Welcome to This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.imemc.org, for February 21st through February 27th, 2009.
As a dozen Palestinian factions meet this week to discuss reconciliation, Israeli troops continue to attack Gaza and the West Bank. These stories, and more, coming up.
Let’s begin our weekly report with the nonviolent activities in the West Bank with IMEMC's John Smith:
The residents of Bil'in, near the central West Bank city of Ramallah, marched towards the wall today following Friday prayers, in a protest joined by Israeli and international activists.
Protesters called for national unity among Palestinians, resistance to the occupation and condemned Israel’s latest decision to demolish Palestinian homes in the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem.
The protest headed towards the wall which is built by Israel on Bil'in's farmland. An Israeli army unit was stationed at the site of the wall and prevented the crowd from passing through the gate toward their agricultural land.
The army shot tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd, causing dozens to suffer gas inhalation.
Meanwhile, scores of villagers from Nil'in, also near Ramallah, held their weekly protest at midday Friday. Villagers accompanied by international and Israeli demonstrators protested against the illegal Israeli wall being built on the village's land.
Demonstrators carried banners calling for national unity, and support for the Palestinians in Jerusalem. As soon as villagers and their international supporters arrived in the area where Israel is building the wall, soldiers showered them with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
Four were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets, and dozens received treatment for gas inhalation.
For IMEMC.org, this is John Smith
The Political Report
Representatives of a dozen Palestinian factions, including the rival Hamas and Fatah parties, met in Cairo on Thursday, in efforts to reach reconciliation and form a unity government. Meanwhile, reports suggest a potential prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas via Egyptian mediation. IMEMC's Jessica Hulsey has more:
This week, following an agreement to stop mutual incitement, media campaigns and trade release of political detainees, the rival Hamas and Fatah parties agreed in Cairo to form a unity government that could end the Israeli blockade of Gaza and an internationally-enforced embargo.
At a press conference on Thursday in Cairo, representatives of both parties declared that all outstanding issues should be tackled within six various committees including a committee about the reorganization of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, had earlier stated that any unity government should accept past-signed peace agreements between the PLO and Israel. Moheeb Salama is a spokesperson for Fatah in the West Bank:
Yet Hamas insisted that reaching an understanding with Fatah requires concrete actions on the ground. Ismail Redwan is a spokesperson for Hamas in Gaza
Meanwhile, a meeting of international donors will be held next week in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm Elsheikh, with hopes of rebuilding Gaza in the wake of the recent Israeli war.
Also this week, Salam Fayyad stated that Gaza's reconstruction process needs at least 2 billion U.S Dollars and that the funds should be channeled through the Ramallah-based government.
Forming a unity government as a result of underway intra-Palestinian conciliation talks in Cairo, will help expedite rebuilding the war-hit Gaza. In related news, the would-be Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, asserted that any newly-emerged Palestinian government should meet the conditions of the Quartet Committee; recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past-signed peace agreements with Israel.
On another issue, Israeli media reports said this week that Israel will be proposing a new list of Palestinian prisoners of those who Hamas wants to see freed in exchange for captured Israeli soldier in Gaza, Gil'ad Shalit.
The reports suggested that a prisoner swap deal is likely as the gap between Hamas' list and that to be provided by Israel to Egyptian mediators, has been bridged somehow. According to reports, Israel will offer a list of 220 Palestinian prisoners, who in Israel’s terms are those whose hands are 'stained with blood'.
As for separate issue, Spain submitted an official request to Israel for the possible trial of six Israeli officials suspected in war crimes against Palestinians. Among those wanted for justice is Avi Dichter, who was in charge of the internal Israeli security service when Israeli warplanes bombarded the house of Hamas leader, Salah Shehada in Gaza in 2002, killing Shehada and dozens more.
For IMEMC.org this is Jessica Hulsy.
Latest Israeli plans to build a new park in East Jerusalem look set to displace over 1,400 Palestinians – and residents are preparing for the worst. IMEMC's Ghassan Bannoura reports:
The latest Israel demolition plan would displace at least 1,400 Palestinians. The plan, announced by Israeli media this week, is to take over 88 homes in the Al Bustan neighborhood, located immediately south of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem’s old city.
Some of those homes were built before 1967. According to Israeli plans registered with the Jerusalem municipality, this traditionally Palestinian neighborhood is to become a park, with flowers, trees and cafés. Khalil Al Tafakji, the head of the maps department at Orient House in Jerusalem, says this is not a new plan:
"This is an ‘old-new’ Israeli policy, meaning it’s a battle of demographics inside the city of Jerusalem, which means it's an implementation to the 2020 Jerusalem project that is minimizing the [number of] Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. In addition, it’s an implementation of the historical annexation project Israel is trying to conclude."
The Municipality of Jerusalem maintains that this area is an important cultural and historical site for the Jewish nation, as it stands on the site where King David established his kingdom.
