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Week 6 2007 (February 2 – February 9)
This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.org, for February 2nd through February 9th, 2007.
Palestinian leaders sign a national unity agreement in Mecca, hoping to end the siege on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and bring an end to the factional infighting. Meanwhile, the state of Israel attracts international criticism and local outrage as it begins excavating near the Al-Aqsa mosque. These stories and more, 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.
On Friday, Palestinian villagers along with international and Israeli peace activists marched in the weekly protest in Bilin village near the West Bank city of Ramallah. A total of 300 demonstrators marched today in protest to the Israeli policy of judeaising Jerusalem, and the controversial excavation near the Mugrabi gate, one of the entrances to al-Aqsa mosque in the old city of Jerusalem.
As they do each week, protesters marched all the way up to the gate in the wall that separates the village from the land; here they were met by the Israeli army and border police. Local villagers along with international and Israeli peace activists tried to pass through the gate to get to the village land that is trapped on the ‘Israeli side’ of the wall. Soldiers responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and attacked demonstrators with rifle buts and batons. Paul from the International Solidarity Movement:
Three protestors- two Palestinians and one Israeli- were injured by rubber coated bullets, while one Palestinian child was hit by a soldier’s baton and suffered light wounds. One child was treated for gas inhalation at the site.
On Saturday a Palestinian photographer Khaled Jarrar exhibited photos depicting scenes of the Wall and life at checkpoints, at the Huwwara checkpoint near the city of Nablus in the northern part of the West Bank. At 12 noon 40 images were hung on the chain-link fence pedestrians have to pass as they enter Nablus.
Around 100 Israelis and internationals attended the exhibition, the second event in the ’30 Days against Checkpoints’ campaign, organized by the Nablus group HASM (Palestinian Body for Peace, Dialogue and Equality).
Since 2002 it has only been possible to enter through six checkpoints on foot. It is even more difficult to exit. Men between 16 and 45 can only exit their city with a special permit that can be obtained only outside Nablus.
In the first action at Huwwara checkpoint on January 14th, Palestinian youth dressed up as Native Americans and displayed banners linking the fate of the indigenous peoples of America and Palestine in a message to the visiting Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in particular.
Olive Planting in Bethlehem
On Saturday dozens of international and Israeli volunteers assisted farmers in the southern West Bank village of Al Khader, near Bethlehem, with the planting of some 400 olive trees on their endangered land. The day was organized by the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA / YWCA of Palestine, and is part of the ‘Keep Hope Alive: Olive Tree Campaign’.
As tree planters approached the nearby illegal settlement on the farmland, they were met by three Israeli army jeeps. Troops insisted that the farmers stop planting on their own land and produced a document declaring it a ‘Closed Military Zone’. Physical force was used against people who had continued to plant olive trees, mainly Palestinian farmers.
An attempt to brutally arrest a youth was sabotaged by a number of participants who held on to the boy and demanded justification for the soldiers’ overly aggressive behavior. Despite being met with some hostility, the planting day was deemed a success. On March 3rd a similar action will take place
Palestinian sign a National Unity Government Agreement
Rival parties Hamas and Fatah have signed an agreement for a national unity government in the Saudi city of Makkah, after extensive talks hosted by King Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz. According to this agreement Hamas will retain 9 cabinet members of the Premier post, while six posts will go to Fatah and four others will be distributed among the rest of the Palestinian factions. Five posts will be assigned to independent politicians not belonging to any political faction.
Three of the independents will be nominated by Hamas and Fatah and one will be approved by both movements for the positions of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Finance ministers.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minster Ismael Haniyeh, and Hamas politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal, arrived in Makkah on Wednesday along with other high officials from Hamas and Fatah. The meeting took place despite calls by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to call it off. Khaled Mashaal slammed Olmert’s comments as interference in internal Palestinian affairs.
In Makkah, both Fatah and Hamas expressed goodwill and a mutual hope to form a national unity government.
Several attempts to form such a government have failed over the past year due to political differences between the factions, as well as civil unrest that has so far claimed the lives of over ninety civilians.
During the first session of the Makkah meeting, the two parties agreed to form three committees to discuss the main issues of dispute. These included the formation of the Palestinian cabinet, the reform and revival of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and proportions of party representation in the legislature.
Before arriving in Makkah, the two parties had already agreed in Gaza to withdraw all armed men from the streets of the Gaza Strip, to remove all factional checkpoints, and to release all kidnapped individuals. The agreement followed several similar but unsuccessful agreements, and days of clashes that claimed many lives in Gaza, and resulted in the destruction of local utilities.
