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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, IMEMC.org, for February 9th through February 16th, 2007.
A prisoner swap deal is agreed on between Hamas and the state of Israel, but this breakthrough is overshadowed by unresolved issues in every other aspect of Palestinian political life. The Hamas government resigns to make way for a national unity government. 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.
On Friday, 300 protestors from the village of Bilin, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, joined with Israeli and international supporters. They marched in the weekly protest in the village against the illegal Israeli wall being built on the village’s land.
The theme of today’s demonstration was the exposure of the illegal activities that the Israeli settlers from the nearby Metityahu settlement are practicing. These activities include the of storage of power lines and water pipes that supply the illegal settlement, on land that the Israeli court had initially granted back to the Palestinians who originally owned it.
As soon as the protestors arrived at the gate in the illegal wall built on the village land, soldiers stopped the demonstration from proceeding to the annexed land. Protestors threw rotten eggs at the Israeli soldiers, while soldiers showered the protestors with tear gas and rubber coated bullets. Abdul Abu Rahmah, the local coordinator of the ‘Popular Committee Against Settlements and The Wall’ talked to IMEMC:
“The army prevented the protestors to cross through the gate, they responded by throwing rotten eggs. The soldiers then responded with tear gas and sound bombs and rubber-coated metal bullets. Troops also started beating people up, and wounded 11 protestors including six children. Some of the protestors were also hit by the rubber bullets.”
Soldiers also attacked some demonstrators with rifle butts and batons. Among those targeted was Reuters camera man from Bilin, Imad Buranat, who recently spent three months in administrative detention. He was shot in the leg with a rubber coated metal bullet, medical sources reported.
In addition, an Israeli activist, named as Cobi, sustained an injury along with another Israeli activist who was hit with a sound grenade at close range.
Next week’s demonstration marks two years of ongoing weekly demonstrations at Bilin. A large number of participants are expected.
Dozens of national figures heeded the Palestine Liberation Organization’s call to demonstrate in defense of the Al Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim and Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem that are under Israeli threat. A direct call was also issued to protect the Palestinian refugees in Iraq who are also under grave threat.
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Iraq since the American invasion of the country in March 2003.
Hundreds of Palestinians participated in the nonviolent demonstration in central Ramallah Sunday afternoon. They called for Arab and Islamic countries, and the international community at large, to put an end to the demolitions carried out by Israeli forces in occupied Jerusalem.
The most recent demolition project at Al-Magharba gate, also known as the Moroccan Gate, is very close to the Aqsa Mosque. The mosque, which is the third holiest site from Muslims around the world, is seen by many to be under threat due to the digging Israel has conducted under the Aqsa Mosque in previous years.
On Monday midday dozens of Palestinian schoolchildren demonstrated in Biddu village, south of Ramallah, in protest to the digging by Israeli in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque. When the children moved towards the site of the Annexation Wall in the village, Israeli soldiers attacked the group and abducted five of them.
On Wednesday hundreds of Palestinian civilians, members of the People’s Committee to Break the Siege and members of non-governmental organizations held a massive non-violent protest in Nablus against the Israeli occupation, roadblocks, and military procedures in the occupied West Bank. “No Occupation, No Barriers”, the protesters chanted as they marched through the streets of Nablus, in the northern part of the West Bank. The protest also focused on the issue of the difficulties that students, especially those of the AL-Najah University, face on daily basis when they try to travel in an out of Nablus on a daily basis.
The protest was organized by The People’s Committee to Break the Siege and NGOs in the Nablus District. The committee said that this protest is the echo of the popular rejection to the ongoing occupation, and ongoing humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints installed throughout the West Bank.
The procession took off from the center of Nablus. Union leaders, Municipality representatives and representatives of health institutions attended the protest.
The Israeli army responded by pushing the protesters and verbally assaulting them.
Resignation, National Unity, Leave Many Questions Unanswered
The Hamas-led government has resigned, paving the way for forming the long negotiated National Unity Government, ending months of internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah that left nearly a hundred dead. The agreement left many questions about the details, from ideological tenets to ministerial posts. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh met in Gaza City on Thursday to decide who would take on the sought-after posts of Deputy Premier, Interior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Hamas now has five weeks to select a Hamas-majority cabinet that is acceptable to both sides.
