This Week in Palestine - Week 09 2007
Welcome to This Week In Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.IMEMC.org, for February 24th through March 2nd, 2007.
The Israeli government approves 1500 new illegal settler houses while the army invades Nablus, killing one and wounding dozens. Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders continue their efforts to lift the economic blockade and form a unity government. And Palestinian civilians continue to defend their land against the annexation Wall through civil disobedience. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.
Nonviolent Resistance to the Wall and settlement expansion continues in West Bank
Let's begin our weekly report with this week's peaceful actions against the annexation Wall and settlements, and other stories in the West Bank.
At today's weekly demo in Bil'in, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, soldiers shot two children at a range of less than 10 metres, with rubber coated steel bullets. One was hit in the upper leg and the other in the lower back. Both were hospitalized, along with two Palestinian adults, also shot at close range. According to eyewitnesses, one child had appeared to say something to one of the soldiers before walking away. As he was walking away, the soldier shot him in the leg.
After midday prayers, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) held a rally to celebrate their 38th anniversary, with music and speeches, lasting around an hour. Speakers included PLC member Walid Assas, and head of the DFLP committee against the Wall, Amna Arrimawi, along with Sayed Abu Saleh from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF).
A large crowd of around 600 protesters then marched to the gate in the Wall, where their path was blocked by the occupying Israeli military, standing in front of the gate. Political and anti-occupation slogans were chanted, and some protesters climbed on the gate. Isolated incidents of stone-throwing were met with large amounts of tear gas, sound grenades and the shooting of protesters not throwing stones.
Hassan, a Swedish volunteer, describes how one of the children was shot:
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As well as the four protesters shot with rubber bullets, 15 others were also injured.
On Friday, the village of Um Salamoneh, near Bethlehem in the southern part of the West Bank, was the scene of a non-violent protest against the construction of the illegal Israeli wall.
Today, villagers from Um Salamoneh and nearby villages were joined by international and Israeli supporters. Together, they conducted the Friday prayers on the farmland where the Israeli authorities want to build the Wall. The protest then moved towards a nearby settler-only road, which protestors blocked for some time. The Israeli army arrived at the scene, and a small scuffle broke out. No injuries were reported. The demonstration then proceeded back to the village, where it ended.
Israeli bulldozers started destroying land belonging to Um Salamoneh on Tuesday. Palestinian farmers and villagers from Um Salamoneh and the surrounding villages protested this action at the site, and were joined by Israeli and International supporters. The Israeli army attacked and injured several villagers, and abducted one local youth, who was released shortly after.
On Wednesday, two Palestinians, five Internationals and six Israelis climbed upon a bulldozer, while it was stationary, and succeeded in preventing it from destroying the farmland. Two international and four Israeli activists were abducted by the Israeli army and taken to Gush Etzion prison. They were released after a few hours, on the condition that they do not return to the site of the non-violent demonstration for 15 days.
The Wall will cause the isolation of several villages south of Bethlehem, especially the villages of Wad Rahhal, Um Salamoneh, Al Ma'sara and Wad Al Niss. Um Salamoneh stands to have 700 dunums of agricultural land annexed and 270 dunums confiscated for the route of the Wall. Ten villages surrounding Bethlehem stand to lose 70,000 grape vines and 1000 olive trees through the construction of the wall, with countless more annexed on the far side.
The Israeli army attacks
The West Bank
During the past week, the Israeli army conducted at least 43 military invasions of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and launched a wide-scale military operation that targeted Nablus city in the northern West Bank.
During these invasions, four Palestinians were killed and at least 200 civilians were abducted, including 6 children, and Palestinian legislator, Hatem Qafisha. Thus, the number of Palestinians abducted by the Israeli forces in the West Bank since the beginning of this year has risen to 564.
On Wednesday morning, three Palestinians were killed by an undercover Israeli army unit in Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank. Undercover Israeli troops entered the refugee camp in a civilian car with Palestinian license plates and chased Ashraf Al-Saadi, aged 25, a leader in the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.
Al-Sadi, who has been 'wanted' by the Israeli army for two years was killed, along with Mohammad Abu Na'feh and Ala' Breikeh, who were also operatives of the Islamic Jihad movement. One Israeli undercover soldier and a 12 year old female Palestinian bystander were injured during the operation. Amal Adeil, an eyewitness from Jenin refugee camp describes the attack:
"I heard very loud shooting, and then I saw Israeli troops coming out of a white civilian car. After they surrounded the youths and killed them, another military vehicle arrived; troops confirmed the deaths of the youths. I am sure they died with the first bullets, but troops continued to shoot at them until they made sure they were dead, then left."
On Sunday morning a massive Israeli military force, backed by tanks and helicopters, stormed the northern West Bank city of Nablus and nearby refugee camps. The military offensive was dubbed "Operation: Hot Winter" by the Israeli army. This offensive continued throughout the week.
