By: Daniel Breslau
Week 1,985 of occupation
Cracks in the ceasefire
Just as Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen were preparing to meet for a summit in Jerusalem, the months-long ceasefire looked weaker than ever on both sides. Militants of the Islamic Jihad continue to defy the Palestinian Authority`s call for halting attacks, and several renegade Fatah cells seemed to be joining in.
First, on Sunday, June 19, two armed men, one from the Islamic Jihad and the second from a group called the Abu Rish Battalions, that had broken away from Fatah, attacked a group of IDF soldiers from the Engineering Corps. One soldier was killed, as was one of the militants. This was the first time an IDF soldier has been killed in an attack since the ceasefire was declared in February.
On Monday, an Islamic Jihad attack killed an Israeli settler in the West Bank. On the same day, a female suicide bomber, apparently sent by a cell of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, was apprehended by the IDF at the Erez crossing in the north Gaza Strip.
Israel responded by stepping up incursions and arrests in Palestinian towns. The IDF arrested 50 Islamic Jihad members, mostly low and mid-level operatives, on Monday night, and imposed a closure on Baka al-Sharkiyeh, where the attack on Monday was thought to have originated. Also on Monday, an unnarmed Palestinian civilian, age 17, was shot and killed by IDF forces in the northern Gaza Strip. The man and a companion were shot at as they fled after being given a verbal warning. Then, just as the summit meeting was about to begin, the Israeli Air Force fired missiles at a structure in Gaza, in an apparently unsuccessful assassination attempt aimed at the Islamic Jihad. Israel announced that it was resuming its policy of extrajudicial assassinations.
With the escalation as its backdrop, Ariel Sharon met with the Palestinian President and Prime Minister in his Jerusalem residence, in what was to be a working meeting . During the summit, Abu Mazen and Abu Ala (Ahmed Qureia), told Sharon that his government`s actions in the territories are undermining their ability to rein in militant groups, and prevent terror attacks against Israel. They explained that it is difficult for them to take a hardline policy against militant groups while Israel continues constructing the annexation wall, continues expanding settlements in the West Bank, and insists on proceeding with the demolition of an entire Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. As if to prove their point, Israel resumed its policy of assassinating Palestininan militant leaders just prior to the meeting.
The Sharon government continued the strategy it has used since Sharon came to power in 2001, of avoiding any substantive peace negotiations. During the largely successful restraint on attacks since January, Israel has not ceased to expand settlements, to construct the annexation wall, to stage numerous incursions and arrests in Palestinian areas, to delay and reduce prisoner releases. These are the issues that harm the credibility of Abu Mazen and his policy of restraint and negotiation in the eyes of the Palestinian public. And Israel continues to treat them as non-negotiable.
As a `good-will gesture` Sharon stated that Bethlehem and Qalqilya would soon be returned to full Palestinian Authority control, although this had already been announced in early June, after Israel had delayed the promised turnover of these two towns. Sharon also announced that instead of the significant prisoner releases requested by Abu Mazen, Israel would release an undisclosed number of elderly prisoners.
The summit ended with an agreement to coordinate the evacuation from Gaza, and with expressions of disappointment from the Palestinian side. As one official put it, `We heard a long lecture from Sharon on fighting terrorism and comments preaching morality, but nothing was achieved.`
New settler attacks
On Saturday, extremist settlers who have occupied the abandoned Maoz Hayam hotel in Neve Dekalim in the Al Mawasi district of the Gaza Strip, attacked two Palestinians who were bathing at a beach near the hotel. The settlers threw stones and then fired at the unarmed civilians, hitting 41-year-old Nasser Ahmed Wafi with a bullet in the thigh.
The settlers of the Hebron area continue their attacks on Palestinian civilians and property. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rihts reports that on Saturday, June 18, settlers from Kiryat Arba seized three stores owned by `Abdul Mon`em Jaber and land owned by Mahmoud al-Bouti Jaber in Wad al-Nassara neighborhood in an attempt to establish an outpost. On Sunday morning, the same source reports that settlers from Kiryat Arba uprooted 33 olive trees and destroyed one ton of plums belonging to Munther Ahmed Jaber in Wad al-Husain area to the southwest of the settlement.
Khirbat Munayzil: another village joins the anti-wall protests
On Sunday, June 19, the village of Khirbat Munayzil, in the Hebron Hills, about 25 kilometers south of Hebron, held its first protest against the annexation wall. The wall will loop into the West Bank to annex the settlement of Beit Yatir, which is built on land of the Palestinian Village. The village now stands to loose an additional 5000 dunams. The demonstration ended without serious violence -- the soldiers were not equipped with the usual crowd-dispersal equipment, but the village is now mobilized to continue its resistance.