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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.org, for January 5, 2007, through January 11, 2007.
Four die in civil unrest as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls for a revival of peace talks. 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.
Approximately 150 Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators, accompanied by several journalists participated in a demonstration against the illegal Israeli Annexation Wall in Bil’in village nearby the northern West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday.
The procession approached an access point in the Wall and demanded the gate be opened. Residents held pictures of photojournalist Fadi Aruri, 24, of Ramallah, who was shot several times in last Thursday’s invasion of the city. Aruri remains in critical condition in an Israeli hospital.
Demonstrators took refuge on the adjacent hill as youth began lobbing stones toward the soldiers. Israeli forces fired tear gas, percussion grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at the youth, before opening the gate to allow access for two Israeli Border Police units.
Residents and activists lay in the road and were initially successful in preventing the passage of the two jeeps. They were joined by resident Muhammad Ali Abu Sadi, 70, after he had been struck repeatedly by soldiers. Abu Sadi suffered from exhaustion and collapsed shortly thereafter.
Two Israeli Border Police units pursued Palestinian youths several hundred meters into a residential area of the village, firing tear gas, percussion grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets. Three Border Police Officers attempted to abduct Sam Neil, 23, an American activist who retreated as the military approached. Neil surrendered after soldiers fired several rounds of rubber-coated ammunition at him, though he was not injured. He was forced to his knees and soldiers began binding his wrists when an Israeli videographer interceded. Neil was released shortly thereafter, Abdullah Abu Rahmah, from the local committee against the Wall and settlements in Bil'in said:
“As usual soldiers were positioned on rooftops of the residents homes overlooking the village, another large Israeli army force was positioned at the gate of the wall, the army was very violent, soldiers attacked demonstrators, and as always journalists were targeted. Emilio, a journalist who works for AP was wounded and moved to the hospital.”
Border Police units retreated toward the access gate in two jeeps, firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets from rooftop hatches atop the vehicles, in the end 11 injuries were reported by Medical sources.
Palestinian Non-Violent Resistance Prevents Israeli Air Strike
A group of Palestinian civilians managed to thwart an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Wednesday by gathering on the roof of the targeted home in a non-violent act of civil disobedience. Ibrahim Juma, a member of Islamic Jihad’s political wing, received a phone call from the Israeli military saying a jet was on its way to bomb his home. Rather than evacuating, Juma called his neighbors and friends and family, who gathered on his roof. Their mass presence effectively prevented the missile strike. This tactic has been used several times in the past few months to deter Israeli missile attacks.
Gaza & West Bank Attacks
This week, the Israeli army invaded the West Bank 40times and the Gaza Strip once , injuring many including four children, and abducting 117 Palestinian civilians including nine children and one woman. In Gaza, Israeli soldiers fired randomly on residents, injuring nine, four of them children. Israeli gunfire has injured thirty-two in Gaza since an Israeli-Palestinian truce was enforced two months ago.
Last night, two Palestinian fishermen were wounded near the Gaza Beach when Israeli gunboats opened fire on them. A third fisherman went missing after the gunfire started. Israeli gunboats are a constant presence in Gaza’s waters and have killed several fishermen in the past year.
In other Gaza news, Israeli sources reported that one of their military drone planes had crashed in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said the plane had crashed because of a technical flaw, but Hamas has published photographs of the plane refuting this claim. Abu Obaida, a spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, implied the drone had been shot down, saying, “Israeli Army must know that its drones and gun ships are not going in a picnic when they fly over Gaza." He refrained from mentioning any further details.
Hamas has accused Fatah politician and Parliament Member Mohammed Dahlan of sabotaging a pending prisoner swap between Palestinian factions and the state of Israel. Under the deal, one-thousand-four-hundred-and-twenty-nine Palestinian prisoners would be exchanged for a captured Israeli soldier, who has been under the joint custody of three Palestinian factions since June, 2006.
According to Hamas, as the deal was nearing Israeli approval, Dahlan allegedly pledged renewed efforts to locate the soldier, moving Israeli officials to rescind their approval. Fawzi Barhum, a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Strip
“Every time we near reaching an agreement and receive clear assurances regarding the release of prisoners based on the approved details, we find that Israel delay the release of prisoners, we did not know the reason at that time. However, when the deal was about to be reached, and Mr. Khaled Mashaal and Mr. Ismael Haniyeh received assurances from the Egyptians that the deal will be made, Israelis restarted the negotiation, we received information from various sources, that Mr. Dahlan asked the Israelis to give him more time to find intelligence information on the whereabouts of Shalit.”
Hamas explains that Dahlan, who is loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, took this action to prevent Hamas from claiming a diplomatic victory.
Media reports indicate that the prisoners swap, proposed by Hamas and negotiated by Egypt, would have consisted in three stages. In the first stage, four-hundred-and-fifty Palestinian prisoners with long sentences, or who had been jailed for political reasons, would be freed, while the Israeli soldier would be transferred to Egyptian custody.
The second stage stipulated the freeing of five hundred Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails and the release of the Israeli soldier to Israel. The third stage would be implemented two months after the first stage, with the release of four hundred and seventy nine additional Palestinian prisoners.
After the capture of the Israeli soldier from his post in Gaza last year, the Israeli Army launched a wide scale military offensive dubbed ‘Operation Summer Rains.’ Israeli forces attacked the Gaza Strip by sea and air, killing over 350, the vast majority of them civilians, wounding thousands, and heavily bombing Gaza’s infrastructure, cutting most of the citizens of Gaza off from electricity, water, and food. However, this operation, as well as Israel’s military ‘Operation Autumn Clouds’ that succeeded it, has been unsuccessful in securing the release of the Israeli soldier.
