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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
15 May 2007



Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the

Question of Palestine

Monthly media monitoring review

April 2007


1

The IDF arrested three Palestinians, including a woman, in Hebron, Jericho and Jenin, Palestinian Authority (PA) security sources said. (WAFA)

Israel’s Defence Minister Amir Peretz authorized the IDF to resume pinpoint operations in the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported. Noting "Hamas is taking advantage of the calmness to strengthen itself," Mr. Peretz told a Cabinet meeting that the operation would aim at halting Qassam rocket attacks. "There are also both open and covert activities against the threat of tunnels," he added. The IDF also completed its preparations for a possible major incursion into the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said: “Our response will be painful because our men are prepared for Jihad and martyrdom. Hamas remains committed to Jihad as a strategic option for liberating all of Palestine." (Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post)

The IDF imposed a closure on the West Bank ahead of the Passover holiday, restricting the movement of all Palestinians into Israel, except humanitarian cases and Christians visiting family inside Israel for Easter, military spokesman Shlomo Dror said. (AP)

Abu Qusay, spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for launching two Qassam rockets at Israel. The Brigades said in a statement that they would continue shelling operations as long as Israeli aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque continued. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Palestinian Journalists' Union announced a three-day strike to protest what they called the inadequate response of the PA to the kidnapping of a British reporter. (AFP)

PA President Mahmoud Abbas met visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ramallah. "The talks focused on the best ways to launch a meaningful political process," he told reporters in a joint news conference. He also reaffirmed the PA’s rejection of violence and abiding by the accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. "I hope the Israeli Government will take helpful steps in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative," he added. Ms. Merkel reiterated that the conditions of the Quartet were binding, expressing regret that Hamas had refused to comply with the conditions. (WAFA, Xinhua)

Visiting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Knesset that she was concerned that "some of the new Palestinian Government [members] … continued to remain committed to the destruction of Israel”. "Talking with responsible Palestinian partners is a wise investment in Israel's future," she said. (AFP)

Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that he wanted to "invite to a meeting all Arab Heads of State, including, of course, the King of Saudi Arabia, whom I regard as an important leader, in order to engage in dialogue." He said that each side would bring its own demands and neither would try to dictate terms. He said that if King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were to invite him, moderate Arab leaders and PA President Abbas to a meeting "to present Saudi Arabia's ideas before us, we will come to hear them and be glad to offer our ideas”. "It is important to talk, but is also is important to turn the spoken word into deeds," Chancellor Merkel said. (Ha’aretz)

2

IDF forces arrested 15 Hamas and Fatah activists in the West Bank. (Ha’aretz)

PA Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouti met with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, the Italian Foreign Ministry reported. "Action by the new executive must aim to adhere fully to the three principles indicated by the Quartet, in particular the explicit recognition of Israel," Mr. D'Alema told Mr. Barghouti. (AFP)

High-ranking PA sources expressed "deep disappointment" with the visit of Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ramallah and her meeting with PA President Abbas. The sources said Ms. Merkel had refused to meet any of the Palestinian Cabinet members "which is a blatant contradiction with the decision of the EU." They said that Ms. Merkel "did not even say a word about the fate of 12,000 Palestinian prisoners, who include children, women, the elderly and the sick”. While she had visited families of captive Israeli soldiers, the sources said, she refused to meet any family member of the Palestinian prisoners. (Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA))

"The international community must progressively begin a return of aid to the Palestinian Finance Ministry on condition that the National Unity Government upholds its commitments and makes additional gestures, especially the liberation of Cpl. Shalit," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told journalists in Paris after talks with his PA counterpart, Ziyad Abu Amr. (DPA)

In a press encounter at United Nations Headquarters in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the international community must be patient in order to give the new Palestinian Unity Government time to coordinate positions and hopefully recognize Israel and renounce violence. (Ha’aretz, UN News Centre)

Commenting on her last Middle East visit, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her remarks at the National Conference of Editorial Writers that she was pleased that, out of the Arab League Summit in Riyadh, there was a re-initiation of the effort on the Arab League proposal and that they will try to use it as a means of active diplomacy to begin to talk about a horizon for Israel and its Arab neighbours. (US Department of State)

Palestinian journalists began a three-day strike to press the Palestinian Authority to exert more efforts to release a British journalist abducted in the Gaza Strip. The BBCcorrespondent Alan Johnston, who was seized on 12 March, had been held longer than any other journalist kidnapped in the Strip. (The Independent)

3

Ahmed Sanakra, a high-ranking member of Fatah's armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was injured in a refugee camp close to the West Bank city of Nablus after Israeli troops fired on a group of gunmen, Israeli media reported. Mr. Sanakra is wanted by the IDF for allegedly being responsible for planning terror attacks in Israel and planting explosive devices in the West Bank, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported in its online edition. (DPA)

Israeli forces shot and injured a 13-year-old Palestinian boy in the head in the Johr al-Deik neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip. (WAFA)

A Qassam rocket launched by Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip landed in Israel’s western Negev. There were no reports of injuries or damage. (Ynetnews)

League of Arab States Secretary-General Amre Moussa rejected an invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to participate in a regional summit to reactivate the peace process. "The letter was not serious and offered nothing new," Mr. Moussa said during a press conference in Cairo with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. He said that he rejected the offer because the Israelis wanted to modify the Arab Peace Initiative and were describing the return of Palestinian refugees as a "red line." (AFP)

A Saudi source told AP that Israel must accept the Arab peace initiative “before any meeting is considered.” (Ha’aretz)

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, heading a delegation of US lawmakers, met with PA President Abbas in Ramallah. Mr. Abbas told Ms. Pelosi that he wanted to use the meetings that he and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had promised to hold every two weeks as an avenue for restarting peace talks. Rafik Husseini, Mr. Abbas’ aide, said that the President had told Ms. Pelosi that “without a political horizon, there can be no peaceful coexistence." (AP)

Reuters reported that United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Alvaro de Soto planned to leave his post in May. “He had indicated his desire to move on, but [Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon asked him to stay on through his current contract, which lasts until 7 May, when we expect his distinguished 25-year career will end," said Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq, adding that Mr. de Soto’s replacement had not yet been decided on. Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was some uncertainty about the future of the Special Coordinator’s post, adding that one of the options being discussed within the United Nations was the appointment of a special envoy who would represent the broader Quartet in any future push for peace talks. (Reuters)

PA Foreign Minister Ziyad Abu Amr met with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on the final day of his visit to France to discuss prospects for resuming aid to the PA. (AFP)

The World Bank invited international companies to bid for a US$ 15.5 million feasibility study to examine the environmental and social impacts of the $5 billion Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance project on the surrounding countries. “The overall objective of the study programme is to evaluate the conveyance of water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea as a way to address environmental degradation of the Dead Sea region,” the project’s Expression of Interest stated. (DPA, www.worldbank.org)

In a joint Easter message, 13 Christian Jerusalem-based church patriarchs called for the abolition of the international boycott against the PA, stating that the economy, medical care and education in some areas had clearly worsened in the last year as a result of sanctions and calling for a resumption of financial assistance. (DPA)

4

Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian gunman at the Gaza border. An Israeli army spokesman said that an Israeli force had shot at three armed men, killing one of them and wounding at least one, as they placed an explosive device 15 metres from the Gaza border fence. The Popular Resistance Committees stated that one of their fighters had been shot and killed by Israeli forces near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. (Reuters)

Israeli forces arrested a 28-year-old leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jericho. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli settlers set a Palestinian car on fire in Hebron and Israeli police failed to offer any assistance, first claiming they did not understand Arabic and then saying they could not help due to the Passover holiday. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Israeli defence establishment may abandon a plan to include bulges in the separation fence aimed at keeping major settlement blocks such as “Ariel,” “Immanuel” and “Kedumin” on the Israeli side. Officials currently re-evaluating the “bulge” proposal were considering an alternative plan, which would seal the fence near the settlements of “Elkana” and “Beit Aryeh.” The proposal includes the construction of a new perimeter fence around the settlements, which would be left on the Palestinian side. (Ha’aretz)

PA Foreign Minister Ziyad Abu Amr told a press conference, after meeting with Austria’s Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik in Vienna: “I think Prime Minister Olmert is not prepared to take part in serious negotiations with the Arab side. … Whoever does not accept this [Arab Peace] Initiative is not really interested in peace in the Middle East.” Ms. Plassnik called on the Palestinian Government to fulfil the expectations of the international community and renounce violence, recognize Israel and honour past agreements. “These expectations have not been fully met … but the EU is prepared to work with a Palestinian Government that will tackle these expectations,” she said. Mr. Abu Amr called on the European Union to cooperate with the new Government “without discrimination between the different members of this Government,” adding, “All factions are represented in this Government; this is a strong Government.” (AFP)

