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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.imemc.org, for the week of November 17 through November 24, 2006.
Palestinian civilians manage to save a house from being bombed, while talks over the national unity government continue amidst an Israeli escalation of attacks in the Gaza Strip. These stories and more are coming up, stay tuned.
Weekly Peaceful actions in the West Bank
Let's begin our weekly report with this week’s peaceful actions against the annexation Wall and other stories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This Friday in Bil'in near Ramallah, some 250 Palestinians and 50 Israeli and international peace activists carried out the weekly protest against the Israeli annexation Wall in Bil'in village, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. One resident was taken prisoner and another eight residents, one Israeli reporter and one international peace activist were injured after the soldiers attacked the protesters.
The protesters demanded free access to currently inaccessible orchards so that residents can plant and care for their lands, which have became totally isolated behind the Wall. The protesters brought a tractor, seeds, ploughs and carried posters stating that the land is for those who plant it and not for those who annex it. They also chanted slogans against the Israeli attacks, the Wall and settlement construction and expansion.
The army used barbed-wire in an attempt to stop the protesters from reaching the orchards where the annexation Wall is being constructed on Palestinian lands. Soldiers ambushed the protesters between the trees, and as the marchers advanced, soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets and gas canisters at them.
Lina, a Swedish peace activist working with the International Solidarity Movement who was injured today in Bil'in spoke to IMEMC:
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Another seven protesters, including one child, one Israeli journalist and one international supporter were injured. The injured protesters were identified as:
Amjad Ayed Abu Rahma, 12, Khaled Shawkat Al Khateeb, Eyad Bornat, Kayid Abu Rahma, Ali Saif, Hussein Mohamamd Hassan, Ashraf from Jenin city, Mohammad Ahmad Issa and Tamir, an Israeli reporter. One resident, identified as Ayed Abdul-Rahman Sa'id, was taken prisoner when he tried to enter the isolated orchards.
The Israeli army is violently attacking the peaceful protests against the Wall and settlements in an attempt to stop them in order to proceed with the construction of the Wall, which separates Palestinian lands from their owners, and the expansion of settlements.
In the Gaza Strip, masses of Palestinians employed a nonviolent method to protect a Palestinian house in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered at the house after the owner received a phone call informing him that the Israeli army will bomb his home.
The house belongs to Mohammad Baroud, who is said to be a resistance fighter. The crowds succeeded in foiling the attack.
On the other hand, the international organization, Human Rights Watch, issued a press release condemning the action as unlawful.
"There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack. Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director. Whitson assumed that the civilians were forced to come to the area against their will, and urged Ismael Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister and head of the Hamas-led government, to denounce the act which has become a tactic used to protect several homes targeted by the Israeli army.
Attacks on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
The Israeli army continued its attacks on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and killed 26 civilians. This came as the Israeli cabinet decided to continue its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza Strip Update
This week the Israeli army attacked several residential areas in the Gaza Strip, mainly Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun and Jabalia, killing twenty six residents including six children and two women. Two other residents died of wounds they sustained earlier. In addition, ninety two Palestinians, including 41 children, were injured and two residents were abducted within the week. On the other hand, four hundred and fifty three Palestinians, 60 percent of which are civilians, including 88 children and 29 women have been killed and at least 1,548 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 311 children and 10 women have been injured, since last June.
Dr Jum'a Al Saka of Al Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip warns of a health crisis if siege continues:
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"Al-Shifa hospital and other hospitals have medical supplies for emergency situations, but because of the ongoing Israeli attacks, we are rapidly consuming the available supplies. We warn of a medical catastrophe if the Israeli aggression continues; soon we will be unable to help the injured.
On Thursday, three Israeli soldiers were wounded when a 57-year-old woman called Fatima Al Najjar, from Jabalia town, blew herself up near them as they were invading the Gaza Strip.
Media reports said that as Al-Najjar approached the soldiers they threw a hand grenade at her which caused the explosive belt fastened around her to go off. She is the oldest Palestinian suicide bomber since the tactic began.
In a separate incident, four Palestinians were injured during clashes between resistance fighters and the Israeli army. Another child was shot dead by the army in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. The boy was identified as 9-year-old Ala’ Salman.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, began a five-day visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel. Arbour visited the neighborhood in Beit Hanoun, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, where at least twenty Palestinians, including 18 from the same family, were killed by Israeli military attacks. During her visit, she urged Palestinian and Israeli leaders to “stop the cycle of violence,” and to conduct more efforts to protect civilians.
Also this week, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees commissioner Karin Abu Zaid urged the international community to donate at least 2.5 million dollars to help alleviate the human crisis in the city of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. She added that her organization provides a great deal of humanitarian assistance to the affected families. She pointed out that UNRWA is struggling to rebuild the 1,000 homes that have been destroyed by Israeli army.