In a televised speech at the beginning of this week, the Prime Minister called on the international community to lift the embargo that has crippled the already bad economy in the West Bank and Gaza, and led to some of the worst internecine conflict in six decades of Israeli occupation.
Haniyeh has called for Abbas to meet three conditions in exchange for the resignation. These include endorsing all decisions taken over the last year by the Hamas-led government, an agreement on the Interior Ministry, and the independent PLC member Ziad Abu Amer who is a proposed minister of foreign affairs. The executive committee of the PLO initially rejected Hamas’ demands and all other adjustments to the Makkah agreement.
In Brussels, the Council of European Union Foreign Ministers welcomed the Makkah agreement, and said they would work with any Palestinian government that recognizes Israel, disarms, and accepts all previously signed agreements with the state of Israel. In a meeting with President Abbas in Amman, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the Makkah agreement and said it might help to get the sanctions lifted.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed skepticism over the deal, saying that time would tell whether the new government was one America would communicate with. A senior American official has denied media reports that the US administration will boycott the new Palestinian cabinet unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence, and abides by all previous agreements.
Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesperson commented that the Palestinian unity is the only way to end the blockade.
‘When we went to Makkah and concluded the agreement we were preparing and establishing a National Palestinian agenda and were setting the base for a new Palestinian National project capable of dealing with different challenges including the International position. We are confident that the unity of the Palestinians will be able to make the needed crack in the unfair embargo imposed on the Palestinian people’
Israeli Crew Continues Tearing Down Bridge Despite Promises To Halt
Israeli construction crews continued to tear down the Mugrabi Bridge at the Al-Aqsa Mosque this week, despite announcements by both Jerusalem’s mayor Uri Lupolianski and the Jewish Quarter Development Company that the bridge construction project would halt. The Israeli government did however install cameras at the site that will transmit the excavation live from Jerusalem to the entire world via the internet.
Palestinian Chief of Justice Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi called the Israeli allegations a “trick” meant to soothe the waves of anger that erupted across Islamic and Arab countries over these diggings.
‘This is a new trick to the International public opinion, and to the Arab and Islamic nations and the Palestinian people. Israel will video tape part of the frame, it will not show all the ongoing work. We know the very details of the work being done under the Aqsa Mosque and we know measures the Israeli government is taking now at the Moroccan Gate. These measures aim at changing the reality on the ground since 1967 in that area. It also aims at wiping out the Islamic nature of the entire area.”
Throughout the past week, popular rallies against the excavations have shaken Arab cities. Twenty-five Jordanian lawmakers signed a petition saying the excavations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque represent a violation of the 1994 peace agreement signed between Jordan and Israel. They called on their government to withdraw the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv and to fire the Israeli ambassador from Amman. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced his concern over the digging in a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Israeli Assaults against the West Bank and Gaza Strip residents
The Gaza strip
On Tuesday morning Israeli army troops stationed on the Gaza-Israel border to the east of Gaza City, opened heavy fire at Palestinian resistance fighters. They killed one and injured another, Palestinian media sources said.
The sources added that armed clashes erupted between the Israeli soldiers and the resistance fighters in the area located between the Juice factory and the Alshuhada cemetery, east of Gaza city.
Dr. Moa’wiya Abu Hasanain, director of the emergency department at the Alshifa hospital confirmed that Mohammad Als’eedi, 22, was killed and another person was wounded by live ammunition. Als’eedi is believed to be linked to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Fatah.
Israeli officials have recently warned of a likely massive Israeli army attack on the Gaza Strip.
Also during this week in the Gaza Strip, four Palestinian civilians were wounded by Israeli army gunfire in four separate attacks in the northern town of Beit Lahia, and the central town of Deir al-Balah.
The West Bank
During the week the Israeli army has conducted at least 40 military incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. During these incursions, Israeli forces attacked houses and abducted 75 Palestinian civilians, including 10 children.
Thus, the number of Palestinians abducted by the Israeli army in the West Bank since the beginning of this year amounts to 463.
In the meantime, the Israeli forces have continued to impose a tightened siege on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Severe restrictions have been imposed on the movement of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem.
The Israeli army has tightened the siege imposed on Palestinian communities in the West Bank by isolating Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. During the week soldiers positioned at various checkpoints in the West Bank abducted four Palestinian civilians, including three children.
