlement activity. This week, Israel destroyed eight Palestinian homes and a gas station in East Jerusalem, claiming that they were build without permits on land zoned for parks. The residents said that Israel had refused to issue them permits to build homes.

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