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Welcome to Palestine Today, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, for Wednesday 23rd May 2012.

A statement that the EU supports peaceful protest; news of a much expanded settlement near Gilo north of Bethlehem; and a Christian mother with four sons in Israeli jails. All this and more stay tuned!

A statement issued by the spokesperson of the EU’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, yesterday said that the European Union defends the right of Palestinians to hold peaceful protests against illegal Israeli settlement construction on their land. The statement came after an Israeli military court on Sunday convicted Nabi Saleh activist, Bassem Tamimi, of urging youths to throw rocks at security forces and of leading illegal anti-occupation protests in his Ramallah-area village. “The EU considers Bassem Tamimi to be a ‘human rights defender’ committed to non-violent protest against the expansion of an Israeli settlement on lands belonging to his West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The EU attended all court hearings in his case and is concerned at the use of evidence based on the testimony of a minor who was interrogated in violation of his rights,” added the spokesperson.

Ma’an News Agency reported today on a Christian family whose four sons have all been imprisoned by the Israeli Military. ‘Since 2004, the whole family did not gather, not even once. Someone is always missing,’ said Alexandra Halabi, the Christian mother of four sons. At present all four are in jail, but one may be released shortly. Other women visiting relatives in prison were often surprised when they saw Alexandra and her daughter wearing crosses and said it was unusual to find Christians in jail. She tells them ‘Religion is for God and the country is for everyone. If I’m Christian, don’t I have a homeland?’

Givat HaMatos, is on the southern fringes of the city limits of Jerusalem, close to the Gilo settlement and just north of Bethlehem. It was once a small quaint area with homes dotted on it but there are now major plans for 2,610 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms. These extensive plans were released earlier in the year, but the speed with which planning and approval of these plans have proceeded is unprecedented. If this expected development goes ahead the result will be that Palestinian cities and neighbourhoods will be cut off from Bethlehem and Bethlehem further cut off from Jerusalem. This development has to be considered alongside further expansion of the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, also close to Bethlehem. With up to 35% of Palestinian economic activity centered on a line that stretches from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem to Ramallah these illegal extensions to already illegal settlements will make this economic link even more difficult.

Israeli forces invaded several areas of the West Bank on Tuesday, abducted six Palestinians, will interview a seventh, and transferred the six detainees to unknown destinations. The towns invaded were Beit Omar near the southern city of Hebron, Azzoun, east of Qalqliya, and Yamoun near the northern city of Nablus.

In Gaza,tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip from the ‘Kosufem military’ Gate north east of Khan Younis, and moved north towards Deir al-Balah. Israeli forces regularly invade the territory of the Gaza Strip and prohibit the approach of any Palestinian within a distance of 300 meters of the border preventing the use of a large portion of Gaza’s limited arable land.

And that’s all today from IMEMC News. This was the Wednesday 23nd May daily roundup of news from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For more news and updates please visit our website at Today’s report has been brought to you by Husam Qassis and William Temple.