5

A Palestinian teenaged girl died from wounds she had sustained during an Israeli military incursion into the northern Gaza Strip on 4 October 2004. Tahrir Abu Aljedian, 18, was shot in the head and doctors were not able to remove the bullet. She had remained in a coma since then. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for launching a homemade rocket at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli forces arrested eight Palestinians in the town of Yatta, At-Tabaqa village and Al-Arroub refugee camp, all in the Hebron governorate in the southern West Bank, and seven more in Nablus. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian near Jericho, an Israeli security source said. “The soldiers were on routine patrol in a military zone in a desert area near the Nabi Mussa mosque when they spotted three suspects. … They fired warning shots in the air to get the men to surrender. These were ignored. The soldiers then targeted them, wounding one who died later after being evacuated to a hospital in Israel,” the source said. A Palestinian security source identified the man as Aziz Almtur, 28. (AFP)

PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met to begin work on reforming the PA security services. It was the second meeting between the two since Hamas and Fatah formed a coalition in March. Mohammed Dahlan, National Security Adviser to the PA President, joined the talks. Mr. Dahlan was now being asked to come up with a reform plan. “The security establishment needs major surgery,” he said in an interview with Palestine TV the previous day. “People are loyal to their families more than to the establishment of the homeland.” (AP)

The PLO Executive Committee issued a statement calling for the holding of an international peace conference to supervise real and serious Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. “Israel on the one hand is trying to establish ties with other Arab countries and on the other is refusing for unconvincing reasons to hold talks with the PLO to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” said the PLO statement, further calling on Israel to start implementing the Road Map immediately. (Xinhua)

The British Consul General in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, and BBC officials met with PA Prime Minister Haniyeh to discuss efforts to free BBC correspondent Alan Johnston who had been abducted on 12 March. The purpose of the meeting was “only to discuss the abduction of the British reporter” and “strictly for humanitarian reasons,” a consulate official said. The meeting “does not change our normal policy on political contacts with members of Hamas,” a statement from the British Foreign Office also indicated. (AFP, AP)

Former US President Carter said that the controversy surrounding his recent book had yielded a productive debate on Israeli-Palestinian relations at a time when the Middle East peace process was dormant. He urged President Bush and the US Congress to “have the courage to face the facts and do what is necessary to return America to its honoured position as a peacemaker.” Mr. Carter was speaking at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. where he received the Ridenhour Courage Prize, named after former investigative journalist and Viet Nam veteran Ron Ridenhour, who helped expose the My Lai atrocities during the war. (AP)

Speaking after a recent visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel to the region as holder of the EU Presidency, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, “There are real signs of movement. Both on the Israeli and on the Palestinian side we discern a new tendency to reflect.” (DPA)

6

A 22-year-old Palestinian, Mohammad al-Shawaf, who was shot last year in clashes with Israeli troops, died from his wounds, medical sources said. He was from the rural farming village of Abbasan, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. Abbasan was the site of repeated Israeli incursions after Palestinian militants seized Cpl. Gilad Shalit in a June 2006 cross-border raid. (AFP)

During a demonstration in Bil’in, west of Ramallah, against the separation wall, 14 Palestinians, including six children, were injured by Israeli soldiers. Also, Israeli forces injured five Palestinians during a demonstration against the wall in Al-Ma’sara, south of Bethlehem. (Ma’an News Agency, WAFA)

The Israeli army entered Seida village, north-east of Tulkarm, and arrested two Palestinians. (Ma’an News Agency)

Hamas and Fatah militants clashed in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, wounding at least one member of Hamas and one member of Fatah, as well as a young boy. (Reuters)

The Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claimed responsibility for launching two home-made projectiles at the Israeli village of Kfar Aza, east of the northern Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said that the Western nations’ aid embargo against the Palestinian Government should end. “Russia is for the lifting of the heavy weight on the Palestinians as soon as possible … The reasons used to take those economic measures against the Palestinians are no longer operable,” Mr. Saltanov told reporters, according to Interfax. (AFP)

7

Israeli helicopters fired at least two missiles near the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian in what local residents said was the fiercest exchange between Israeli forces and militants since a November truce. An Israeli army spokesman said that the helicopters had fired at a group of militants trying to plant an explosive device near the border fence. Islamic Jihad said its militants and members of another group had been mounting an operation near the fence when the exchange of fire occurred, adding that a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had been killed in the exchange. At least two other militants had been wounded. (Reuters)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said that its leader, Zakariye Zubeydi, had been shot in the shoulder and moderately wounded during a gun battle with Israeli forces in Jenin. (AP)

Iyad Abu Taha from Rafah died from wounds he had sustained during an Israeli incursion near the border fence. He was a leader of the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committee. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli forces stormed Qalqilya and arrested a 45-year-old Palestinian woman, Kaouthar Nofal, and her two sons. Israeli forces also swept into Salfit and arrested a Palestinian after conducting a door-to-door search campaign. (WAFA)

A Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip struck a factory in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. No injuries were reported. The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility. (Ma’an News Agency, Ynetnews)

The Supreme Court of the State of New York ordered $30 million in Palestine Monetary Authority funds unfrozen and allowed it to resume operations in the United States. At a press conference in Ramallah, the Authority said that a ruling on 2 April by the Court had cleared the way for it to carry out functions as the Palestinian central bank. It had been unable to access the funds or carry out US dollar transactions since 2005 because of a years-old court case brought by the family of Yaron Ungar, an American who had been killed along with his wife in a 1996 shooting in Israel. The suit had alleged that the Palestinian Authority was culpable because it had failed to take steps to stop Hamas militants from carrying out such attacks. The Supreme Court said that the Palestine Monetary Authority was “a separate entity from the Palestinian Authority and the money in its name … should be released.” (Reuters)

8

Israeli settlers beat and injured three Palestinian schoolgirls in Hebron. (WAFA)

Israeli forces shot and wounded a 13-year-old Palestinian boy. Witnesses said that the boy had been left bleeding as Israeli soldiers prevented an ambulance from evacuating him. Also, Israeli forces stormed Beit Rima, west of Ramallah, and arrested three Palestinians. (WAFA)

Israeli soldiers manning the “Arraba” checkpoint near Jenin attacked a Palestinian ambulance driver heading to assist an emergency case. The soldiers pulled the driver out of the ambulance and beat him severely, and smashed the windshield. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli forces arrested three Palestinians in a village south of Bethlehem, according to Palestinian sources. (Ma’an News Agency)

A 17-year-old Palestinian stabbed and wounded two Israeli police officers at a checkpoint outside the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron. A third police officer shot the attacker in the leg and he was taken to a hospital, the army said. (AP, Ha’aretz)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for launching a home-made projectile at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. (Ma’an News Agency)

Egyptian authorities uncovered two new tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip and arrested a Palestinian man trying to cross through one, a security official said. (AP)

Security officials said Israel was reviewing the names of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whom militants in the Gaza Strip wanted released in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. (AP)

9

The Israeli army arrested a “wanted” Fatah member north-west of Ramallah, according to Israeli sources. (Ma’an News Agency)

A Palestinian teenager from Ramallah was arrested after she was caught with two knives at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Jerusalem. The girl admitted that she had been planning to stab Israeli security personnel at the checkpoint. (Ha’aretz)

Three Palestinians were killed and seven wounded in armed clashes between two families in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Four civilians were wounded as PA police exchanged fire with members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who had attacked a police station in Nablus. (AFP)

A statement by Israel’s Shin Bet said agents and troops had arrested 19 members of Hamas in Qalqilya in connection with a plot in which a potential suicide bomber drove a car with 100 kg of explosives into the Tel Aviv area during the Passover holiday but failed to detonate the charge. (AP)

PA Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said that talks for a prisoner exchange to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit had taken a “big step” forward in recent days and that the sides had reached an understanding over the numbers and the types of Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel. (Ha’aretz)

10

PA police officials denied Shin Bet claims that a Hamas member had managed to infiltrate Tel Aviv from Qalqilya last month in a car laden with about 100 kg of explosives. Palestinian police officials said the car had been laden with less than a kilogram of explosives when it detonated in Qalqilya. The officials also said the driver was not a Hamas member. (Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City: "We are serious in our will to proceed with a [prisoner] exchange and we hope that negotiations will lead to the freeing of our detainees from the prisons of the Israeli occupier … The ball is in Israel's court.” (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert convened a security discussion regarding the list of prisoners that had been delivered to Israel to aid in the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Disappointment and reservations were expressed over the list of prisoners whose release Hamas was seeking. Mr. Olmert imposed a blackout on further details of the discussion. At this point, it appeared that the sides were close to an agreement on the stages of the deal and the number of Palestinian prisoners – probably 1,400. However, the actual composition of the list was expected to be a key obstacle that could take several more weeks [to overcome], according to Ha’aretz. Israel would continue its contacts with Egypt on the issue. (Ha’aretz, Reuters, www.pmo.gov.il)

President Abbas said he would meet with Prime Minister Olmert next week. He did not give a date or agenda. (AP)

PA Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad said President Abbas would begin a European tour on 11 April, aimed at gathering support for the Palestinian Unity Government. (Ma'an News Agency)

PA Minister of Health Radwan al-Akhras called on the World Health Organization and international human rights organizations to immediately intervene to allow a Palestinian medical team to visit ailing Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Abdel-Aziz Dweik in an Israeli prison. (WAFA)

"Minimally, I estimate expenditures of the Palestinian Authority at US$ 160 million a month at present. What we have is no more than $40 million a month," PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad told Reuters. "Clearly this is not something that can be sustained." (Reuters)

