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This Week in Palestine, a service of the international Middle East Media Center, www.IMEMC.org, for December 29, 2006 through January 4, 2007.
Palestinians celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha and the new year with the addition of several checkpoints in and around the Palestinian communities in the West Bank that further restrict their movement. The internal factional unrest in the Gaza Strip has killed five residents.
These stories and more coming up. Stay tuned.
Peaceful Resistance to the Wall Continues in 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.
After Friday prayers today in Bil'in village, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, villagers marked the 42nd anniversary of the foundation of the Fateh movement. As worshippers left the mosque, the drizzle intensified and became driving rain, and many made their way to a stage where Fateh leaders gave speeches about the need for unity between the parties and factions in the wider resistance movement.
After an hour the large crowd, of around 500 locals, Israelis and internationals, made their way to the gate in the wall, where Israeli troops and a water cannon were waiting for them. This was the first time the water cannon has been used in Bili'n for over 3 months.
As the front of the march arrived at the Wall and began chanting resistance slogans, Israeli reinforcements arrived at the gate and the water cannon starting spraying the protestors with a special mix of water and pepper spray, which stung the skin and eyes. When some children started throwing stones at the water cannon, the Israeli soldiers shot tear gas indiscriminately at the large crowd, who ran for cover.
Troops continued firing tear gas at the demonstrators as they dispersed, and several military vehicles started to invade the village. Children resisting the invasion with stones were shot with rubber bullets and bystanders were also shot. 10 people were shot and many more were injured, especially elderly people suffering from the effects of the tear gas nerve agent.
Sam, an American International Solidarity Movement volunteer was in Bil'in today:
Fearing the contamination of their underground water resources, residents of the West Bank village of Burqeen, near the city of Salfit, reported that their lands are being polluted by sewage water and solid waste dumped by an illegal Israeli settlement, built on privately owned Palestinian lands in Salfit district.
The Israeli government has transferred many factories from inside Israel to the settlements in the Salfit district, several due to environmental concerns over the pollutant waste.
Gaza & West Bank Attacks
Israeli authorities reopened the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, in both directions, for five days from Thursday, allowing thousands stranded on each side to pass through. Those stuck at the borders included pilgrims such as Palestinian Prime Minster Ismael Haniyeh and his companions returning from the Islamic Hajj rituals in Saudi Arabia. The Rafah border crossing is the only entrance and exit point for the residents of the Gaza Strip.
West Bank attacks
Four Palestinians have been killed and over 20 injured as a large Israeli force invaded the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday afternoon. Troops were accompanied by bulldozers, a number of military vehicles and border police, and reinforced with helicopters.
Troops opened fire at random, shooting live ammunition and tear gas canisters, creating panic among the residents, who were doing their shopping.
Palestinian resistance fighters and rock throwing youths clashed with the invading Israeli troops, who took position in the Manara Square, in the city center, causing serious damage. Bulldozers also destroyed a large number of cars parked at the roadsides as they cleared a path for the other military vehicles.
The four killed were identified as Yousef Adour, Ala’ Al-Hamran, Khalil Badawi and Jamal Hwielah. In addition, photojournalist Fadi Al-Arouri of the Ma'an News Network was seriously wounded by Israeli gunfire, receiving two bullets to his body.
Soon after the army withdrew, thousands of residents took to the streets in a large demonstration. Palestinian medical sources reported that, during the invasion, the ambulances and medics were unable to reach the occupied area.
Apparently, this invasion came after Palestinians discovered Israeli undercover agents who had earlier entered Ramallah to abduct an operative of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah. Palestinian sources said the target of this operation was wounded, but was not captured by the army.
At the same time, another Israeli force invaded Bethlehem with at least 15 vehicles, wounding a Palestinian man before abducting him.
Local sources told IMEMC that the invasion targeted a neighborhood on the southern side of the city. Soldiers surrounded a number of houses and ransacked them. Rami Abu Khidor, a resident of the neighborhood, told IMEMC from inside his surrounded house that soldiers had invaded the area and opened fire at residents.