Israel to demolish an ancient structure near Al-Aqsa Mosque
This week Israeli bulldozers began an eight-month construction project next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of holiest sites for Muslims. The construction began with the demolition the Al Maghrabah gate, one of the main entrances to the mosque. This ignited protests throughout the Muslim world. Israeli authorities say they are replacing a centuries-old ramp. However, local Muslim leaders have ridiculed the idea, saying it is part of an Israeli bid to undermine the mosque’s structural stability.
The excavation comes just two weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved a synagogue for settlers to be built only forty meters away, and some Israeli authorities have hinted that the Al-Mughrabah Bridge is really being demolished to make way for a Jewish-only road to the new synagogue.
Scores of residents poured into the construction site to protest the demolition. Rallies took to the streets in several West Bank and Gaza Strip cities, and more are expected to take place inside the 1948 territories in the coming days. At one point, clashes erupted between armed Israeli soldiers and about a hundred residents who had physically blocked off the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, just next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli soldiers arrested seventeen of the protesters, including eight women. Israeli soldiers also abducted Shiekh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic movement inside Israel, releasing him shortly after.
Prime Minster Olmert rejected a call from Israeli Defense Minster Amir Peretz to stop the excavation, as well as international outcry from Jordan, Qatar, Iran, and France.
In the latest update of Jerusalem activity, thousands of residents from several parts of the West Bank and the 1948 territories headed into Jerusalem in an attempt to reach the mosque. Israeli troops deployed in and around the city of Jerusalem barred them from entering the city. Clashes erupted between the residents and soldiers inside the old city, at least ten Palestinians were injured and several others abducted, among them youths.
A massive number of Israeli troops broke into the compound of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem today.
They fired rounds of live ammunition and gas bombs on crowds of worshippers who were gathering inside and around the mosque for Friday prayers. Fifteen were injured and seventeen were abducted.
Sheikh Mohammad Hussein of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem said the soldiers attacked the worshippers.
‘The situation in Jerusalem is very difficult. After the Friday prayers, Israeli forces broke into the Al-Aqsa Mosque square, fired sound and gas bombs and rubber-coated-metal bullets at the worshipers who were coming out of the mosque’
Rallies of protest took to the streets in several West Bank cities. Clashes erupted at the Qalandia crossing and the nearby refugee camp between the Israeli soldiers who opened fire at the protesters, several people were injured .In the West Bank refugee camp of Al Aroub near Hebron, clashes erupted between the residents of the camp. Israeli soldiers fired at and shot several people, including a fifteen year old child who sustained serious injuries to the head.
Attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been a major source of conflict in the past. A provocative visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 2000 sparked the second Palestinian uprising. Over 4700 Palestinians and 1100 Israelis have been killed since.
Israeli Army attacks
The West Bank attacks
This week the Israeli army has conducted 40 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, raiding commercial and residential buildings. The army abducted 67 civilians, including 5 children and one woman. Thus, the total number of West Bank Palestinians abducted by the Israeli army since the beginning of 2007 reached 388.
A young Palestinian woman was injured on Thursday afternoon when Israeli soldiers fired at Palestinian civilians who had been stranded at the Bathan military checkpoint near the northern West Bank city of Nablus since the morning.
Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, the director of the medical relief services in Nablus stated that Tahani Bani-Odah, 23, sustained critical wounds due to direct live gunfire. Dr. Hamdan also stated that soldiers did not allow the medical team to hospitalize Tahani; instead they abducted her and took her to an unknown location.
Also this week, Israeli forces have tightened the siege imposed on Palestinian communities in the West Bank. They have isolated Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Contrary to Israeli claims, the army positioned at various checkpoints in the West Bank has continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians. In addition, Israeli soldiers positioned at various checkpoints in the West Bank abducted and imprisoned seven Palestinian civilians, including two children.
The Gaza attacks
On Saturday Nader Ahmad, 16, from Beit Lahiya in the northern part of the Gaza strip died of wounds he sustained on 21 November 2006 during an Israeli army invasion into his hometown. He was wounded in the head and fully paralyzed; he died at Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza City.
On Sunday, Israeli soldiers positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, fired at two Palestinian civilians who were hunting birds nearly 500 meters away from the border. The two civilians were wounded and medical sources identified them as Adham Tamboura, 21, and Mohammed Al Kafarna, 21, both wounded by bullets to the feet.