The US Congress had authorized US$ 60 million in funds to bolster PA President Abbas’ Presidential Guard and for other security expenses, a senior State Department official said. “We are good to go … we have addressed Congress’ concerns,” according to the official. “This has also been done with Israeli agreement and understanding,” the same official said. The sum reportedly included $14.5 million for “basic and advanced training,” $32 million for non-lethal equipment, $2.9 for upgrade facilities and $3 million to provide “capacity building and technical assistance” for the office of Mr. Abbas’ security adviser. Hamas criticized this US security aid. (BBC, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa said 12 Arab foreign ministers would gather in Cairo on 18 April to discuss the Saudi-drafted plan for peace with Israel. The 12-member Arab commission consisted of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Yemen. (AFP)

King Abdullah II of Jordan told AFP: "If Israel wants to co-exist with more than a billion Muslims, it should end its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands." The Israeli people "should acknowledge that this is a unique opportunity in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that it is time they work to convince their leaders of the need to resume peace negotiations in accordance with [the Arab Peace] Initiative that guarantees security and stability for all." (AFP)

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will visit Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel from 10 to 19 April. She will have a dialogue with Governments, civil society and children affected by conflict, in an effort to address grave violations against children. (ReliefWeb)

11

In the Gaza Strip, masked gunmen shot dead a Palestinian police officer. Tahsin Al-Jaldan, 32, of the Preventive Security Forces and a member of Fatah, died of his wounds several hours after he had been shot in the town of Khan Yunis. Another security member was shot and seriously injured in a separate overnight incident in the northern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

In the West Bank, IDF soldiers surrounded a home in Nablus in which they said Fatah militants were hiding. (Ha’aretz)

PA spokesperson and Hamas member Ghazi Hamad said the prisoner swap for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was “doomed to fail” if Israel demanded that militants with “blood in their hands” be dropped from the Palestinians’ list. “The Palestinians will not revise the list based on Israeli criteria,” he said. (Ha’aretz)

The Israeli army lifted its 10-day closure of the West Bank, renewing the restricted movement of tens of thousands of Palestinian labourers and merchants into Israel. The closure had been implemented to correspond with Israel’s Passover holiday. Some 50,000 Palestinian workers and merchants who regularly crossed into Israel everyday to work had not been permitted to do so since 2 April. (AP)

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz had ordered the eviction of a group of settlers from a building they occupied on 19 March in Hebron. The settlers had been given 30 days to voluntarily leave the building, following which they would be evacuated by force. The settlers had claimed that they had purchased the building from its Palestinian owners. Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit said that the settlers must be evicted if they had not been authorized by the authorities to enter the building. (BBC, Ha’aretz)

In Brussels, PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad told the EU that the new National Unity Government needed more than US$ 1.3 billion in international aid this year to avert the “devastating” humanitarian crisis. “We are looking for external support to bridge a gap of nearly €1 billion ($1.34 billion) for 2007,” he told a joint news conference with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The EU vowed to help streamline Palestinian finances but said it had no immediate plans to resume direct aid to the Palestinian Government. “We are looking for accountability and transparency from the Palestinian Ministry of Finance,” said Ms. Ferrero-Waldner, pledging that the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) would remain for as long as necessary. (DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

PA President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert were to hold talks every two weeks, as promised to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Palestinians invited Mr. Olmert to meet in Jericho in the West Bank this coming Sunday, 15 April. Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erarat said the meeting would focus on expanding the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, lifting the siege on the new Palestinian Government and releasing Palestinian tax revenues. “There are also many points involving the Israeli unilateral orders with the possibility to explore more political horizons to carry out Bush’s two-State vision,” Mr. Erakat said. (AP, Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

US President George W. Bush announced in a White House-released memorandum for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he was waiving restrictions on the PLO maintaining offices in Washington for another six months and spending money in the United States. The United States had routinely done so every six months for the PLO office to operate since 1994. A White House official said that the goal of advancing Middle East peace required that "the United States should maintain its ties and contacts with all sides committed to peace." PLO offices in Washington are "a useful channel of communication" to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP, The White House)

12

The IDF arrested Mohammed Ziadat, 24, and Ali Dandis, 20, in Hebron, upon their returning to their home from Jordan, local sources reported. Earlier, IDF forces stormed the offices of PLC members in Hebron, seizing official documents and computers, PLC sources said. (WAFA)

The "Martyr Yasser Arafat Brigades", part of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, had claimed responsibility in a statement sent to Ma’an News Agency for launching four homemade projectiles at the area of Sderot and the western Negev in southern Israel. The Brigades said that they would continue their attacks in response to Israel's assassination of Palestinian leaders. They would also continue their operation "Fidak Ya Aqsa" ["For your sake, Aqsa"] in response to Israel’s excavations near the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Jihad Jibril Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, announced their responsibility for launching four home-made projectiles at the Israeli military post of Kisufim, north-east of the Al-Qarara village, in the south of the Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails joined in an open-ended hunger strike. (The Jerusalem Times)

The head of PA President Abbas’ office, Rafiq al-Husseini, said it was necessary that Israel release all 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. In an address on behalf of President Abbas on the occasion of Prisoners’ Day, Mr. al-Husseini said that the cause of prisoners was a "human cause". He called upon the international community to put as much effort into releasing the Palestinian prisoners as they had been exerting towards the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He pointed out that the Palestinian prisoners were "prisoners of war", many of whom had not been brought to court despite their long years in prison. (WAFA)

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said that he had been given an assurance by PA President Abbas that Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter abducted in Gaza City four weeks ago, was "safe and well" and that everything was being done to get him freed. (Ha’ aretz)

In Oslo, at a joint news conference with PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Norway was ready to resume direct aid to the PA Government as soon as conditions permitted. "Norway is ready to resume budget support through the Palestinian Ministry of Finance when the time is right," Mr. Støre said, adding that he was impressed by the progress the new coalition had made since taking office. (AP)

13

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the PFLP, issued a joint statement claiming responsibility for shooting at an Israeli soldier stationed at an IDF post east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli settlers planned to purchase additional Palestinian homes in Hebron with money from right-wing Jewish Americans to expand their property holdings in the city, Israeli defence officials told The Jerusalem Post. After the sales are completed, the same money would also finance the movement abroad of the Palestinian seller and his family – usually to Jordan. The officials said that while they were aware of the plans, they could not stop them. “There is nothing that can be done to prevent two people from signing a contract in private,” said a defence official involved in plans to evacuate the four-story, 3,500 sq.m. stone building that settlers had moved into on 19 March. MK Ami Ayalon (Labour), former Shin Bet head, called for the immediate evacuation of the contested home in Hebron since “its occupation is bound to hinder negotiations to secure the release of Cpl. Shalit.” (The Jerusalem Post)

The following statement was issued by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

(UN press release SG/SM/10941)

Three international news networks – BBC, Al-Jazeera and Sky News, with a contribution from CNN – held a joint 25-minute broadcast calling for the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston. The broadcast was part of a day of public events meant to put pressure on the kidnappers, including an appeal from Mr. Johnston’s father to “let my son go. Now. Today!” (AP)

“The real negotiations over the release of [Cpl.] Shalit began when Israel received the list of Palestinian prisoners who are to be freed in a prisoner exchange,” PA National Security Adviser Mohammed Dahlan said. “President Abbas is making an effort to achieve a prisoner exchange although both Hamas and Israel are not interested in having him play any role. I hope the Palestinian prisoners will be released soon.” (The Jerusalem Post)

13

Israeli forces injured a young Palestinian in Nablus and arrested 15 others: 13 in Ramallah, one in Jericho and another in Hebron, according to Israeli sources. The website of Yediot Ahronot reported that the injured man was armed. (Ma’an News Agency)

A total of 17 people were injured during two demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. Israeli Public Radio said that Israeli police had used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators near Bil’in, west of Ramallah, where 12 people were slightly hurt. Four journalists, including one from Al-Jazeera and one from Reuters, were briefly detained for entering a closed military zone and interfering with the soldiers trying to disperse the “illegal” protest, the IDF said. Five protesters were injured in the village of Umm Salmuna near Bethlehem during a demonstration against a new section of the barrier. In both events the protesters caused damage to the barrier. (AFP, DPA)

The IDF announced in a statement that it had suspended one of its commanders “from all operational activity” after an amateur video, taken by a foreign activist in Nablus, showed his soldiers apparently forcing two Palestinian civilians to stand in front of an armoured military jeep to shield them from stones. In March 2007, Israeli soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian girl as a human shield during an operation against militants in Nablus, an Israeli human rights group said. The IDF statement said an investigation had been launched into the incident. (Reuters)

