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A governmental report shows 25,997 Israeli violations of the Sharm Al-Sheikh ceasefire over the past year, as Israel sweeps the West Bank, arresting 22 and killing several including a nine-year-old child. The Israeli army evacuates settlers from Hebron but prepares for new settlers to take their place. And the European Union threatens to cut off aid to Palestinian NGOs. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.
Israel Escalates Wall Offensive
In response to Hamas’ success in the Palestinian legislative council, the acting Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has instructed the security department to accelerate the construction of the Separation Wall in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, in this week’s nonviolent action against the Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, two Palestinian villagers, including a fourteen-year-old child, Zohdi Ash’al, as well as one Korean activist, suffered moderate wounds when the Israeli army fired rubber-coated bullets into the crowd. Three other villagers were arrested.
Palestinian Governmental Report on Israeli Violations of Ceasefire
A report prepared by the Palestinian State Information Service shows that in the 51 weeks since the Sharm Al-Sheikh ceasefire agreement signed February 8, 2005, Israeli forces have violated this ceasefire 25997 times, resulting in the death of 180 Palestinians, injury of 1243 and arrest of 4297 others.
During the same period, Israeli soldiers established 4740 roadblocks and expropriated 900 acres of arable land. Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian civilians 589 times.
In the week from January 24 to the thirtieth alone, Israeli soldiers violated the ceasefire 510 times, killing 2 residents, injuring 13, and arresting 91. Soldiers also installed over 65 temporary military checkpoints, and closed roads 208 times.
Israel Raids Homes, Arrests and Kills Activists and Children
Over 20 Israeli armored vehicles invaded Tulkarem on Thursday at dawn. They broke into a number of homes in the eastern part of the city and arrested a schoolteacher, Amjad Awwad. The Israeli army invaded again on Monday, assassinating Nedal Abu Saadah, a senior leader of the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad. Since then, Tulkarem has been under strict closure.
Also this week, Israeli special units backed by armored vehicles and Apache helicopters invaded the village of Araba and surrounded a house where members of the Islamic Jihad were thought to be hiding. In the shootout that followed, two Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed; fifteen civilian bystanders and at least two soldiers were injured.
Ambulance driver Iyad Mutlaq described what he witnessed
"We received information that at least one Israeli soldier has been killed and at least two or three were injured. Two Palestinians were also killed. We can’t enter the area because it has been closed by the Israeli army. At least 15 Palestinians have been injured by live ammunition and we are unable to locate or reach them."
This military operation is part of a larger sweep of arrests. Twenty-two West Bank activists have been arrested, from Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In addition, Israeli soldiers arrested ten youths, ages 17 and 18, from Betillo village during a Sunday pre-dawn raid. Israeli soldiers also shot and killed a nine-year old Palestinian child, Aya Al-Astal, near the Kissufim Crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Palestine & EU
The majority of Palestinians in Occupied Palestine live in poverty. Two-thirds are malnourished. The unemployment oscillates between 70 and 85% in Occupied Palestine, and many "employed" Palestinians still live on $2 a day. But this week, the struggling nation received several additional blows to its already desperate situation.
Israel froze its monthly tax payments normally used by the PA to pay the salaries of some 140,000 government workers one week after Hamas won in the legislative elections.
In London, representatives of the ‘Quartet’ responsible for Mideast peace – the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union – also met to discuss Palestinian aid.
And the World Bank is withholding its December payment to the Palestinian Authority, saying the PA budget "has become increasingly unsustainable" because of (quote) "sharp increases in salaries and hiring".
EU Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal also stated that all ministers of any Palestinian government must commit to renouncing violence, recognizing Israel as a state, and accepting previous agreements made with Israel under other governments, or else risk losing EU funding.
Anwar Zboun, newly elected PLC member
"The EU should reconsider its previous statements on the Islamic movement especially that it is now the choice of the Palestinians people. Therefore, we demand the EU to be rational in taking such a decision. We have good ties with most of the European countries. European countries have given large amount of money in direct aid to the village councils and municipalities led by the Islamic movement."
Zboun said, this shows that the current European stand is inconsistent. He added that threats made by the EU’s Foreign Minister Javier Solana to stop aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is heavily involved in the parliament, are result of Israeli and American pressure.
<Zboun’s Clip 2>
"We believe such inconsistent stance is a result of the Israeli and the American pressure on the EU. But, we are confidant that Europeans are rational, therefore we hope they will continue to aid the Palestinian people, because this aid helps improving Palestinians’ daily life"
Khaled Mashaal, the politburo chief of Hamas, said in response to the economic threats, (quote), "The world raised the slogan of democracy and now it should respect the results of democracy. If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy then the American administration should punish Americans for choosing President George W. Bush."
At a press conference in Damascus, Syria, where Mashaal is living in exile, he thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for holding elections on time, and in a fair, democratic way, and declared that Hamas would focus on reforming the Palestinian government. He also declared the legitimacy of attacks on Israeli civilians, (quote) "as long as Israel continues to target civilians."
Late Monday night, Israeli soldiers finished evacuating settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron, but assured them they could return within two years. The 500 settlers, who have been illegally occupying Hebron’s downtown marketplace since 2002, are known as the most violent and extremist settlers in Occupied Palestine. They displaced 130,000 Palestinians with the complicity of the Israeli army, which erected 101 physical barricades and 18 military checkpoints around the settlement.
But the evacuation of the settlers does not mean the marketplace will return to the hands of the Palestinian residents and merchants to whom it belongs. Instead, the Israeli Defense Ministry has terminated its lease with the Hebron municipality, and plans to replace the evacuees with ‘legal’ Israeli settlers backed by the Israeli army.
Also this week, soldiers razed nine illegal houses in the Amouna outpost near Qalqilia. Hundreds of right-wing settlers flocked to the scene and engaged in what was described as "fierce clashes" with the soldiers. Settler youths sat on the rooftops of the homes slated for demolition, throwing stones, glass bottles, buckets of cooking oil and paint at the soldiers.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Occupied Palestine. With the International Middle East Media Center in Beit Sahour, this is Terina Aguilar and Dina Awwad.