The Israeli forces have continued to close all border crossings of the Gaza Strip. During this week, these crossings were partially reopened to allow the entry of basic foodstuffs, medical supplies and other necessities into the Gaza Strip.
The total siege imposed by the Israeli army on the Gaza Strip has had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian situation. It has violated the economic and social rights of the Palestinian civilian population, particularly the right to appropriate living conditions, health and education. It has also paralyzed most economic sectors. Furthermore, severe restrictions have been imposed on the movement of the Palestinian civilian population.
The Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border is the only opening in the Gaza Strip to the outside world; however the Israeli army has closed this crossing point, even though they do not directly have control over it. They have prevented European observers working at the crossing point form reaching it. The crossing point has been closed since 25 June 2006.
During this week, the crossing was opened for two hours, from 15:00 – 17:00 on Tuesday, allowing about 300 humanitarian cases to cross both ways. In the morning of the same day, the crossing was opened to allow the passage of the Fatah and Hamas delegations to Saudi Arabia. Wa’el Dahab the director of security on Rafah crossing stated that the terminal was closed for two hours because it was flooded with travelers who are stuck on there.
‘This problem will never be solved unless the terminal is opened on daily basis according to the agreements. The problem will escalate also if access to the West Bank and Jerusalem is not granted. So the problem will remain there if the Rafah terminal and other crossing points remain closed’.
On Monday, the Al Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement of Hamas, said that one of its fighters was killed and three others were injured after being attacked by gunmen in the center of Gaza City.
Hamas blamed Fatah for the attack and said that Fatah gunmen fired at Mohammad Dieb Abu Karsh, 23, and killed him. Three other members were injured, one seriously.
On Monday night a number of gunmen attacked a ’17 Force’ outpost in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanoun. Witnesses said that the gunmen attacked the outpost with different kinds of weapons and that they abducted personnel.
Also during the week, unknown gunmen kidnapped the director of the Ministry of Interior Office in Ramallah, Arafat Nasser, and wounded another employee, Tarek Geithan, in the ministry on Monday evening. Media reports stated that gunmen jumped out of two cars bearing Israeli license plates as Nasser and Geithan were walking in a Ramallah street. Gunmen opened fire and wounded Geithan in his feet and pelvis, and took Nasser to an unknown location.
On Wednesday unknown gunmen abducted a Palestinian health ministry official in the northern West Bank city of Ramallah. Local sources reported that Dr. Bilal Al Iboshi, 50, the director of public hospitals in the ministry of health was abducted from the ministry building in Ramallah. He was released later that evening.
Olmert Rejects Call to Dismantle Unauthorized Outposts
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected the Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s proposal to evacuate some of the unauthorized outposts in the West Bank this week, saying the timing wasn’t right. The outposts consist of a number of trailers parked on privately owned Palestinian lands.
According to the letter of assurances that George Bush sent to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, Israel will keep its four largest illegal settlement blocs in any negotiations over the final status of international boundaries.
The regional visit of the British Foreign Minister
British Minister of Foreign affairs Margaret Beckett has concluded her regional visit to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the 1948 territories. Becket met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and reaffirmed that the UK will not open diplomatic ties with Hamas until it recognizes Israel, disarms, and complies with all agreements previously signed with the Israeli state.
Beckett then met with former Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Al Qidwa, a Fatah loyalist, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. In the joint press conference that followed the meeting, Beckett said that the main aim of her visit was to push forward negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
The Middle East Peace Quartet also met in Washington this week. The Quartet, which includes representatives from the UN, US, EU and Russia, reaffirmed that sanctions would continue until the Palestinian Authority was run by people who comply with the same demands made by the British Minister of Foreign affairs on her tour.
A Three-Way Summit is on its way
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and President Abbas advisor Yasser Abed Rabbo are in Washington this week meeting with David Welch, assistant to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The meeting is supposed to prepare the way for a three-way summit between Rice, Palestinian President Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minster Olmert which is scheduled to be held this month.
The Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Nasser El-Din Ash-Sha’er, has assured employees in the health, education, and judiciary sectors that they will receive their January salaries on Thursday through local banks.
Dr. Rafeeq Al-Husseini, head of the President’s office, said that governmental employees whose salaries are over 600 US dollars and who have been paid less than 20% of their overdue salaries will receive a bonus equal to 50 percent of a month’s salary through the local banks.
British Foreign Minster Margaret Beckett has promised 2.2 million British pounds in aid to the Palestinians through the International Temporary Mechanism.
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 Jake Talhami, Polly Bangoriad and Ghassan Bannoura.