Ha’aretz, citing Israeli security sources, reported that Hamas was arming Islamic Jihad militants with Qassam rockets to support attacks against Israel. Hamas had adopted a strategy of duality, which included a general ceasefire with Israel, reached late in 2006, and continuing violent activities against it, said the report, adding that Hamas had agreed with the Islamic Jihad that it would not only turn a blind eye to the rocket attacks against Israel, but would also provide the militants with the hardware. (Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas would discuss the “political horizon” at their upcoming meeting on 15 April, their first in a series of biweekly meetings. “Specifically, they will probe the possibility of turning President Bush’s vision of a two-State solution into a realistic political track,” Mr. Erakat said. David Baker, an official in Mr. Olmert’s office, confirmed that the two would discuss “the composition of a future Palestinian State,” but said talks would focus mainly on security and humanitarian issues. Mr. Olmert also planned to raise the issue of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. (AP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Rafiq al-Husseini, Chief of Staff to PA President Abbas, signed an agreement at the President’s Office in Ramallah with representatives of Britain, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Sweden, under which they, along with the European Commission, would provide US$ 5.2 million for administrative reforms within the PA Presidency. (AFP)

“Europe’s Foreign Ministers [due to hold talks on 23 and 24 April in Luxembourg] should not miss the opportunity of their forthcoming meeting ... to restore the faith of Palestinians in the European Union,” Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said. “With Palestinian institutions collapsing and insecurity growing, the resumption of international aid to the Palestinian Authority is a necessary step to preventing further suffering and securing a just and lasting settlement on the basis of international law.” A survey commissioned by Oxfam from the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion found that more than four out of five of 677 families interviewed had seen a drop in their income following the boycott. Half of all the families reported losing more than half their income, a statement from Oxfam said, adding, “Half of the essential service managers reported that they have cut their vital services by 50 per cent or more because of insufficient funding.” (AFP, www.oxfam.org.uk)

14

Two Palestinian women, aged 29 and 40, were seriously wounded in a predawn Israeli raid in Qalqilya when the IDF started to demolish a house in the town belonging to Shukri Nazzal, whom the IDF accused of being a member of a Hamas group that had planned to set off a massive car bomb in Tel Aviv over the Passover. (Xinhua)

In a joint statement faxed to the press, the Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades announced that they had detonated bombs beside two bulldozers taking part in an Israeli raid on Jenin refugee camp overnight. The IDF withdrew from Jenin in the morning “after hours of fierce clashes,” according to the statement. (Xinhua)

The PA Cabinet approved a security plan calling for a joint operations room overseeing security forces and appealing to gunmen not to flaunt their weapons in public. The plan also provides for setting up a national security council. (AFP, AP)

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, speaking after meeting the UN Secretary-General, said, “I think the recent developments ... have brought indeed a new momentum to this peace process.” She pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative, a new Palestinian Unity Government, and regular meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Ms. Ferrero-Waldner discussed these developments and the next meeting of the Quartet. (AP)

An Arab League committee of 13 foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on 18 April to start setting up several working groups to promote the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters that one of the working groups might contact the Israelis, but he did not expect any negotiations. “These groups are not mandated to negotiate and I do not imagine that they will negotiate on behalf of anyone, whether the Palestinians, Syria or Lebanon,” he said. The mission of the working groups would be to “lay out the political idea behind the Arab effort and explain what is meant by land for peace”, the Minister added. The Arab Peace Initiative Committee includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, the Sudan and Yemen. (Reuters, Xinhua)

15

Two Palestinians were killed in clashes between rival families in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, witnesses and medical sources said. (AFP)

Bombs damaged a Christian bookstore and an Internet cafe in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian police said. There was no claim of responsibility. Local residents said an explosion, shortly before dawn, at the Protestant Holy Bible Society in Gaza City, blew out windows and ignited a fire that burned shelves of books. Less than two hours later, another explosion hit an empty Internet cafe in downtown Gaza City, causing some damage. There were no reports of injuries and no immediate claim of responsibility. Some 30 cyber cafes and music stores in the Gaza Strip had been bombed over the past seven months. However, police sources quoted by DPA believed most of the incidents were motivated by clan rivalries and encouraged by the lack of security. (DPA, Reuters)

Kataeb al-Jihad al-Tawheed, of the Brigades of Holy War and Unity, claimed in a statement to have killed BBC reporter Alan Johnston, to support demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. However, the BBC and the PA Government both said there was no evidence to back up the claim. The group is unknown in Gaza, but the name had been used elsewhere in the Middle East by organizations linked to Al-Qaeda. (AFP, AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas met in Jerusalem for two hours in the first of biweekly talks, addressing travel and trade restrictions, as well as general outlines of Palestinian statehood. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat, speaking at a news conference in Ramallah after the meeting, said that the two leaders discussed security-related issues. “We’re not going to be talking about the core issues of the final status at this stage, certainly not with the issue of terrorism not being addressed adequately yet,” clarified Israeli Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin. The next meeting will be held in Jericho. (AP, Xinhua)

“We are ready to hold talks with any combination of Arab States on their ideas and I would be glad to hear their ideas on the Saudi initiative,” Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said at this week’s Cabinet meeting. “I’ll be glad to hear their ideas and for them to listen to ours. I hope there will be a chance for such meetings.” (AFP)

PA President Abbas issued a decree announcing the formation of a new National Security Council as part of a plan to restore order and unify the diverse security forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Council will be headed by Mr. Abbas, with Prime Minister Haniyeh as deputy, and will include the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice Ministers. It would “elaborate political strategies and security plans,” a senior Palestinian official said. (AFP, AP)

Ahmed Qureia, former PA Prime Minister and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that a process to reform and reactivate the PLO had started. “Talks have begun about rehabilitating the organization and embodying all groups under its umbrella,” he told Al-Ayyam. Mr. Qureia said he would travel to Syria to meet leaders of Palestinian factions there to prepare for a wider meeting expected to be held in Cairo. (Xinhua)

“The chance for peace is possible now that Arabs are extending a hand for it,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said in a televised debate reported by QNA. “The Israelis should realize that antagonizing the Arabs and delaying the delivery of their rights is not in their interest, and that it could bring a catastrophe on to Israel,” he said. “It is possible that they might face in the future an Arab generation that rejects peace with them.” Sheikh Hamad also commented on Israel’s commercial interests office manned by two diplomats in Doha, saying that trade between Qatar and Israel did not exceed US$ 200,000 a year. (AFP, Ma’an News Agency, QNA)

16

Israeli forces arrested five Palestinians in Tulkarm, two in Tubas and six in Hebron. (WAFA)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for launching two home-made projectiles at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. (Ma’an News Agency)

A medical aid team affiliated to the PA Ministry of Health discovered an injured Palestinian who had been shot by the Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip after the area came under intensive fire from the IDF. The team found Ziad Ajjour, 40, who suffered from both physical and mental disability, injured in the right knee and bleeding heavily. (Ma’an News Agency)

PA Prime Minister Haniyeh said there was no proof that BBC reporter Alan Johnston had been killed. BBC also said it could not confirm the claim, with Director-General Mark Thompson telling a gathering of employees, “For more than a day now we have been seeking independent verification and demanding urgent clarification from the Foreign Office and the Palestinian authorities. But right now, the report is simply rumour.” Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “urgently” investigating the reports. Mr. Johnston’s family had pleaded for his captors to “end this ordeal”. (AFP, AP)

PA Prime Minister Haniyeh called for all Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli jails as Palestinians demonstrated on the eve of the annual Prisoners' Day. “All the prisoners should be released, not only those who are included in the exchange” for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Mr. Haniyeh said. (AFP, AP)

In an interview with the CBC, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said he was open to a “reasonable exchange” of Palestinian prisoners in return for captured soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but said that the Palestinians’ demands were too high. He declined to say how many Palestinians Israel would be willing to exchange for Cpl. Shalit, but said, “It definitely will not be 1,400,” the reported size of the list Israel had recently received from the soldier’s captors. Mr. Olmert also said that Israel was ready to meet with Saudi Arabian officials over its peace plan. (AP)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades urged its members to kidnap Israelis to swap them for Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Blaming “the Israeli enemy” for the failure to release prisoners, a statement faxed to the media issued “an open call for all our fighters to concentrate on kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians.” (AFP)

The World Bank released a study on the investment climate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which concluded that Palestinian industry was “bound to fail” unless Israel lifted tight restrictions on trade and the movement of people and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. At the same time, Palestinian producers must move to higher value goods and look beyond Israel to new markets in Europe and the Arab world. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, “Israel is fully aware of the economic conditions prevailing in the West Bank and Gaza, and together with the international community is doing everything possible to alleviate hardship.” (AP, www.worldbank.org)

In response to a United Nations appeal, Norway announced its decision to provide NOK 75 million (some $12.6m) for the humanitarian effort in the Occupied Palestinian Territory carried out by UNRWA, OCHA, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNIFEM, WHO, FAO and WFP. Norway expected to provide at least NOK 650 million ($108.9m) in aid to the Palestinians, a press release from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, with around NOK 290 million ($48.6m) channelled through the UN system and NGOs. (Ma’an News Agency, www.regjeringen.no)

PA Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouti said envoys from Switzerland and China had met last week with PA officials in the West Bank and informed them that they would deal with the new Palestinian Unity Government. “We appreciate the position of China and Switzerland, the States that informed us that they are going to deal with our Government, without any discrimination between its members,” he said. The announcement came as the Chinese Middle East envoy Sun Bigan was in the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Jing Lu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv, said he was unaware of any change in Chinese policy and noted that Mr. Sun was not scheduled to meet with Hamas representatives. In Switzerland, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat noted that Switzerland had never imposed a boycott on the PA Government. (AP)