The Israeli army wounded and abducted one of the children at a checkpoint near Nablus, claiming that she attempted to stab an Israeli soldier.
East Jerusalem Residents Forced To Give Up ID Cards
Residents of East Jerusalem who marry into families in Gaza must now give up their Jerusalem residency in order to remain in the Gaza Strip. They will then have to apply for and purchase temporary passports to live in the Gaza Strip. This two-pronged procedure, which will affect mostly women, is aimed at minimizing the number of Palestinians who have access to Jerusalem and the ’48 territories. It is also part of a long-standing attempt by Israel to turn Erez Crossing at the north of Gaza into an international crossing.
The Settlement Activity
During the week, Israeli settlers who are living in the West Bank in violation of international law continued their systematic attacks on Palestinian civilians and property. The Israeli army also continued to destroy civilian property for the purpose of settlement expansion. They demolished 17 civilian structures near Hebron and Jenin.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces destroyed seven houses and at least 13 other structures that are privately owned by Palestinians in Hebron city, and in nearby villages in the southern West Bank. One woman needed medical treatment after losing consciousness during the demolitions. Israeli leftist activists also arrived at the scene, one of whom was detained.
Palestinian sources in Hebron city reported that a group of Israeli settlers occupied an old Palestinian house close to the Eili Ishai illegal settlement outpost in the Old City.
The sources stated that a group of twenty armed settlers occupied the house and remained there while the army provided them with protection instead of evacuating them.
The settlers also demanded that the Civil Administration Office that belongs to the Israeli Army issue a license for them to remain in the occupied house. Palestinian residents of Hebron reported that settlers have recently increased their attacks against them, their children and their property.
Issa Amro, the owner of the attacked house:
The settlers apparently are campaigning to occupy empty Palestinian homes close to illegal settlement outposts. The houses are empty because the Palestinian residents have been forced to flee due to repeated attacks against them. The settlers are also barring local Palestinian residents from using Al Sahla Road leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. They have also attacked several Palestinian stores in the area, local sources reported.
The city of Hebron is populated by around 10,000 Palestinians and around 400 Israeli settlers. Around 2000 armed Israeli soldiers are deployed in the city, supposedly to protect the settlers, many of whom are also armed.
The civil unrest
On Monday, Palestinian sources reported that unknown gunmen abducted a former Palestinian official, and blew up a small restaurant in the southern part of the Gaza strip.
The former State Attorney General Khaled Al Qudrah was abducted by a group of unknown gunmen in Khan Younis city. Eyewitnesses reported that the gunmen intercepted Al Qudrah’s car, then forced him into the vehicle before fleeing the scene.
In the meantime, another group of masked men blew up a small restaurant in Rafah city. Local sources reported that the gunmen planted a home-made bomb in the restaurant and remotely detonated the bomb, completely destroying the restaurant.
Palestinian security agencies and police have initiated an investigation into the two attacks, Palestinian Authority sources reported. No injures were reported in the attacks. Al Qudrah was released shortly after being abducted.
On Wednesday morning a group of unknown gunmen attacked the car of a Palestinian officer while he was traveling to work via the Dier Al Balah – Rafah road in the southern Gaza strip. Hazim Abu Saleem, who is the liaison officer with the Egyptian side at the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, sustained moderate wounds when he was attacked by six masked gunmen.
Agenda Under Dispute As Three-Way Summit Draws Near
The anticipated three-way summit between Abbas, Olmert, and Rice, scheduled for next week in Jerusalem, has already sparked disagreement between the sides. According to Israeli media, Israeli Prime Minster has rejected any discussion around the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the final status of Jerusalem or Israel’s withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. Israeli Minster of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni has also said that discussion should be limited to the formation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.
However, President Abbas is insisting that these issues are key, and that negotiations must include the questions of permanent borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem. He rejected out of hand the idea of temporary borders.
Prisoner Swap Approved
And last but not least, the Egyptian prisoner swap proposal, initially rejected by the Israeli government, has been accepted. The swap will be carried out in three stages and lead to the release of a captured Israeli soldier in exchange for 1500 Palestinian prisoners being held illegally in Israeli jails. According to media reports, the Israeli soldier will first be moved to Egypt before being handed over to the Israeli government. His final release will come only after the release of all 1500 Palestinian 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 Jack Talhami, Ghassan Bannoura and Polly Bangoriad.