So far, the Israeli forces in Nablus have killed one civilian man, wounded at least 36 others, including three children, and abducted 160 people. The army transformed a number of houses and two schools into occupied military sites, and raided a number of local television and radio stations. They obstructed the movement of medical crews and imposed a curfew on the city, which confined thousands of Palestinian families to their homes. Anna Baltzer, an American medical relief volunteer in Nablus:
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On Thursday night Israeli forces left Nablus. However, they did not declare the operation over and troops re-invaded the city on Friday morning.
Israel's army claimed that this offensive is aimed at arresting Palestinian resistance fighters. However, according to Palestinian sources, a heavily pregnant woman was among the abductees, none of whom were resistance fighters.
On Sunday, the Al-Jazeera satellite channel broadcast footage showing Israeli troops using Palestinian civilians as human shields during their house-to-house search in Nablus. This violates not only International Law, but also an Israeli High court ruling in 2005, outlawing the use of civilians as human shields in military actions.
The Gaza strip
In the southern Gaza strip, Palestinian sources reported that an Israeli warship opened heavy gunfire at Palestinian fishing boats and civilians at Tal Al Sultan beach, on the Rafah city coast, on Tuesday morning. The sources reported no injuries, but the boats sustained material damage. On the same day, in a separate incident, Israel army tanks stationed east of Rafah city, opened fire at Palestinian farmers working on their lands; although the farmers managed to escape, and no injuries were reported.
The Resistance Attacks
Palestinian resistance groups in the Gaza strip launched five home-made shells at Israeli targets in the southern part of Israel, on Thursday morning.
The attack targeted Israeli military installations near the Israeli town of Ashkelon, north of Gaza, and the town of Be'eri, located east of the Gaza Strip in the northern Negev.
Al Quds Brigades, the military wing affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine, claimed responsibility for the attack, and stated that it comes in response to the assassination of three of its members in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday.
Israeli sources reported that the shells landed in open spaces and caused no injuries, but reported some property damage.
An Israeli settler was moderately injured in a shooting in the northern West Bank on Thursday at midday.
The attack happened near an Israeli army checkpoint, north of Qalqilia city; Israeli media sources reported that the man sustained wounds to his hand and chest. Israeli army forces invaded the city of Qalqilia shortly after the attack and searched a number of Palestinian homes, but no abductions were reported.
Digging Work in Jerusalem Continues
As the Israeli authorities continue digging near Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, Palestinians continue protesting these excavations. They believe that the action is threatening the foundation of the mosque, and in fact aims to eliminate the Islamic character of the area.
Meanwhile, the Israeli authority continues to interrupt all forms of Palestinian protest and civil activities. They have arrested over 70 people for protesting against the work, and have used physical force against many others.
On Wednesday, the Israeli police entered a hotel in East Jerusalem where a news conference was to be held by Muslim and Christian figures opposing the excavations, and forcibly canceled the event.
The news conference was banned by Israeli police under the pretext that it was organized by Palestine's elected Hamas-led government.
Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, said that they were not involved in organizing this event.
The Israeli supervisors of the excavation state that they are merely carrying out renovations, but the fact that the site is also of great importance to Jews, as the Temple Mount, ignites fears that there is an ulterior motive to the work.
On Sunday, a Palestinian woman died of serious injuries sustained earlier in Jerusalem.
Yosra Ahmad Al Rajabi, aged 60, from the Beit Hanina neighborhood of Jerusalem, was beaten by Israeli police and soldiers as she was attempting to prevent the arrest of a Palestinian youth, who was participating in a protest against the ongoing excavations near the Aqsa Mosque.
Israel Approves 1500 Settler Apartments with more to come
The Israeli government has authorized the construction of what has been described as the "largest-ever" illegal settlement, on lands privately owned by Palestinian residents of Bil'in village, near Ramallah.
The project was approved by the Supreme Planning Council for Settlements in the occupied West Bank. It calls for the construction of 42 housing units containing 1500 apartments for Israeli settlers. Some of these buildings are already under construction in Matityahu East, a neighborhood in the Modi'in Ilit settlement, east of Bil'in.
The Israeli 'Peace Now' movement has filed a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice against the illegal construction. Last year, the High Court ordered a halt on the construction in the same area, following an appeal filed by Peace Now and Bil'in residents.
In other settlement news, Israel is preparing a construction plan for 11,000 new settler housing units near the Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. The government plans to build a tunnel under the Palestinian village of Kufur Aqib linking the new settlement to the Eastern Settlement Bloc. The plan, although received positively by the Jerusalem Municipality, has not yet been officially approved.
This Saturday morning, Israeli military bulldozers began to uproot olive trees privately owned by a Palestinian farmer in Burin village, south of Nablus. The owner, Qassem Al Najar, said his orchard was being uprooted to make way for a settler-only road linking the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Brikha in the West Bank, to nearby Israeli territory.
Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip reported on Friday night that one Palestinian resident was killed by gunmen, and another was abducted in a separate attack. The incidents are apparently due to family feuds in Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The deceased was identified as Mohammad Ali Al Ghalban, aged 27. He was hit by several rounds of live ammunition and was dead on arrival at Gaza-European hospital in Khan Younis.