PA President Abbas embarked on a tour of nine EU countries to raise financial support for the new PA Government. “Mr. Abbas would begin his tour by visiting France to urge the international community to lift the political and financial blockade on the Palestinian people, including bank restrictions,” Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah said. Mr. Abbas would also visit Italy, Greece, Sweden and Poland. He left the West Bank on 15 April and stopped in Jordan where he held talks with King Abdullah II. (Xinhua)

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen would not allow PA Prime Minister Haniyeh to enter the Netherlands to attend a conference on Palestine refugees, De Volkskrant reported. Mr. Haniyeh had been invited as guest of honour to the fifth Palestinian-European conference in Rotterdam on 5 May. (Xinhua)

The City Council of Olympia (Washington, USA) was to hold a public hearing the following day to consider a sister-city relationship with the Palestinian city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The idea originated with Rachel Corrie, an Olympia activist who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer. The Olympia-Rafah sister-city project has pursued the sister-city affiliation for four years. (AP)

17

Israeli troops shot and killed a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ahmed Hanaishe, near Jenin. Palestinian witnesses said he had been travelling between Jenin and Qabatiya when his car was blocked by another vehicle carrying undercover troops who shot him. One other occupant of the car was injured and arrested by the force, along with another passenger, according to a security official. The Israeli army said that the undercover troops had been trying to arrest Mr. Hanaishe and shot him when he pulled a gun. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Israeli forces arrested 25 Palestinians in the West Bank. (Ma’an News Agency)

Four Israelis were shot and wounded while driving near the “Naaleh” settlement in the West Bank. One of the Israelis was seriously injured and three slightly, the army said. The four were shot from a passing car, apparently by Palestinian militants, and security forces were searching for the car, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. (AP)

The armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for launching a home-made projectile at the Israeli town of Sderot. (Ma’an News Agency)

US diplomats said that Israeli and Palestinian leaders were drawing up confidence-building steps under US auspices to help guide talks they had agreed to hold every two weeks, adding that the effort was meant to ensure incremental progress on day-to-day issues. The benchmarks, which had been sent to Washington for review, included the removal of Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, the expansion of operations at Gaza border crossings and the training of PA security forces. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held an unannounced meeting at the State Department with PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. State Department Spokesman Kurtis Cooper said “He was there in his private capacity”. Mr. Fayyad said they talked about ways to ease the Palestinians’ economic problems including changes in its banking system. “The aim is to regulate and simplify distribution of contributions from around the world. Things are evolving in a positive way”, he said. (AFP, Ha’aretz, Reuters, Washington Post)

Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets in the Occupied Territory to mark the annual Prisoners’ Day, waving flags of various political factions, and demanding the release of more than 11,000 Palestinians currently held in Israel, either in prison or by the military. According to the figures provided by the Israeli army and the Israeli Prisons Authority, there were 801 prisoners, 386 of them minors, held in administrative detention by the military, meaning no charges had been brought against them. “There will be neither peace nor security without the freeing of Palestinian prisoners”, said PA Prisoners’ Affairs Minister Suleiman Abu Sneinah. (AFP)

Izat Amer, a 22-year-old Palestinian woman, was released from an Israeli prison, after 18 months of detention. On her release she called for greater assistance for alleviating the suffering, pain, lack of food and medication, and harsh treatment of Palestinian female prisoners in Israeli jails. Ms. Amer noted in particular the suffering of two imprisoned Palestinian mothers, Samar Subeih and Khawla Zitawi, whose children were incarcerated with them. She said that the children did not receive the necessary medical care and were deprived of the basic needs of childhood. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Palestinian Ambassador to the Arab League, Muhammad Sbeih, confirmed that the League would continue to deliver money to the Palestinian Presidency. “The Arab League delivered two days ago $52 million to the Palestinian Presidency’s account as part of the continuous process until the embargo on the Palestinian treasury is over”. (Ma’an News Agency)

18

Unknown men planted a bomb in a car belonging to Muna Al-Ahalayini, owner of a chain of restaurants in Gaza City. The car exploded shortly after she arrived at one of her restaurants. No casualties were reported. Also, armed clashes took place between rival Palestinian families in Gaza, wounding two Palestinians, including a woman. In addition, a bomb exploded in a mobile telephone shop in Khan Yunis, causing material damage but no injuries. (Ma’an News Agency)

The US Government would be giving Israel and the Palestinians a list of benchmarks in the coming weeks on compliance with their obligations. For the Palestinians, it includes areas of security and terror prevention, while Israel had been asked to do its part in keeping the Gaza Strip crossings in operation and easing restrictions on movement in the West Bank. US Secretary of State Rice would be visiting the region during the second half of May for another round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas. (Ha’aretz)

Arab Foreign Ministers from a dozen countries met in Cairo to discuss how to reactivate the Arab Peace Initiative. One of the proposals submitted at the meeting was the formation of a contact group to raise awareness about the Arab Peace Initiative among Israel’s political parties, Government, unions and intellectuals. The group would be composed of Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said that the foreign ministers had asked Egypt and Jordan to contact the Israeli Government to try to persuade it to accept an Arab peace initiative. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert told the Knesset that an Arab League delegation could soon visit Israel to discuss the initiative and that the US is considering organizing a regional summit, which could include delegates from Saudi Arabia. The Arab League intends to approach the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as the Quartet in an attempt to further the initiative and restart the peace process with Israel. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Israeli Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said that Israel would be "happy to hear the ideas of the Arab [Peace] Initiative from [Arab League] representatives." "Israel is now seeing the first signs of understanding from countries which never had relations with us, which now understand that Israel is a power whose existence cannot be ignored," Prime Minister Olmert was quoted as saying. US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said: “You want to get to the point where you start expanding out that group of countries that can have some form of diplomatic interaction with Israel. So we would view this as a first step in that regard.” Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa said Arab States other than Egypt and Jordan would only join the talks if Israel first halted settlement expansion in the West Bank and eased restrictions on the Palestinian areas. (AP, www.state.gov, Ynetnews)

PA President Abbas had reached an agreement in principle with senior Islamic Jihad officials, whereby the organization would stop firing Qassam rockets at Israel for three weeks. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert confirmed IDF and PA reports of a significant decrease in the number of Qassam rockets fired in the past few days. However, other attacks such as sniper fire along the Gaza Strip security fence continued on a small scale. (Ha’aretz)

The Al-Quds Brigades denied reports in the Israeli media about an agreement reached between the Islamic Jihad movement and PA President Abbas to stop projectile launching. In a press release, the spokesman for the Brigades, Abu Ahmad, said, “What was published in the Israeli media is incorrect … The Al-Quds Brigades will continue launching projectiles against Israeli towns and cities in light of the Israeli escalation against Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” (Ma’an New Agency)

Israeli soldiers, as a result of new military orders, were preventing Palestinians in Jerusalem from bringing in food from West Bank cities. Merchants in Bethlehem had confirmed a drop in sales. Mayor of Bethlehem Victor Batarsa condemned the new Israeli measures which were intended “to pressure the Palestinian citizens by imposing an economic siege which prevents goods from being transported to Jerusalem.” The Mayor described the Israeli measure as another new siege. Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Fayez Al-Saqqa said, “This is part of the Israeli plans against the area of the Bethlehem Governorate, which is located in a strategic location near Jerusalem … It wishes to create more explosions in the Palestinian arena”. (Ma’an News Agency)

Forty Nobel laureates and other prominent figures will meet on 15 and 16 May for “Petra III: Building a Better World” to seek ways of addressing the challenges faced by young people in the Middle East. The conference is a collaboration between the King Abdullah II Fund for Development and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. “This year we will explore practical steps to building a better world through partnerships involving Israelis and Palestinians and via cooperation between stakeholders across the Middle East”, said Elie Wiesel, who won the Peace Nobel Prize in 1986. (AFP)

19

Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded by Palestinian fire near Ramallah. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility. (AFP)

IDF forces arrested 24 “wanted” Palestinians in the West Bank. (Ynetnews)

Palestinians opened fire and threw a grenade at IDF forces operating north-west of Jenin and fired at an IDF force operating near Nablus. No soldiers were hurt in either incident. (Ynetnews)

Backed by military vehicles, Israeli bulldozers demolished seven houses in Hebron, local sources said. (WAFA)

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem met with Russia’s Special Envoy Alexander Sultanov for talks on bilateral and regional issues. He called for the unjust financial blockade imposed on the PA to be lifted and voiced support for Palestinian unity. (SANA)

"The US support for a particular party in the Palestinian arena at the expense of other parties is an obvious attempt to sow divisiveness in the Palestinian street and to fuel tension in the Palestinian arena for the benefit of Israel", said Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Radwan. (BBC)

Israel's Acting President and Knesset Speaker Dalia Yitzik arrived in Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Palace official said. (AFP)

