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This week in Palestine – A service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.Org for the week of Friday September 30th to Thursday October 6th.

This Week: The Israeli army continues its policy of targeting Palestinian resistance operatives in the West Bank. Meanwhile, factional in-fighting in the Gaza Strip reaches a crisis point. The Palestinian Authority cabinet is expected to dissolve right before parliamentary elections. And, Palestinians continue their peaceful resistance to the Separation Wall as Olive Harvest season begins. All of that and more coming up on This Week in Palestine.

Separation Wall

The West Bank village of Bil’in, in its ongoing campaign of nonviolent resistance to the Occupation, protested at the Separation Wall again last Friday.

Accompanied by international and Israeli peace activists, the villagers went to a construction site of the Separation Wall, carrying olive-picking tools and ladders. They were hoping to harvest their olive orchards located on the other side of the Wall. However, they were unable to do so, as Israeli troops stationed at the site barred their way.

600 acres of Bil’in’s olive trees have been annexed to Israel since the Intifada broke out in September 2000. Israel is expected to use this land to expand the nearby settlement of Mit-Tat Yahu. Mit-Tat Yahu was built on lands expropriated from the residents of Bil’in and the neighboring village of Kharabtha Bani Hareth.

The Wall that is being built around Bil’in also accommodates for the expansion of the Modi’in Elite settlement, even though the Israeli government has never given official approval for Modi’in Elite to be expanded.

Meanwhile, several EU ministers expressed ‘grave concern’ over the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. They were also concerned about the ongoing construction of the Separation Wall through the Occupied Palestinian territories. The Wall is especially an issue in and around East Jerusalem, where it undermines Palestinian daily life and jeopardizes a final agreement on the status of Jerusalem.

The EU ministers also expressed concern about the renewed violence in the region, and asked Israel to refrain from extra-judicial assassinations, which violate international law.

Since the Gaza pullout, the West Bank has seen a dramatic escalation in land annexation and violence against civilians by the Israeli military and settlers.

Assassination of three Resistance fighters in the West Bank

In its ongoing offensive against Palestinian resistance fighters, the Israeli military invaded Balata refugee camp at dawn last Friday. Balata is the largest refugee camp in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and is located in the Nablus, in the West Bank.

The Israeli military killed three resistance fighters, including a senior leader of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ala’ Al Terawi, and injured two others. The Israeli military reported that one soldier was also injured during the operation.

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, slammed the continuous Israeli military offensive in the occupied West Bank. He also called on the Palestinian resistance factions to act with restraint and to remain calm.

However, Jamal Al-Terawi, of the Aqsa Martyr brigades, said the calm is over and that Palestinians have the right to respond.

(Terawi Audio)

‘We, the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades in the West Bank, are no longer committed to the calm. We cannot allow Palestinian blood to be shed without responding, just to accommodate Israeli internal conflicts. This is completely unacceptable.’

Third Phase of Palestinian local elections

Palestinians from across the West Bank took to the polls last week in the third stage of municipal elections. Fatah claimed more than 50 percent of the vote. An additional 26 percent went to its main rival, Hamas.

Mohammad Abbas, head of the local elections committee in Bethlehem, reported a high voting rate in Bethlehem despite a closure on the city.

(Abbas Audio)

‘Despite the current situation imposed by the continuing Occupation, we are very proud that there was a high voting rate. People from all eligible age groups flooded the polling stations.’

Fatah’s showing was much weaker in the first two rounds of elections, in which Hamas had stronger numbers. Municipal elections have yet to be held in some major Palestinian cities including Gaza, Nablus and Hebron.

Egypt is considering tendering a proposal to delay the Palestinian parliamentary elections slated for January 2006. The delay would aim to undermine Hamas, which is expected to have strong support. But Egyptian officials say they will wait to see how Hamas does in other cities before unveiling the proposal.

Hamas boycotted the last parliamentary ballot in 1996, to protest the Oslo Accords. But it decided to run in 2006, especially considering its growing popularity and strong showing in the first and second stages of the municipal elections.

Redrawing boarders

The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip corresponds with Israel’s international interests, stated the Israeli Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, adding that the southern borders were previously agreed upon in accords with Egypt.

Mofaz reiterated his opposition to withdrawal from any West Bank settlements, as he considers these settlements to be the future borders of Israel.

The ongoing presence of settlements jeopardizes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state, as outlined in the US- backed Road Map Peace Plan. However, the Bush administration has already agreed to allow Israel to annex West Bank settlement blocs as part of any final agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinian in-Fight

A group of Palestinian policemen broke into the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Gaza on Monday afternoon. The policemen were protesting the killing of a police officer. The police officer died along with two other civilians in clashes between the Palestinian police and Hamas on Sunday night. Dozens more were injured.

The clashes erupted when the police attempted to arrest a senior Hamas leader in Gaza city. RBG shells and hand grenades were reported to have been used.

At a meeting in Damascus, leaders of Palestinian factions agreed to refrain from using weapons to resolve internal problems, while affirming the right of Palestinians to resist the Occupation.

Senior Hamas leader Sheikh Khaled Masha’al has rejected a call from the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to disarm Hamas, media sources reported on Wednesday. Rice said Hamas should disarm before running in the upcoming Palestinian Parliamentary elections. Sheikh Masha’al responded to Rice, asserting the right of the Palestinian people to resist Occupation while engaging in political activities.

Rice had previously said that disarmament an internal Palestinian affair. However, this time she adopted the Israeli stance that Hamas must disarm before participating in the political process.

Palestinian Cabinet

The Palestinian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, is expected to resign next week. Parliament had recently demanded the government quit, due to its failure to maintain law and order.

A parliamentary committee had been set up to discuss the deterioration of security. The committee recommended a Parliamentary vote of no-confidence against a cabinet headed by Qurei.

The committee also recommended the dismissal of all security commanders and their deputies, charging that they too had failed to control the chaos in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Abbas Sharon Summit

An Israeli source reported that the Abbas-Sharon summit, which was originally scheduled on October 2, will most likely take place next Tuesday. The summit will be held in Jordan and be mediated by King Abdullah II of Jordan.

In related news, the King cancelled his scheduled trip to Palestine and Israel this week. Jordanian sources said the visit was cancelled for security reasons.