Four Die in Civil Unrest; Fatah Amplifies Call for Early Elections
Three security men and a Muslim cleric were killed in internecine fighting in Gaza this week, as Hamas and Fatah officials exchanged accusations and civil unrest continued.
Mohammed Abu Ghareeb, a senior Fatah official, was killed with two of his colleagues when gunmen surrounded the house they were in and shelled it, destroying the house and killing its inhabitants. In another incident, a Muslim cleric was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a mosque in Al-Nusierat camp.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Executive Force of being behind the killings and outlawed it. The Executive Force is a security brigade that was formed by Interior Minister Saeed Siyam soon after Hamas took office last March. Hamas officials insisted that the force had been formed with Abbas’ approval and denied its involvement in the killings.
President Abbas also ordered the deployment of Palestinian security forces around the governmental ministries in the West Bank city of Ramallah this week, after gunmen fired at a clothing store and a money exchange and set fire to the two buildings.
Gunmen also opened fire on the vehicle and home of Palestinian legislator Dr. Salam Fayyad, head of the Third Way parliamentary bloc. Dr. Fayyad was not on the scene at the time.
Concern over the civil unrest among Palestinians is spreading, from the Oval Office to the Israeli prisons, where over 8,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held, most of them without trial or official charge.
Political prisoner Marwan Al-Barghouthi, a Fatah leader who helped to write the national unity document that was approved by both Fatah and Hamas movements last year, warned that Palestinian prisoners would declare an open hunger strike protesting the civil unrest.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also took note of the internal conflict. Rice is expected to embark on a one-week tour of the Middle East and Europe next week, in which she is expected propose a new initiative for Middle East peace that would establish a Palestinian state with its borders coinciding with the route of Israel’s annexation Wall. Before embarking on the tour, Rice met with Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The three met in Cairo, where they expressed concern over the internal unrest in the occupied Palestinian territories and called on Fatah and Hamas officials to hold more unity talks.
Rafiq Al-Hussieni, head of the President's office, responded with an announcement that national unity talks between Fatah and Hamas would resume next week. If no agreement is reached within two weeks, President Abbas is expected to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections.
In Bethlehem, a group of unknown gunmen detonated a home-made bomb near the house of the Police Commander in the district Issa Hejju on Friday morning. The bomb caused serious damage to his house and his car, however no one was injured. A short while later also a group of unknown gunmen opened fire at some stores in the city that belong to Palestinian residents believed to be affiliated with Hamas.
Hejju said in a press conference that he believes the doers are a group of outlaws interested to distract the police who have been very instrumental in arresting thieves and drug dealers.
"I am sure that this incident has a criminal background because over the past period of time we had worked hard to enforce law and order, especially in cases regarding car and home theft and illegal land deals. Apparently one of those harmed by enforcing law with a hidden agenda committed this act"
1,000 New Settler Homes Slated For Palestinian Private Property
The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem has submitted a plan to add one thousand housing units to Har Homa, an illegal settlement built on land privately owned by Palestinians. The settlement is located on Abu Ghoneim Mountain, north of Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, the Israeli regional court of Jerusalem issued a ruling this week, requiring the Israeli Civil Administration to make public maps of the West Bank, depicting the exact borders of Palestinian-owned land, and of Israeli illegal settlements that have been built on that land. The ruling was issued in response to a petition filed by Israeli human rights groups Peace Now and Freedom of Information.
Fatah Celebrates 42 Years
At a Fatah rally held in the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands gathered to celebrate the party’s forty-second anniversary. President Abbas delivered a speech stressing the prohibition against Palestinian-on-Palestinian bloodshed and called for national unity.
Abbas reiterated his call for early elections and insisted it should not be seen as an attack on the democratically elected Hamas-led government. He threw his support behind the right of return for Palestinian refugees, a Palestinian state with permanent borders and Jerusalem as its capital, and a Palestinian liberation movement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative for the Palestinian people.
Fatah legislator Mohammed Dahlan also spoke at the rally. Dahlan accused Hamas of provoking internal conflict and echoed Abbas’ call for early elections.
Kidnapped Journalist and Mayor Freed
Mahdi Al-Hanbali, deputy mayor of the West Bank city of Nablus, was freed unharmed after being kidnapped and held for four days by unknown gunmen.
He said that such incidents should end which are aimed at confusing the Palestinian public, Israel is the only benefiting from these incidents.
"These are tragic incidents. There might be a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the opposition, between the two largest forces, Fatah and Hamas; however these disputes should not be by any way, translated into infighting kidnapping and riots. These incidents should end, because it causes confusion in the Palestinian street and the only beneficial is the Zionist enemy.”
Jaime Razuri, a Peruvian cameraman who works for AFP news agency, was freed unharmed after being kidnapped in Gaza City a week before by unknown Palestinian gunmen a week.
Spain Pledges 15 Million Euros as Palestinian Teachers Threaten to Strike
The Spanish government has pledged fifteen million Euros in aid to the Palestinians through the Temporary International Mechanism. This aid will be delivered through the President's office to the sectors of education, health and social welfare.
This came as thousands of governmental teachers warned that they would resume their work strike if they were not paid the rest of their overdue salaries, which remain unpaid despite promises by governmental officials. The teachers had recently ended a three-month work strike after being paid a fraction of their salaries.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, imemc.org. Thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Jane Smith, Sara Winters and Ghassan Bannoura.