<Actuality – Rami>
"A large force invaded the city. They opened fire at an 18-year old boy and wounded him in his legs. He was trapped in a house for nearly half an hour before they were able to evacuate him. They also asked all the youth of the area to come out of their homes and onto the street."
Local sources identified the injured man as Mohamed Abu Zied, originally from Jenin city in the northern West Bank, and a resident of Bethlehem.
The Palestinian Prisoners Society said that, during the past week, at least 32 Palestinian residents, including six children, were abducted by Israeli soldiers stationed at several checkpoints throughout the West Bank.
A meeting between the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh may bring some hope for an end to the factional infighting in the Palestinian areas.
On Friday at midday in Al Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, a group of unknown gunmen opened fire at Sheikh Adeel Nassar, along with other worshippers leaving the mosque following Friday prayers. Nassar was killed, after being riddled with seven bullets, while Sheikh Jubreel Omur still lies in critical condition. None of the Palestinian armed groups have claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Friday morning, Wa'el Ghreeb, 35, died of wounds sustained during Hamas-Fatah clashes in Jabalia refugee camp on Thursday evening.
On Thursday, seven Palestinians were killed as clashes between the rival Hamas and Fatah movements renewed in the Gaza Strip, raising the death toll in internal clashes since Abbas’ call for early election to 12.
Abbas and Haniyeh agreed to immediately withdraw all armed groups, mainly the Fatah-affiliated Preventative Security and the Hamas-affiliated Executive Force from the streets, and allowing the Palestinian Police to assume control over the Gaza Strip.
They also agreed to form an investigative committee, to reactivate the National Security Council and to return to dialogue, instead of attempting to solve internal disputes by force of arms.
Earlier this week, an agreement was mediated by both Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to release those who were abducted from and by the two main parties. Since the factional clashes erupted in the towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza Strip, five were injured and twenty others were abducted. These clashes came two weeks after a fragile ceasefire agreement was reached between the two movements, following earlier clashes which claimed the lives of several residents, including the three Balousha children.
A Palestinian security officer was injured and then kidnapped in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. A group of unknown gunmen fired several rounds of live ammunition at his car, forcing him to stop. He was freed shortly after the incident.
Fatah has accused the Executive force of being responsible for the renewal of the clashes.
Nasser Al-Saqa, director of the Preventative Security said members of the Executive Force shot and killed three members of his force.
<Actuality – Nasser>
"Unknown gunmen, who goal is to create tension, kidnapped an officer of the preventative security. However, members of the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Executive Force opened fire while our forces were still searching for the kidnapped officer. Two of our members were killed while trying to give first aid to an injured colleague. They were shot in the head by Executive Force members who were positioned on top of the surrounding houses."
However, Islam Shahwan of the Executive Force denied the accusations and insisted that these accusations reflect an internal conflict within Fatah.
<Actuality – Islam Shahwan >
"Certainly, those who have internal conflicts will try to blame others for their mistakes which create tension. It was a group from Fatah who kidnapped the Preventative Security officer; unfortunately, Fatah declared that this group, which calls itself the 'Al-Awda Brigade', is responsible for the kidnapping."
Both Shahwan and Al-Saqa stressed that Palestinian blood should be respected and that those responsible for renewing the clashes have only one goal, which to create instability in Palestine.
Also in the West Bank, unknown gunmen kidnapped Bashar Al Karmi, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Health from his home in the West Bank city of Al Bireh. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, denied any involvement in the incident. Al-Karmi was released shortly after his kidnapping.
In another incident, unknown gunmen set light to the car of the Palestinian minister of prisoners' affairs, Wasfi Qabha, in the West Bank city of Jenin. Gunmen also opened fire at his house, but caused no injuries.
Wasfi Qabha accused Israel of the incident, saying that it they meant to extend the recent domestic unrest in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
Meanwhile, unknown Palestinian gunmen earlier this week kidnapped Jaime Razuri, a Peruvian cameraman working for the AFP news agency, while he was in a vehicle in central Gaza City. No group has yet claimed responsibility for his kidnap. Razuri's family held a vigil in his homeland and have appealed to the kidnappers to release their son.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all security departments to speed up their searches for Razuri. Palestinian journalists protested the kidnapping of Razuri, and called on his captors to release him immediately.