On Tuesday, two Italian Red Cross workers were kidnapped this week by unknown armed men in near Deir El-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, but were freed shortly unharmed. No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.
Abdel Aziz Shaheen, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council was moderately injured when he was shot by unknown Palestinian gunmen. Fatah condemned the attack and said it will find the perpetrators and take them to court.
Attacks on the West Bank
The Israeli army invaded several Palestinian communities in the West Bank, killing one resident and injuring dozens. The army killed two residents this week, including a fifteen year old boy from the West Bank city of Jericho who was playing with a toy gun near one of the military checkpoints located at the entrance of the city. Another resident was killed when an Israeli special unit invaded Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, ambushed a resistance fighter called Amro Al Damj, 24, and shot him dead. The army also abducted 59 Palestinian civilians, including 7 children, from several West Bank cities.
Israeli troops demolished five homes and a number of barracks in the West Bank village of Hejja, east of Qalqilia after allowing their occupants only 20 minutes to evacuate. The army demolished another house in the West Bank village of Qarawet Bani Zied near Salfit in the north. The soldiers did not give its thirty occupants time to evacuate.
On Monday evening, Israeli soldiers took resident Shareef Abu Hadeed prisoner after surrounding his house in Bethlehem for several hours.
Troops also detained several of his family members in order to persuade him to turn himself in. Several residents, including a reporter, were injured during the offensive.
Dr. Jamal from Beit Jala Hospital says ten were injured.
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“We have critical injuries due to exploding bullets, mostly children and in total we have more than 10 injuries that arrived to the hospital since the invasion started.”
Two are in critical condition – one with a bullet in the head, the other with a bullet in the chest. Mohamed, an injured school boy, talked to IMEMC:
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"I was watching the invasion in Manger Square when soldiers suddenly started to shoot at us; they shot randomly; soldiers showed no mercy to anyone."
During the invasion, troops fired rounds of live ammunition and concussion grenades at the besieged house and at dozens of youth who started to through rocks at the soldiers.
Ahmad Mizhir, 28, a cameraman working with The Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, was mildly injured by the military gunfire.
Five teenagers were also injured and were moved to Bethlehem Hospital for treatment. Two of them were in critical condition after sustaining wounds in the head and in the chest respectively.
National Unity Government talks continue, preparations for Abbas-Olmert Summit
Talks on forming a national unity government between the Hamas and Fatah movements focused this week on the share of each bloc in the cabinet ministries. It is expected that theses issues will be discussed in the meetings between the two factions. Four main ministries are disputed between the two movements including the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Information, Finance and the Interior.
Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum says more time is needed to accomplish this patriotic task.
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“Talks have been ongoing for a while over forming a national unity government. However, there are some difficult issues facing this formation. A significant effort is needed in consultations and dialogue to achieve this goal. This is a Palestinian patriotic task on which many of our people build hopes to end the siege.”
Meanwhile, Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas politburo office arrived in Cairo on Thursday for scheduled talks with Egyptian officials. According to an official source from Hamas, Mashaal is scheduled to meet with Amro Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence, to discuss the latest updates on forming Palestinian national government and the completion of the prisoners swap with the Israeli government.
Hamas demanded the Israeli government to release 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including all women and children in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured last June by a group of Palestinian resistance fighters from a military base in the southern Gaza Strip.
Sa’eb Eerekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dr. Rafiq Al Hussieni, the head of President Abbas' office, met with two advisors of the Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem apparently to prepare for a summit between the two heads; this move came after a call from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Palestinian factions offered Israel a limited cease fire, which would oblige Palestinians to stop firing homemade Qassam shells at Israeli targets in exchange for the halt of the five month Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Israel rejected the offer, saying that it will continue its military operation.
Update on the Financial Crisis
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued a new report that focused on the socio-economic consequences of the international embargo imposed on the Palestinians since March after Hamas took power. The report said that more than 1 million of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are living in serious poverty.
The report indicated that every aspect of life is negatively and severely affected by the sanctions. The report pointed out the increasing of poverty, the majority of which is in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Minister of Planning, Dr Samir Abu Aisha, said that public sector employees will receive a fraction of their overdue salaries within the next week. Abu Aisha added that the security service employees will receive 230 US Dollars within the next two days.
Abu Aisha added that the funding came from a Kuwaiti, who donated 30 million US Dollars to the Palestinians and local service revenues.
And that’s just some of the news from This Week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website at www.imemc.org. As always, thank you for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Caysha Cay, Oliver Eacott and Ghassan Bannoura.