Former US President Jimmy Carter, speaking at the University of Iowa, said that as long as American politicians were seen as "knee-jerk supporters" of Israel, the country's role as the principal peace broker was in danger. "The main reason I came to Iowa is to make sure you knew you could shape an outcome in the 2008 presidential election. At least you can screen out candidates," he said. "Make them pledge to you ... that they will take a balanced position between Israel and Palestinians." (AP)

Kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston is believed to be alive and held in the Gaza Strip by a Palestinian clan demanding a $5 million ransom, according to senior PA security officials. (Ynetnews)

Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti called for the release of kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston. (AFP)

The IDF said it would allow West Bank settlers evacuated during the 2005 disengagement to march to their former homes in “Homesh”. (Ha’aretz)

The Spokesperson for the Secretary-General issued the following statement on the League of Arab States initiative on the Middle East peace process:

(UN press release SG/SM/10954)

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said Israel's detention of Palestinian children and their denial of proper trials were a problem that fed the violence in the region. She visited the Hasharon prison in central Israel, where more than 150 minors were held for security and criminal offences. She urged Israeli officials to consider rehabilitation instead of detention for children detained on minor charges. Some 398 children, 12 years or older, were held in Israeli jails, she said. This week the Israeli Prisons Authority said 371 Palestinian children under 18 were in prisons. (Gulf Times, The Herald Tribune)

20

At a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm, PA President Abbas said that abducted BBC reporter Alan Johnston was still alive. (WAFA)

Sweden had signed an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to give around $24 million in indirect aid to the Palestinians. According to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the majority of the money would be channeled through the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank. The agreement between SIDA and the PLO was signed during the current visit of PA President Abbas to Stockholm. (SR International – Radio Sweden)

The European Union contributed €66 million to UNRWA’s General Fund for 2007. John Kjaer, head of the European Commission Technical Assistance Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip (ECTAO) and Filippo Grandi, the Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, signed the contribution agreement at a ceremony in Qalandia camp. The contribution exceeds last year’s by €1.5 million. This was the first instalment under an agreement made between the EU and UNRWA in which the EU pledged €264 million to support UNRWA's General Fund for the period 2007-2010. (www.un.org/unrwa)

PA President Abbas would begin a three-day visit to Greece the following day as part of his trip to seven European countries. Mr. Abbas was scheduled to hold talks with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, President Carolos Papoulias and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni. (DPA)

Upon Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s invitation a few days previously, King Abdullah II of Jordan would go on a two-day visit to Israel next month, the Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported. Ma’ariv gave no source, stating only that Mr. Olmert had briefed two of his senior ministers on the visit. (DPA)

21

Six Palestinians, including a 17-year-old girl, were killed by IDF and Border Police troops in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian sources. (Ha’aretz)

An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a Palestinian car in the northern Gaza Strip, wounding two occupants in the car. The airstrike came shortly after Palestinians fired three rockets into southern Israel. One of the rockets hit a house in Sderot, police said. There were no injuries. Three Palestinian groups, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack. They said they were avenging the death of the Palestinians killed earlier in the day. (AP)

22

IDF troops killed three Palestinians in the West Bank. Two of them, aged 20 and 21, were killed during an exchange of fire in Nablus. The third, a 17-year-old, was killed west of Ramallah after throwing a firebomb at an IDF vehicle. (AP, Ha’aretz)

An Israeli civilian was moderately hurt when a Palestinian opened fire on a car in East Jerusalem. “A Palestinian standing at the Hisma junction fired towards a car, wounding the driver, who was rushed to a hospital with moderate wounds,” according to police. Police searched the area with the help of a helicopter for the assailant, who fled towards the Shuafat refugee camp north of the site of the shooting. (AFP)

The Al Quds Al-Arabi, a London newspaper, reported that Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, former PA Foreign Minister and prominent Hamas leader, had said his movement was not hampering the security plan adopted by the new PA Government to put an end to the security confusion and bring the internal situation back under control. He had said that the ones who were hampering were those opposed to forming national armed forces for all the Palestinians and would rather keep several units working for this or that person. (BBC)

Hamas members called for a fresh wave of attacks against Israel after IDF troops killed nine Palestinians in weekend fighting. Fatah urged PA President Abbas to consider breaking off contacts with the Israeli Government, despite his pledge to the US to hold regular meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. Fatah spokesperson Abu Hakim Alwad said, “Israel is sabotaging the efforts made by the President to maintain calm and to strengthen the ceasefire.” (AP)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib and Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa discussed steps to activate the two ministerial teams formed to help revive the Middle East peace process. Mr. Khatib stressed the importance of joint work, underlining the role of the Arab League in this regard. (Petra News Agency, www.mfa.gov.jo, Xinhua)

Prime Minister Olmert refused an offer by Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to serve as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. He said he preferred direct contacts with PA President Abbas. (AP)

23

PA Interior Minister Hani al-Kawasmi submitted his resignation during a cabinet meeting, citing a lack of progress in carrying out his new plan to bring law and order to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. However, PA Prime Minister Haniyeh refused to let him step down. PA spokesperson Ghazi Hamad said Mr. Kawasmi had agreed for now to remain in the post so that Mr. Haniyeh could discuss the matter more fully with PA President Abbas. PA Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouti said Mr. Kawasmi had experienced a lack of cooperation from security chiefs. (AP, BBC)

Prime Minister Olmert told families of terror victims that their feelings would be taken into account in seeking release of captured soldiers. He pledged not to repeat “mistakes made in the past,” when terrorists freed in exchange deals again engaged in deadly attacks on Israelis. (Ha’aretz)

Speaking in Athens after talks with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, PA President Abbas said, “Everyone recognizes that peace in the Middle East and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can put out the fires at all the flash points in the world.” He appealed to the international community to lift the aid embargo imposed on the PA, saying the sanctions hurt prospects for peace in the Middle East. Mr. Abbas also met Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. (AP)

The EU foreign ministers discussed the Middle East in their meeting in Luxembourg and expressed the hope that negotiations would lead to "an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and the creation of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State, living side-by-side with Israel and its other neighbours in peace and security." As a result of the discussions a statement entitled “Council conclusions on Middle East Peace Process” was issued. (DPA)

The EU maintained a ban on direct aid to the new Palestinian Government but vowed to work closely with the PA cabinet’s non-Hamas members to ease the economic crisis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU was ready to help the PA with technical assistance in areas such as internal audit and control, tax administration and customs. EU Foreign Ministers also agreed to tell groups and individuals on its terror register why they were listed. Those listed would then have 30 days “to present their arguments” against the decision. More than 50 organizations and individuals were on the list, including Hamas. (AFP, DPA)

At least 30 deputies of the lower house of the Jordanian Parliament have submitted a memorandum urging an “immediate halt to all negotiations and meetings” with Israel. The signatories cited Israel’s “failure to abide by any truce with the Palestinians as well as its failure to implement any UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian question. (DPA)

The Israeli authorities handed warrants to a number of Palestinians in Deir Al-Ghusoun, north of Tulkarm, telling them that the authorities intended to confiscate agricultural fields to the west of the town. The land would be used for changes in the direction of the separation wall. (Ma’an News Agency)

A multi-faith service was held to call for the safe return of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston. People from different religious communities gathered for a vigil at St. Martin in the Fields, one of London’s best known churches. (BBC)

24

The Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades (armed wing of Hamas) announced that they had fired 20 rockets and 75 mortar shells into southern Israel. Israeli sources, meanwhile, said some rockets had landed in open areas in Western Negev, but denied casualties. Hamas sources said the attack was intended to "decrease pressure on the northern Gaza Strip", which the army threatened to invade. The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of provoking Palestinian retaliation after carrying out 128 raids in West Bank cities in the last month which left 23 people dead, including three children. (DPA)

The IDF stormed and seized control of a three-story building in Um al-Safa village, north-west of Ramallah, the al-Sabah family said. A large number of Israeli soldiers seized two flats while the family was held on the first floor. In another incident, the IDF went on a search campaign, arresting six Palestinians in Hebron and Jenin, security sources said. The IDF also stormed Qabatiya town and Jenin refugee camp, established four checkpoints and arrested 24-year-old Mohammed Nazzal, witnesses said. (WAFA)

Two IDF soldiers were slightly wounded in clashes with Israeli settlers as they attempted to prevent protestors from reaching the ruins of the evacuated settlement of “Homesh”. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli army sources said that the IDF would opt for a limited military response to rockets fired at Israel by militants from the Gaza Strip. Earlier, senior army officials revealed that security preparations taken by the Southern Command along the border with the Gaza Strip had prevented Hamas from abducting an IDF soldier. (Ha’aretz)

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the European Union foreign ministers' statement on the Middle East conflict, urging the EU to speed up efforts to open direct contact with the Palestinian Government as a whole. Minister of Information Mustafa Barghouti said that the Palestinian Government "welcomes the positive development in the EU position”. Mr. Barghouti welcomed specifically the EU's "readiness to work with and to resume its direct assistance" to the Palestinian Government. (DPA)

PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the PA Government would be facing a crucial "national decision" if the international community failed to lift the embargo imposed on the Palestinian people. The "national decision", according to Mr. Haniyeh, would be taken unanimously in accordance with the interests of the Palestinian people. It would include a mechanism to respond to the Israeli threats to Palestinian cities and villages, including threats to invade the Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

