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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, for Thursday, December 22, 2005.
Violence escalates in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as the Israeli army continues its lethal shelling of Palestinian towns and villages. An update on settlement expansion in the West Bank. And, Bil’in’s residents innovate new ways to stop the Separation Wall. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.  
Palestinian ‘Outposts’ at the Separation Wall
Several Palestinian and international peace activists erected caravans, from which they raised Palestinian flags, in Palestinian orchards near the West Bank village of Bil’in, this Wednesday morning. The action put an ironic twist to the notion of ‘facts on the ground’, since illegal Israeli settlement outposts also set up shop by driving caravans to Palestinian orchards and raising Israeli flags to mark the territory. The peace activists demanded the army evacuate illegal Israeli caravans and outposts placed the settlers in the area.
And on Friday in Bil’in, dozens of Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists engaged in their weekly action against the Separation Wall and settlements. This week, protestors wrote the names of landowners whose lands have been bulldozed to make way for the Separation Wall, and sang songs of peace and resistance in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Israeli soldiers attacked the villagers, injuring eight and arresting four.
Invasions Across Palestine; Fear of Wide-Scale Assault on Gaza
The Israeli army attacked the Gaza Strip by air at least ten times on Sunday and Monday. The army claimed they were targeting roads used by Palestinian guerillas to transport weapons. But many of the army’s bombs landed near residential areas, damaging several homes and injuring two doctors, three policemen, and a child. 
In response to the air strikes, Islamic Jihad launched a shell into the Israeli town of Ashkelon. No damage was reported.
On Wednesday, Israel threatened to cut off the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip if Palestinian guerilla groups continue to launch shells into Israel. But in the frank discussion that followed, some officials in the Israeli defense ministry argued that such measures would be ineffective because Palestinian guerillas would continue to fight regardless of the backlash. Meanwhile, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture Israel Katz, of Likud came out with his own proposal that Israel bomb the entire Gaza Strip and force its residents into Egypt. The Palestinian Ministry of the Interior denounced Katz’s statement and called on the international community to intervene to stop Israeli attacks on Palestinians.
That same day in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers invaded Jenin, assassinated Zayed Suleiman Mousa, age 28, the leader of the military wing of Hamas in Jenin, and shot five unarmed civilians, one of whom suffered grave wounds. One Israeli soldier was injured in the exchange.
On Thursday morning, dozens of Israeli armored military vehicles and jeeps invaded the West Bank city of Nablus, assassinating three resistance fighters. Later that day, five Israeli soldiers were injured when a Palestinian shell exploded in their base near the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority voiced concerns that Israel will launch a wide-scale military invasion into Gaza in response.   
Gaza Evacuees Set Up Shop In The West Bank
Extremist settlers who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip during the August pullout have formed a group called the Loyalists of the Land of Israel. The group is putting all its energy into constructing fifteen new illegal settlement outposts on the West Bank. This October, during the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, the group attempted to build four outposts. This week they announced plans to construct more outposts during the upcoming Jewish festival of Hanukah.
On Monday, the Israeli Ministry of Housing issued permits for 137 new housing units in the settlements of Ariel and Karni Shamron, near the West Bank city of Nablus. The Israeli Peace Now movement called the move a (quote) “irresponsible act,” and accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of violating the Road Map, which forbids settlement expansion.
Likud Primaries‘s illness
Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a crowd of supporters in Tel Aviv after winning a landslide victory in the Likud primaries, claiming 44.4% of the vote. His main rival, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, conceded defeat over the phone after winning 33% of the vote. The two promised to work together.
Sharon Hospitalized
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is 77 years old, was rushed to the hospital in Jerusalem Sunday evening after suffering a minor stroke and briefly losing consciousness. Sharon was discharged on Tuesday afternoon. Doctors say he has stabilized and is undergoing tests.
Fateh’s Crisis and Parliamentary Elections
Egypt negotiates an electoral postponement as Barghouthi takes over Fateh’s reigns
Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman visited Occupied Palestine this Wednesday. Suleiman came at the request of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to get Hamas to approve a postponement to Palestinian legislative elections.
In the first rounds of elections last week, Hamas won by an overwhelming majority in major West Bank cities, while the splintered and weakened Fateh party fared poorly.
On Thursday, the Future party, a Fateh splinter group led by jailed leader Marwan Barghouthi, agreed to rejoin Fateh. The popular Barghouthi agreed to merge the two parties after receiving assurance he would head the Fateh list, and that his allies would also be incorporated.
A recent Palestinian Research Institute poll of 2,500 West Bank residents found that only 20 percent of respondents said they would vote Fateh party because of the split between the ‘Old Guard’ headed by President Abbas, and the ‘Young Guard’ headed by Barghouthi. The merging of the two parties is expected to popularize the Fateh.
East Jerusalem
The question of voting in East Jerusalem sparked some debate among Palestinian factions as it remained unclear whether Israel would permit Jerusalem residents to vote. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said the Palestinian Authority would not agree to elections without voters from East Jerusalem. Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, countered that if Israel prevented voting in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Legislative Council could appoint candidates from the city. A senior Fateh member objected to this proposal, saying that an election that excludes Jerusalem violates the Palestinian position, which considers East Jerusalem to be part of Occupied Palestine.
United States pressures Hamas, and possibly funds Fateh
On Wednesday, seventy U.S. senators called on President George W. Bush to insist on the disarmament of all armed Palestinian factions before the elections, and to reconsider the relations with the Palestinian Authority if Hamas strikes a victory.
The letter came on the heels of a similar resolution last week, which called for the exclusion of Hamas in the January elections, and threatened to withdraw economic support if the demand was not met. The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives
In a press release issued Wednesday, Hamas accused the U.S. administration of financing Fateh candidates’ election campaigns and demanded an investigation. The party published a letter from the head of USAID to Palestinian legislator Nabil Amro. USAID said it had (quote) “received his letter regarding the financing of the campaign of Amro and his associates,” and thanked Amro for putting his trust in the fund. The press release said that, (quote) “This is further proof of American and Western involvement in internal Palestinian affairs.”
USAID said the document was forged and that it does not finance political candidates or parties. Amro also denied the legitimacy of the document, saying the affair was part of a smear campaign launched against him by his political rivals.   
And that’s just some of the news from Occupied Palestine. For the International Middle East Media Center, WWW.IMEMC.ORG, I am Terrina Aguilar.