The Hamas movement called on the ministry of interior and the security services to work on releasing the Peruvian journalist. The Fatah movement have demanded that the kidnappers release the journalist immediately and unconditionally.
A Palestinian security official has advised foreign citizens working in the Gaza Strip to evacuate.
One of Razuri's colleagues, Mahmoud Al-Hams, has commented on the incident, saying that such incidents do not serve Palestinian interests.
"Such incidents are very harmful for the Palestinian people. These journalists, especially internationals, come here to Gaza to cover the incidents and tell the world about the human rights violations by the Israeli occupation. They are objective, which makes their stories and reports trustworthy; trusted by people and governments around the world."
Seventeen internationals, including aid workers and journalists, have been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip over the past year. All of them have been released unharmed after a short period.
Muslims Celebrate Al-Adha holidays in a bad situation
During his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago, Israeli prime minister Olmert promised to release some Palestinian prisoners before the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, and to ease the restrictions of movement by removing some of the checkpoints located within the West Bank.
Israel, however, has not removed or eased the situation in the West Bank, and has refused to release prisoners. Instead, the Israeli army have carried out several invasions in West Bank cities and abducted dozens of Palestinian residents. Several Palestinian cities protested the execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, especially given that he was executed on the first day of the Al-Adha holiday. Demonstrations were organized in many areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, accusing the United States administration of murdering Saddam.
Protestors carried Saddam pictures and burned American and Israeli flags. Others organized symbolic funerals, where coffins wrapped with Iraqi flags were carried through the marches. The Eid festival was also disturbed by the poor economic situation in Palestine, resulting from the economic blockade imposed on the Palestinian people by the United States administration, the European Union and Israel.
Around 170 thousand Palestinian employees have not been paid regularly since March of 2006, since the EU, USA and wider international community stopped sending foreign aid money to the Palestinian Authority, requesting Hamas, who formed the government in February 2006, to recognize Israel and previously signed agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Israel is still withholding nearly 600 million dollars in tax revenue, owed to the Palestinian Authority.
On Thursday evening, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Sheikh, during which they discussed the expected prisoners' exchange deal between the Palestinian resistance groups and the Israeli authorities. Egypt has been the mediator between the two sides. While Mubarak and Olmert discussed ways of reviving the Middle East peace talks, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians during an invasion into Ramallah in the West Bank, wounded more than 20 and abducted four Palestinians.
Olmert said the attack on Ramallah was not meant to be as such, describing it as a "self-defense preemptive measure", while Mubarak condemned the attack, saying that "it does not help peace efforts". Responding to media questions regarding the contradiction between Israel’s statements and deeds, Mubarak said that "terrorist attacks should not prevent the two sides from sitting around the negotiation table".
This week, Hamas movement said that a noticeable progress was achieved regarding the efforts regarding a prisoners' swap between the Israeli government and the Palestinian resistance factions that captured an Israeli soldier earlier last June.
At the beginning of the week, the Israeli government rejected a proposal by the Hamas movement over a prisoners' swap.
During this week, media reports claimed that a meeting was held in Saudi Arabia of Khalid Masha’al, head of the Hamas politburo office in exile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh and the Egyptian head of intelligence Omar Suleiman. During the meeting, Suleiman submitted a proposal to release Palestinian prisoners on a three stage deal, according to which, 450 Palestinian prisoners, including women and children, will be released in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier Gil'ad Shalit. Another two groups will be released at a later stage, releasing 500 and 650 in each respective stage. Hamas officials stated that a deal on a prisoners' exchange is nearing, but refused to go into details regarding the issue.
The Hamas movement earlier declared that any agreement with the Israeli government should include long term prisoners, the sick, political leaders, women and children currently imprisoned in the Israeli jails. Hamas have also said that they are ready to trade a video showing Shalit alive for the release of some prisoners.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, www.imemc.org. Thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Jane Smith, Jake Talhami, and Ghassan Bannoura.