Five Palestinian residents of Khan Younis city in the southern Gaza Strip were killed on Saturday, and at least 15 others were wounded during renewed internal unrest, after two families clashed.
The clashes broke out shortly after midnight between the Kawarah and al-Ghalban families when Mohammad Al Ghalban, a 28-year-old Hamas militant, was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home. A 22-year-old man from a Fatah-affiliated family, Hazem Karouah, was killed several hours later, as was 75-year-old Ismail Sabah, who was caught in the cross-fire. Palestinian security forces have contacted both conflicting parties in a bid to end such infighting.
Later that day, a member of the Hamas executive force was shot and wounded by unknown gunmen in the city of Khan Younis. Palestinian sources said that Hassan Shorrab, 23, was shot in the leg, and transferred to the Nasser Medical center in the city.
Earlier on Saturday morning, unknown gunmen attacked the house of Colonel Suleiman Khader, commander of the second battalion of the Palestinian Authority's national security forces. In a drive-by shooting, a number of gunmen opened fire at Khader's house, located in the Zahra residential town in southern Gaza City. They destroyed the house's front door and caused a fire to ignite inside.
Palestinian security personnel in the area traded gunfire with the attackers, although no casualties were reported.
At least 130 people have died in Hamas-Fatah infighting over the past three months, before the two sides agreed to a power-sharing cabinet last month.
Palestinian Political Efforts continue
Palestinian leaders continued to reach out to the international community, hoping to end the political and economic sanctions that have been imposed on the West Bank and Gaza for nearly a year. Leaders also sought to promote the agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah in Mecca last month. The agreement laid the groundwork for a national unity government, and was approved by all Palestinian political factions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently returned home after promoting the agreement to key political leaders across the world. Abbas also promised to continue talks with Israel, despite Israeli threats last week that they would not negotiate final status issues with Abbas if he implements the Mecca agreement.
Israeli and Palestinian sources said Abbas would meet the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert within two weeks to resume diplomatic efforts.
The international Quartet of the United Nations, United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation, reiterated that sanctions on the West Bank and Gaza will continue until the Palestinian government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts all past signed agreements with the State of Israel.
After meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, President Abbas said he would continue to push for the fulfillment of the Quartet's demands. Meanwhile, the outgoing Hamas-led government announced it would respect previously signed agreements but continued to hold out on the Quartet's other demands.
Meanwhile, Khaled Masha'al, Hamas' politburo chief, concluded his own international tour. In a press conference in Cairo, he said the current circumstances presented an historic chance for peace in the region. He reiterated Hamas' acceptance of a two-state solution for a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders, in compliance with UN Resolutions 242 and 338.
Masha'al predicted that the coming Palestinian government would enjoy unprecedented legitimacy as it will represent most of the political spectrum in Palestine. He also said in his visit to Russia that Hamas would stop violence against Israel, including the launching of home-made shells, known as Qassam rockets, into Israeli territory.
However, he reiterated Hamas' stance of non-recognition of Israel. Masha'al said that the moment Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas will clearly recognize the Jewish state.
The Palestinian unity government is still currently being formed. It is expected that the new government will be announced within the coming week.
Palestinian Prime Minister designate, Ismail Haniya, confirmed on Friday that consultations on the incoming unity government have been finalized and called on both Hamas and Fatah to submit names of their candidates.
So far, at least six Palestinian factions will be part of the cabinet. The two major parties, Fatah and Hamas will have the lion's share, while left wing factions will receive one portfolio each. Dr. Ghazi Hamad, Palestinian Government Spokesman
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Russian officials expressed support for the Palestinian unity government, but reiterated the demands of the Quartet. The European Union's External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said that the EU is committed to helping the Palestinian people through the Temporary Aid Mechanism. Some Palestinian political analysts believe the extension of this temporary mechanism is a step towards ending the imposed blockade.
While the United States, Israel and the European Union continued to impose demands on the Palestinian government, UN Commissioner for Palestinian refugees Karen Abu Zayd presented another stance. In a speech in New York this week, Abu Zayd called on the international community to match the courage of Palestinian factions in their willingness to make compromises in order to create a unity government. She also challenged the international community to lift the blockade immediately.
Financial Crisis Update
As the financial crisis in the Palestinian areas continues, the Palestinian Authority has promised to pay civil servants their overdue salaries for the month of January, as well as ten percent of the remainder of their unpaid salaries from 2006.
Hani Salama, head of the Nurses Trade Union in Bethlehem says that no payments were made.
"We have not received anything of this payment so far, unfortunately we have a trust problem with the government. They did not respect the agreement we reached together. What we hear these days in the media about payments are statements only, nothing of this is true."
The Palestinian government has been unable to regularly pay the salaries of nearly 165,000 civil servants since March 2006 as a result of the US-led economic blockade, imposed following the formation of the Hamas government.
Israel is currently also withholding more than 500 Million US dollars of tax revenue due to the Palestinian Authority. If this money is released, it would enable the Palestinian Authority to pay most of the overdue salaries.
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 Jimi Eph, Ghassan Bannoura and I Jack Talhami.
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