The spokesperson of the PA Prime Minister's office, Ghazi Hamad, warned that the ceasefire was precarious due to Israel’s continued “atrocities” against the Palestinian people. Mr. Hamad said in a statement that the Palestinian Government supported the continuation of the ceasefire in accordance with Palestinian interests and in order to protect Palestinians from Israeli assaults. He also said that the Palestinian Government affirmed the importance of ending Israeli attacks and frequent threats to invade the Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

In Rome, PA President Abbas met with the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. The visit comes as part of Mr. Abbas’ tour of the EU to mobilize the international support for the Palestinian Government of National Unity and the Arab Peace Initiative. Mr. Abbas emphasized the need to end the international siege imposed against the Palestinian people and to revive the peace process aimed at establishing a Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. (WAFA)

Pope Benedict XVI met in Rome with PA President Abbas. The Vatican said in a statement that both leaders had hailed moves to revive the Middle East peace process and that the Pope and Mr. Abbas had also "discussed the internal Palestinian situation, referring to, among other subjects, the difficulties faced by Catholics and the value of their contribution to society". (AFP)

In a joint press conference, following his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, PA President Abbas called on the Israeli Government to exercise restraint and not to escalate tensions, adding that he would accelerate efforts to solve ceasefire breaches. “We formed the National Unity Government and reactivated the Arab Peace Initiative and formed delegations to contact all States and the Israeli Government. As for us, we began dialogue with the Israeli Prime Minister and we will continue every couple of weeks in order to solve all issues, either temporarily or final status," he said. (WAFA)

At a meeting with UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced a 100 per cent increase in Spain’s contribution to the UNRWA Emergency Appeal in the Occupied Palestinian Territory for 2007, totalling €4 million. (Ma’an News Agency, www.un.org/unrwa)

Member of Knesset Dov Khenin (Hadash) participated in a ceremony marking the "al-Nakba", along with Israeli Arab and Jewish activists in the abandoned village of Mishkeh, near Tira. "The time has come for the State [of Israel] to recognize the Palestinian peoples' tragedy," Mr. Khenin said at the ceremony. "The time has come to heal the wounds that the State itself inflicted upon its citizens - the national Arab minority. True freedom of a people cannot be built upon the destruction of another people." (Ha’aretz)

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The military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for launching three rockets towards the Karim Abu Salim (Kerem Shalom) crossing. (Ma’an News Agency)

The IDF arrested six Palestinians in Hebron, local sources said. (WAFA)

Israeli settlers have been trying to buy two more Palestinian houses in Hebron to expand their zone of control. (Ha’aretz)

The IDF lifted the closure imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territory for Memorial and Independence Days. (Ha’aretz)

Dozens of foreign and Palestinian journalists held simultaneous demonstrations on both sides of the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, calling for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. (AFP)

The Israeli authorities demolished a Palestinian house in East Jerusalem, claiming it had been built without a license. (Ma’an News Agency)

Omar Abu Shari’a, a leader of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, died of wounds sustained when his car was targeted during an Israeli incursion into the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City seven months previously. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert called a meeting of the Security Cabinet to discuss how to respond to the rocket barrage by Hamas militants. Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said there would be no large-scale military raid in the Gaza Strip, at least for now. Two meeting participants said Mr. Olmert had agreed to allow the IDF to carry out "pinpoint" operations to halt the rocket fire. (Ha’aretz)

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum warned Israel against launching military incursions into the Gaza Strip, saying the group would respond using "all the force" at its disposal. He said that Hamas would not allow the Red Cross to visit IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. (Ynetnews)

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert held security consultations in the wake of the previous day’s rocket attacks by Hamas’ military wing. “Orders were given to improve readiness, as were directives for the continued deployment of forces around the Gaza Strip so as to foil additional attempted terrorist attacks,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement. “Israel will not hesitate to take sharp steps against those who try to attack its sovereignty, inter alia by launching missiles at its territory and attempting to attack its soldiers,” the statement added. (Ynetnews, www.pmo.gov.il)

The head of Egypt’s security delegation in the Gaza Strip, Maj.-Gen. Burhan Hamad, called a meeting of all the Palestinian factions, urging them to maintain the calm, "to avert any possible Israeli invasion of Gaza." (AP)

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. (UN News Centre)

Vice President of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini said in a press release: "The Israeli Government continues to violate international law not only with targeted executions, but also with the seizure of land and the construction of the wall. These attacks form part of the Israeli army's threats to seriously jeopardize the Hamas ceasefire and to deal a fatal blow to the peace process started by the Arab League," she said. (WAFA)

In its Emergency Appeal Progress Report July - December 2006 released today, UNRWA said living conditions for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had slumped during the second half of 2006. “The de facto sanctions regime on Palestinian residents of the [Occupied Palestinian Territory], which has been in place since early in the year, continued to have a massive impact, creating widespread turmoil and socioeconomic distress,” UNRWA said. (www.un.org/unrwa)

26

The Al-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility for launching two home-made projectiles at the Israeli kibbutz of Kafr Re’im, east of the central Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency)

Israeli forces entered Nablus and arrested five Palestinians, including two teenagers. Israeli forces also entered the Jalazone refugee camp, north of Ramallah, and arrested two Palestinians. (Ma’an News Agency)

A member of Force 17 was killed and another three Palestinians were wounded in a gunfight in Ramallah. Israel Radio reported that the clashes erupted after the security force had tried to arrest several members of a large gang. (The Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian armed factions renewed their commitment to the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip but said rocket salvoes from the territory could resume if Israel did not halt military operations in the occupied West Bank. The message was delivered to Israel by an Egyptian mediator, Maj.-Gen. Burhan Hammad, who had been trying to prevent major confrontation after Hamas’ armed wing fired rockets and declared the Gaza ceasefire dead on 24 April, according to Palestinian sources familiar with the talks. (Reuters)

“There is a hudna (truce) between us and the Israelis which was impinged on,” PA President Abbas told reporters in Geneva. “We don’t want ... to lay blame on who impinged on the ceasefire, but the important thing is that there is calm and there is nothing there to justify an assault on Gaza.” (AP)

Senior Egyptian intelligence official Burhan Hammad urged Palestinians to take threats of an IDF Gaza incursion seriously, Israel Radio reported. In an interview with the Voice of Palestine radio station, Mr. Hammad, who is based in the Gaza Strip, added that activity in Gaza would not bring about the desired calm. Speaking of his recent meeting with representatives of Palestinian factions, he said that the talks had been positive and expressed hope they would lead to satisfactory results. (The Jerusalem Post)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she would continue working with Norway on seeking Middle East peace despite sharply divergent views on the Palestinians’ new National Unity Government. Last month, Norway had become the first Western country to recognize the new Hamas-led coalition after a year of refusing to deal with the previous Hamas Government. “As for contact policies, those will vary from State to State. As for our view, the United States on a selected basis will have contacts with ministers who have accepted and are themselves committed to the [Quartet] principles,” Ms. Rice said at a news conference with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in Oslo. Mr. Støre said Norway saw the creation of a Hamas-led coalition, including the Fatah party and independents, as grounds to resume contacts and economic support. “We wanted to send a message to the Palestinians that this was such an important step … that it was time to normalize relations,” Mr. Støre said. (AP)

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz’s bureau informed the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that restrictions blocking Palestinians from entering the Jordan Valley would be lifted in May, according to Ha’aretz. ACRI had written to the Defence Minister in December 2006, demanding that limitations on movement in the area be rescinded. (Ha’aretz)

“As long as these [Quartet] criteria are not fulfilled, there will not be a change in the system, the manner, the process of aid support from the European Union,” Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv as he continued on the first leg of a regional tour. “The humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating a lot,” Mr. Michel also said. “I remember when I came one year ago to the region, it was already awful and difficult, but now I think it is deteriorating.” (AFP, Reuters, Xinhua)

The European Parliament, in a resolution passed unanimously, urged the “Palestinian Authority and the wider international community to redouble their efforts so as to ensure the safe release of Alan Johnston.” (AFP, www.europarl.europa.eu)

Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, speaking at a press conference in Geneva after talks with visiting PA President Abbas, said that she hoped the creation of the new PA National Unity Government could help restart the peace process in the Middle East. She reiterated her country’s support for the new PA Government, calling its formation a “significant political step.” (Xinhua)

PA Minister of Social Affairs Salleh Zeidan met with the French Consul-General in Jerusalem, Alain Rémy. (Ma’an News Service)

27

A Palestinian guard was shot dead and three other people injured in a shoot-out at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. One or more members of the Sindy clan reportedly tried to force their way into the crossing, which was packed and chaotic due to its brief opening hours, but were stopped by members of the President’s National Security Service. An angry exchange erupted, followed by stone-throwing and a gunfight. Two of the injured were members of the National Security Service and the third was a civilian, said the security service statement. It identified its dead member as Abdul Rahman Abu Tir, 29 (Abu Teir, 24, according to AFP). An official from the team of European observers at the crossing said that it remained open since the clashes were outside the terminal. (AFP, DPA, Ma’an News Service, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post)

