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Chances for Reconciliation Increase
March 19, 2011
President Mahmoud Abbas has told his staff to make arrangements for him to travel to the Gaza Strip as soon as possible. On March 16, after holding a session with the PLO Central Council Abbas announced he was “ready to go to Gaza tomorrow so as to end the split and form a new government.` He said the government would be comprised of “independent national figures.” The president also said he would meet with his Hamas counterparts so as to agree to parliamentary and presidential elections ... within six months or as soon as possible`.
Abbas’ sudden change of heart comes after mass demonstrations on May 15 in the West Bank in Gaza by Palestinians calling for an end to the political division between Hamas and Fateh. That day in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Gaza City, Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on President Abbas to come to Gaza to hold reconciliation talks.
However, Abbas said he was not interested in any more negotiations with his rival party in Gaza. Instead, he called on Haniyeh to meet him at the Erez crossing so the two sides could find a way to form a government until elections for the president, legislature and the Palestine National Council could be held within the next six months.
Hamas, for its part, said it welcomed Abbas’ call, saying arrangements would be made for the President’s arrival.
On March 17, UN envoy Robert Serry said he supported the reconciliation efforts saying unity among the Palestinians was “overdue and vital for Palestinian legitimate aspirations.` Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not as enthusiastic, drawing a comparison on CNN that same day between Hamas and Al Qaeda and saying that any reconciliation would be the end of the peace process. Furthermore, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu was ready to ask the US and Europe to thwart any reconciliation efforts, adding that the Palestinian Authority “could not be for peace with Israel and peace with Hamas that calls for our destruction.`
President Abbas has yet to set the date for travelling to Gaza.
The marches that sparked Abbas’ reconciliation offer were organized by a Facebook group calling on Palestinians to take to the streets on March 15 to demand an end to the division. In Gaza, thousands of people congregated at Katiba Square in Gaza City and on the Manara in Ramallah. Hamas security forces have since been blamed for cracking down on the demonstrators and chasing them from the square. Protests in Gaza began a day before, on March 14 with thousands of demonstrators refusing to leave the square until unity is reached.
On March 17, 16 protesters took refuge in a UN compound in Gaza after running from Hamas police. They eventually left the premises after Hamas authorities said they gave assurances that “the protestors would be safe,` according to UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.
According to protestors, police chased them and took photographers’ memory cards before the 16 protestors took refuge in the UNRWA compound.
Besides the protests calling for unity and President Abbas’ expected visit, Gazans are enduring repeated Israeli military attacks. On the morning of March 19, two Palestinians, including a three-year old boy were wounded when Israeli forces shelled a security facility in the Shujayieh neighborhood of Gaza City.
On March 16, Israeli warplanes fired two missiles at a Hamas security compound, killing two Hamas operatives. Israel says it is attacking Gaza in response to dozens of rockets being fired on Israeli territory from the coastal strip.
Furthermore, on March 15, Israeli navy commandos seized a cargo ship said to have been carrying Iranian supplied arms on its way to Gaza. The ship was intercepted some 200 miles off the shore of Gaza and taken to the Ashdod port in Israel.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are still paying the price for the murder of five family members in the settlement of Itamar last week. Although no Palestinian has been arrested in connection to the killings, the village of Awarta endured a days-long curfew in retribution. Thai workers inside the settlement were being rounded up for questioning after the killings. According to Palestinian news sources on March 17, 40 men have been detained from Awarta and the curfew clamped down directly after the March 12 incident was not lifted until March 16. Awarta residents say houses were ransacked and damage inflicted on the village’s infrastructure from the Israeli army raids.
Settlers from Itamar also set up an illegal outpost in honor of the slain family on land privately owned by Awarta and Nablus residents. Furthermore, a day after the killings, on March 13, the Knesset’s ministerial committee on settlements approved the construction of 500 new housing units in West Bank settlements. The new houses will be built in the settlements of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer.
Settlers also sought corporal revenge from the Palestinians. On March 18, a group of settlers attacked a Palestinian man from Huwwar near Nablus. Thirty-five -year old Talal Dmeidi said he was beaten with sticks near the settlement of Yitzar south of Nablus, sustaining moderate wounds.
A day earlier, masked settlers attacked two Palestinian workers and a security guard in Shilo, also a Nablus-area settlement. The settlers assaulted the men with knives, pipes and pepper spray.
Palestinians also struck back. On March 18, unknown Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at a settler house in Silwan, setting it on fire. One Israeli border guard suffered burns.
Also, Israeli authorities handed out 18 demolition orders to home owners in Jerusalem near Khan Al Ahmar on the Jericho road.
At the diplomatic level, Uruguay recognized the Palestinian state on March 15, joining a slew of South American countries to do so. In addition, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said a European Union recognition of a Palestinian state could be a `possibility that should be kept in mind,` dismissing the idea of a recognition by France alone.
`There`s no point recognizing the Palestinian state on our own. It must be done together,` Juppe told AFP.
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