This is not the first such order. In 2005, the Israeli government issued demolition orders for each home in the area on the grounds of “not having the correct license”. Since then, local NGOs and homeowners, alongside a team of engineers, have worked to meet all Israeli requirements and planning laws, yet permission has still been denied by Israel. Hassan Al Qadi, the owner of a home in Al Bustan, explains:
"My house consists of two floors, it was built 140 to 150 years ago. A while ago we had a meeting with the Israeli interior ministry, they told us that our planning permit was denied. A few days later, the municipality planners, along with police, came and took photos and measurements of some homes in the area. Since then, we have a protest tent here."
Since Israel occupied the city of Jerusalem in 1967, the authorities have rarely given Palestinian residents permission to build homes, and deem many pre-existing structures to have been built without permission. The Israeli government has continued to build Jewish settlements in and around Jerusalem, an act which contravenes international law.
Legal avenues have so far failed to protect Palestinian residents. If this plan goes ahead, local activists state that this could be the largest displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem by Israel since the 1967 war.
For IMEMC.org, this is Ghassan Bannoura.
The Gaza Strip Report
Two Palestinians died in Gaza this week, as army attacks continue on the besieged coastal region. IMEMC's Rami Al Meghari reports from Gaza:
A Palestinian patient died on Thursday at a Gaza hospital after the Israeli army barred him from leaving the Gaza Strip for medical treatment abroad, Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip reported.
The patient was identified as Husam Hallas, 30, from Al Shujaeyya neighborhood, east of Gaza City. He suffered from a heart disease which the Israeli siege left Gaza hospitals unable to treat as most of their equipment is out of service and their medical stores are out of basic supplies. Hallas had all necessary papers and transfer documents but Israel still barred his transfer.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza said that with the death of Hallas, the number of patients including children and elderly who have died due to the Israeli siege has reached 291. The Ministry added that Hallas is the nineteenth patient to die in this way this month.
A Palestinian teenager from the Gaza Strip was pronounced dead on Wednesday after he had sustained wounds during the recent Israeli war on the territory. Palestinian medical sources confirmed that Nabil Esleem, aged 17, died in an Egyptian hospital where he was being treated for severe wounds.
Sources reported that Esleem was hit, along with a number of others, during an Israeli air strike against his house, where the Hamas Interior Minister Sa'ed Syam was assassinated in mid January.
With the death of Esleem, the Gaza death toll as a result of the last Israeli war has risen to 1,452, and the number of wounded now exceeds 6,000. At midday on Wednesday, Israeli military helicopters raided areas east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinian sources stated that missiles hit open areas in al-Salam and al-Barazeel Neighborhoods in eastern Rafah city, causing damage but no injuries. Israeli military sources claimed that their army targeted underground tunnels used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.
Palestinian medical sources reported on Tuesday evening that a Palestinian child was shot and wounded in her left leg by Israeli military gunfire after the Israeli Army opened fire at a number of homes and orchards in Khuza’a town, east of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Army opened fire on a Palestinian civilian's car near the Israeli border in the central Gaza Strip on Monday. Israeli forces at the borders also opened fire on Palestinians whom they claimed they were planting a home-made bomb nearby the Kissufim military post.
Meanwhile Palestinian resistance groups fired homemade shells at Israeli areas near the Gaza strip this week. Israeli sources said that all landed in open areas, causing no injuries.
For IMEMC.org this is Rami Al Meghari in Gaza
The West Bank Report
This week, the Israeli military carried out 35 invasions across the West Bank. One teenager was killed. IMEMC's Mary Arthur has the details:
A Palestinian boy from Tubas city in the northern West Bank was killed on Thursday afternoon after an explosive device left by the Israeli army exploded near him.
Doctors reported that Jamal Faqha, 16, sustained injures to his chest and abdomen: a metal object hit his heart killing him instantly. Meanwhile medics said that 3 other children sustained moderate wounds from the explosion. The Israeli army issued no statement regarding the incident.
A Palestinian man from the village Asreera Al Qibllya, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, was badly beaten by the members of Israeli border-guards at a military checkpoint while he was taking his seriously ill son to a local hospital.
Khalid Abu Khalaf, 38, said that after getting permision to go to Israeli with his son, he was stopped at Qalandya military checkpoint north of Jerusalem and attacked with batons by the soldiers, breaking his arm.
Meanwhile this week 42 Palestinians, including 6 children, were kidnapped during pre-dawn Israeli military invasion targeting Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
During one invasion in Nablus, the occupying forces blew up parts of a house in the old city whilst allegedly searching for weapons. The police dog they used bit a 98-year old Palestinian civilian in the shoulder.
Also in Nablus on Tuesday, at least 30 military vehicles stormed the city, searched homes and shops, with troops taking over a building which hosts Assia TV, a local station. According to its employees, soldiers forced them to a room and kept them there whilst they used the studio as a military post during the pre-dawn invasion.
For IMEMC.org this is Mary Arthur.
That’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, please check out our website, www.IMEMC.org. Thank you for joining us from occupied Bethlehem. This week's report has been brought to you by Dina Awwad.