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This week in Palestine – a service of the International Middle East Media Center IMEMC.ORG for the week of Friday, August 26th to Thursday September 1st , 2005

After receiving a green light from the US government for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, Israel revealed plans to grab more lands and signed a deal with Egypt for patrolling the Philadelphi Route. Meanwhile the Palestinians continued their peaceful protests against the separation Wall, the Israeli army carried out arrests throughout the West Bank, settlers harassed Palestinian residents, and Netanyahu declared his candidacy for chair of the Likud.

Israeli Settlements in the West Bank

The population of West Bank settlements has grown by 12,800 people over the past year, a government official said Friday.

Thousands of Israelis have streamed into West Bank settlements since June 2004, increasing the number of Jews living in the West Bank to 246,000, said Gilad Heiman, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. Palestinian officials see Israel’s continuing expansion of the settlements as a declaration of war against the Palestinians. According to Palestinian cabinet minister, Ghassan al-Khatib, settlement expansion ‘aims to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by reinforcing and prolonging occupation.’

The United States has rescinded its demand for Israel to implement a joint U.S.-Israel program to delimit the boundaries of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli and American officials said on Monday. Israel claims that marking the boundaries of the settlements is an uncomfortable concession, while the U.S. claims that it would legitimize the existing settlements.

The U.S. is still committed to the guarantees it gave Israel following the summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush, in April 2004.

American officials will make do with warning Israel to refrain from expanding West Bank settlements. Apparently, the U.S. vision of expansion is limited to building new settlements. The U.S. does not object to new construction in the large settlement blocs or within the built up areas of existing settlements. Thousands of construction contracts have been handed out by the Israeli government since the boundary-marking plan was introduced in 2001.

Resistance to the Separation Wall continues

Dozens of Palestinian, international and Israeli peace activists marched on Friday in the village of Bil’in near the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the construction of the separation wall on the lands of the village. Protestors wrapped themselves with flags of the United Nations and blindfolded themselves with Israeli flags, signaling that the UN sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through Israeli eyes only.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled the wall illegal, a resolution that has been adopted by the general assembly of the UN. Soldiers responded to the protest by firing rubber-coated-metal bullets at the protestors and beat them with the back of their guns and clubs in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

At least 40 protestors were wounded, said Abdullah Abu Rahme, coordinator of the committee to resist the wall in Bil’in and one of the organizers of the protest which has become a weekly tradition. All wounds were described as light. Six people were arrested and dozens were treated for gas inhalation.

Army Acts continue

Israeli soldiers detained dozens of residents at Al Hamra checkpoint, south of Tubas in the West Bank, after closing it for several hours. A local source in Tubas reported that soldiers barred residents from crossing the checkpoint to reach their homes and orchards.

Resident Yasser Omar, from Beit Amin village near the West Bank city of Qalqilia, reported that a group of settlers standing on a hill close to the gate in the Separation Wall, hurled cocktail bombs at the cars of Palestinian residents celebrating a wedding in the village. The settlers were standing on a hill close to the gate when they started to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at the residents’ vehicles. Damage was reported, but no injuries

Land Grab resumes

Israeli authorities decided to annex 1000 Dunams of orchards that belong to families from Dir Al Hatab and Azmout, east of Nablus in the West Bank. The residents have not been allowed to enter their lands since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada, since they are close to the Isreali settlement of Elon Moreh. Settlers burnt dozens of olive trees near the settlement last month after barring the residents from reaching their orchards.

Separation Wall in the southern West Bank

Israeli Defense Ministry Director, Amos Yaron, reported on Monday morning that the construction of the Israeli Separation Wall in the southern West Bank will be completed by the end of 2005. The Wall, under the current construction plan, will surround several areas between Hebron and Be’er Sheva, including Yateer village, south of the Hebron Mountain. Yaron added that 65km of the Wall had already been constructed in the area.

Beer Sheva Bombing

Two security guards were injured in Be’er Sheva on Sunday morning after a bomber detonated explosives outside the central bus station when he was spotted by two security guards. 50 other Israelis were reportedly treated for shock. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the bombing, describing it as a terrorist attack.

Abbas released an official statement condemning the attack while also slamming Israel for its recent military attacks on the West Bank. Israeli incursions over the last two weeks have killed at least fourteen Palestinians, including five children in Tulkarem.

Netanyahu runs for Premiership of the Likud Party

On Tuesday, in a direct challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the resigned Minister of Finance, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared his candidacy for chairmanship of the Likud party and his desire to be the party’s candidate for premier. He began his election campaign to lead the Likud and to regain the premiership by calling for the construction of a new settlement in the West Bank. The area is called E-1, located between East Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. If built, the settlement will completely disconnect the north of the West Bank from the south.

Israel has already announced plans to build a police station in the E1 zone to replace an existing station in Jerusalem. Netanyahu is planning to visit the area, which he claims will determine whether the Israelis or the Palestinians will control the eastern heights adjacent to the holy city, Israel Radio said.

Apparently, Netanyahu’s demand for the construction of a new settlement is meant to challenge Sharon, who recently led the withdrawal and dismantling of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small outposts in the northern West Bank. For many in the Likud party, Sharon’s recent actions are seen as a betrayal because he has always been known as the father of the settlement movement, especially during his tenure as Minister of Housing and Minister of Infrastructure.

Arrests in Jerusalem

Israeli Border policemen and security officers broke into a residential building in Palestinian neighborhood of al Suwwana in Jerusalem, and arrested one resident. Soldiers closed the entrances of the neighborhood, surrounded the six-story building, which belongs to the Abu Asab family, and arrested Ya’coub Mahmoud Abu Asab, 33, after breaking into his home. Abu Asab was head of the Islamic Heritage Committee at the Al Aqsa Mosque before it was closed by the army at the beginning of the Intifada in late September 2000.

Israel-Egypt Agreement

Israeli and Egyptian officials signed an agreement in Egypt today to deploy 750 Egyptian border guards along the Gaza Strip-Egypt border, also known as Philadelphi corridor. The Israeli Parliament approved the deal Wednesday in a 53-28 vote.

Meanwhile, Israel is due to start constructing a new border crossing terminal at Kerem Shalom on the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border next week, despite opposition from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians, who are not involved in the deal, object any Israeli presence at the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt arguing that it will be a Palestinian-Egyptian border crossing.

To the Palestinians, the debate in the Israeli Parliament over this issue concludes that the Gaza Strip is not completely free after its unilateral pullout.

For The International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC.ORG) in Beit Sahour – Palestine, this is Allyssa Stonex