Two Israeli settlers and a member of Rabbis for Human Rights were arrested following clashes in the Hebron Hills. Some eight members of Rabbis for Human Rights had arrived to help Palestinians tend to their sheep when they were confronted and attacked by two settlers with a dog. Some 20 more settlers arrived, hitting the Palestinians and the activists with clubs, said the movement in a statement. The settlers also verbally attacked the organization’s Executive Director, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, threatening to kill him and his family. (The Jerusalem Post)

“The British journalist Alan Johnston is with a group of rebels,” PA President Abbas was quoted as saying by Deutsche Welle in an interview. “We know where he is and we have been working to secure his release.” Mr. Abbas added that his Government had agreed with Britain to proceed with caution so as not to endanger the reporter’s life. (Reuters)

PA President Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal met in Cairo. They were to discuss the ceasefire with Israel, international sanctions against the PA, the PLO restructuring, as well as other issues facing the recently formed National Unity Government. According to Saeb Erakat, also on the agenda would be the issue of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. (AP)

“Contrary to what is sometimes said, the cause of this crisis [in the PA] is not the suspension of direct international budgetary aid” to the current and previous PA Governments, Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told a conference in Jerusalem on humanitarian aspects of the Middle East conflict. “The principal reason is the suspension of transfers to the Palestinian Authority of tax revenues and custom duties pursued by Israel on behalf of the Authority, which represents a very large part of the latter’s budget.” Mr. Michel, who was wrapping up a three-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the EU had called on Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to use the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) set up by the bloc as a means of transferring funds directly to health workers and Palestinian civil servants to meet their basic needs. (DPA)

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Palestinians fired three rockets at Israel. There were no casualties in the attack. (AP)

The IDF killed three Hamas militants planting a bomb on the Gaza-Israeli border, east of Gaza city. Al-Shifa hospital sources said a fourth Palestinian was wounded and was in a serious condition. (AP, WAFA)

An Israeli tank fired at and killed Shadi Any Daher, a Palestinian from Khan Yunis, medical sources said. The incident took place north of Khan Yunis. (WAFA)

The IDF arrested two Palestinians in Hebron. (WAFA)

PA President Abbas met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the latest developments in the Gaza Strip, the MENA Agency reported. (AFP)

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Palestinians fired a rocket at Israel, the IDF said. The rocket, which landed in the western Negev, caused no casualties. (AP)

At the start of the weekly Cabinet session, Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert said Israel would be forced to act if Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip continued to fire rockets at Israel, though he hoped to avert a new conflict. After consulting with top security officials during the week, Mr. Olmert said that he decided against a large offensive in Gaza, giving one last chance to preserve the truce. "We are not interested in an escalation but will by no means refrain from taking the necessary steps to stop those who try to harm Israeli residents," he said. At the same session, the army chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said Israel's patience over Gaza was wearing thin, but the army favoured responding through pinpoint operations rather than massive airstrikes or major ground offensives, according to a participant at the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with Cabinet rules. (AP)

The European Commission launched its first training programme for Palestinian customs officers at the Rafah crossing. The Palestinian customs department had identified 40 officers for this initial training programme. "It is vital for the Palestinian people and the economy that the Rafah border functions, as provided for under the Agreement on Movement and Access," John Kjaer, head of the European Commission Technical Assistance Office said, adding, "Through this training programme, the European Union is helping to build the capacity of the customs staff to carry out their duties at Rafah". (WAFA)

In Riyadh, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held an unannounced meeting with PA President Abbas to discuss the recent escalation in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, a Palestinian official said. The meeting came a day after Mr. Abbas had met in Cairo with Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ Political Bureau Chief. (AP)

In a statement issued in Gaza, Col. Burhan Hamad, head of Egypt's security delegation which negotiated the current truce last November, called on Palestinian factions to respect the ceasefire. Mr. Hamad said firing rockets at Israel caused delays in working out an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier captured the previous June. However, military wings, including that of Hamas, rejected the Egyptian call. (Ynetnews)

Greece’s main opposition party (PASOK) leader and Socialist International President, George Papandreou, hosted a private dinner at his Kastri residence in honour of visiting PA President Abbas, which was also attended by the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias. Earlier in the day, Mr. Abbas was proclaimed an honorary member of the Andreas Papandreou Foundation’s International Council. (Athens News Agency, The Financial Times)

30

The IDF arrested 11 Palestinians in Nablus and Tulkarm, security and local sources said. Israeli soldiers stormed Nablus, launched a search campaign into Palestinians' houses and arrested 10 Palestinians. In Tulkarm, Israeli troops, backed by a number of military jeeps, besieged houses in the city and arrested 22-year-old Sami Saleh. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers held tens of Palestinians and vehicles at a mobile checkpoint at Halhoul bridge, north of Hebron, and banned movement. (WAFA)

Palestinian demonstrators forced their way into the grounds of the Egyptian Delegation office in the Gaza Strip. The protesters, who had earlier erected a tent outside the office, were demanding Egypt release five men they said had been imprisoned for three years without charge after illegally entering Egypt to seek medical treatment. The five are reportedly affiliated with Hamas. A homemade bomb was thrown at the building during the protest, but fell short, causing no injuries. Police succeeded in pushing the demonstrators back. A statement issued by the Egyptian Representative Office in the Gaza Strip the next day said the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed “regret” over the incident, stressing, “There is a difference between the right to peaceful demonstrations and attacks on buildings.” Fatah Gaza spokesman Maher Miqdad said that, rather than storm the Egyptian building, the demonstrators should instead “thank Egypt for what it is doing for the Palestinians.” “Everyone knows the Egyptian delegation is working under difficult circumstances in Gaza in order to protect Palestinian interests,” he stressed. (AP, DPA)

In an interview published by the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayam, Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal said that unless the international aid embargo was lifted and Israel released top Palestinian leaders in return for a captured soldier, violence would explode. "We are doing the impossible to end the embargo on our people ... If, God forbid, it continues ... the results will be serious," Mr. Mashaal told the newspaper, adding,"The explosion will be in the face of the Zionist enemy." He said Hamas intended to demand prominent Palestinian leaders, including Marwan Barghouti, in exchange for the captured soldier. He accused Israeli Prime Minister Olmert of delaying the exchange deal. (AP)

The Nafha Society for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights said in a report that female prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails had been suffering harsh conditions and maltreatment. The report stated that 105 prisoners in the Hasharon Israeli jail were living in dire situation and some were suffering from different kinds of chronic disease, such as diabetes, stomach ulcers, cardiac problems and kidney failure. The Society appealed to the Human Rights Council for immediate intervention to save the lives of the prisoners and provide medical care for them. (WAFA)

In the presence of the Israeli army, a group of Israeli settlers vandalized the Awqaf (religious endowments) directorate and Al-Aqtab Mosque in Hebron. The doors were broken and the contents of the building were thrown outside. Sheikh Taysir Al-Tamimi, Chief Justice and Head of the Supreme Council for Preserving Islamic Holy Sites, condemned the assault. He warned that it was a dangerous act and especially that the Awqaf officials had received threats that several important documents might be burnt in the Jewish festival of Lag Ba'omer. This year the Lag Ba'omer festival is to take place on 6 May. Sheikh Al-Tamimi called on the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop its oppressive practices against the Palestinian people and their religious sites. (Ma’an News Agency)

The Israeli Government approved Prime Minister Olmert's proposal to cooperate with countries that supply natural gas. This decision validated recent years' negotiations with British Gas for natural gas supplied by the company and its partners in the Palestinian Authority. The deal was expected to bring an estimated sum of tens of millions of dollars into the Palestinian Authority. (The Middle East and North Africa Business Report)

Vice President of Syria Farouk Sharaa blamed the "violent policies" of the United States and Israel for the plight of millions of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. "The policies of violence and force pursued by Washington and Tel Aviv threaten international security and stability, and pose a major obstacle to true peace between Arabs and Israel," he said in a speech in Damascus, adding "The United States and Israel are the main parties responsible for the influx of millions of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees to neighbouring Arab countries". (AFP)

Hundreds of Palestinian teachers, demanding full pay after more than a year of partial salaries, tried to break into the Palestinian Government headquarters in Ramallah. Teachers in the West Bank launched a strike to demand full salaries and the payment of several months' outstanding back pay. Addressing the demonstrators, Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed said that the economic boycott, which had depleted government funds, could bring down the current coalition Government. (AFP)

Around 40 Cairo-based journalists gathered in the Egyptian capital to express solidarity with BBC journalist Alan Johnston, exactly seven weeks after his kidnapping in the Gaza Strip. The group of foreign and Egyptian reporters gathered on the steps of the journalists' syndicate building in Cairo, holding posters demanding the 44-year-old Johnston's release. (AFP)

King Abdullah II of Jordan, during a meeting with chairmen of Jordanian charities, stressed the importance of exerting efforts to protect the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem, Petra reported. He also repeated Jordan’s condemnation and rejection of the excavations carried out by Israel near the Al-Aqsa Mosque. (Xinhua)

The grand opening of Al Khadr international stadium was held in the Bethlehem Governorate. The stadium is funded by the Portuguese Government and cost around US$ 2 million to build. (Ma’an News Agency)


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