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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
31 May 2004


Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the
Question of Palestine

MONTHLY MEDIA MONITORING REVIEW

May 2004

1

Two Palestinians, including an eight-year-old child, had been killed by Israeli gunfire during a late-night IDF incursion into Khan Yunis, medics at Nasser Hospital said. Hussein Abu Akar, 8, had been hit by Israeli gunfire during the evening incursion into the refugee camp which had involved several armoured vehicles. Ten other Palestinians, including seven under age 15, had been injured in this operation. The IDF said troops had fired in response to a Palestinian attack, but denied there had been an incursion. Palestinian security officials said troops had fired from a watchtower at a crowd of Palestinians throwing stones at an army bulldozer digging a trench near a settlement. (AFP, AP, Xinhua)

In Nablus, in the West Bank, a Palestinian man was killed and four injured during an Israeli incursion, according to Palestinian medical sources. The victim was named as Jamal Hamdan, 22. The army said that a patrol had located an armed activist and opened fire in his direction. Palestinian sources also told Xinhua that the IDF had raided Bazaria village, near Nablus. They said the Israeli troops supported by helicopters had carried out house-to-house searches but no arrests had been reported. (AFP, Xinhua)

In Tubas, 17 km south of Jenin, Israeli troops opened fire at a crowd of young men pelting them with stones and Zakaria Daraghmeh, 18, was hit in the head and seriously wounded. Israeli military sources confirmed that “forces came to Tubas in order to conduct a search and came across Palestinians who attacked them with stones,” and “in order to disperse the crowd and continue the routine patrol, forces used non-lethal means – rubber bullets.” (AFP)

In the northern Gaza Strip, two Palestinians, ages 14 and 16, had been wounded by Israeli troops, hospital officials said. The IDF said they had entered an area near a settlement off-limits to Palestinians. Palestinian medics said that a 15-year-old Palestinian had been hit in the head by Israeli fire as young men had been throwing stones at troops at the Erez crossing point between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel. A second teenager had been moderately wounded in the incident. (AFP, AP)

The IDF had raided Ad-Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem and had maintained a tight curfew on the nearby village of Beit Sahour for the sixth day, Palestinian sources told Xinhua. Earlier, the IDF raided the Wadi Shahin area, near Bethlehem, and conducted house-to-house searches before arresting an 18-year-old Palestinian. Israeli forces also reportedly sealed off the entrances and exits of Jenin and established a number of military checkpoints around the city. (Xinhua)

The Palestinian General Security Services said the IDF had informed them about closing the Rafah terminal on the border with Egypt until further notice, without giving any reasons for the sudden closure. (Xinhua)

Official Palestinian sources told Xinhuathat Israel might expel Palestinian Authority (PA) President Arafat to the Gaza Strip within the following few days. They said there were dozens of IDF commandos staying on the roofs of the buildings surrounding Arafat’s office, who “could break into Arafat’s headquarters within the coming hours or days in order to transfer Arafat in an Israeli helicopter to the Gaza Strip.” They added that PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath had made a series of contacts with his Arab and international counterparts in order to brief them on this expected Israeli move. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on the Israeli deployments around Mr. Arafat’s headquarters, but said these units might work on arresting Palestinians wanted by the Israeli authorities. (Xinhua)

PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath was invited by Secretary of State Powell to visit Washington on 4 May. Majdi Khaldi, an aide to Mr. Sha’ath, told reporters the invitation had been made during a telephone conversation in which the two men had discussed Prime Minister Sharon’s recent threats to target PA President Arafat. He further said that Mr. Powell had asserted that the US Administration did not give Sharon a green light to assassinate or even harm Mr. Arafat, adding that the US voiced its intention to resume contacts with the PA. (Xinhua)

The information centre of the PA Health Ministry said in its monthly report that 61 Palestinians had been killed by the IDF between 28 March and 27 April, the forty-third month of the intifada. Of these, 39 were from the Gaza Strip and 22 from the West Bank. The IDF killed 14 Palestinians during military assassination operations, five in the Gaza Strip and nine in the West Bank. The report further said that 22 of the killed were below 18. A total of 505 Palestinians were injured during the same period, 357 of them from the West Bank and 147 from the Gaza Strip. (Xinhua)

In less than 24 hours after destroying 12 Palestinian-owned houses at predawn in the refugee camp of Khan Yunis, the IDF bulldozers destroyed another 14 houses belonging to Palestinian refugees. Several bulldozers backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers raided the part of the refugee camp adjacent to the “Neve Dekalim” settlement and levelled the 14 houses. The bulldozers reportedly completely razed seven houses close to the settlement, while missiles and tank shells badly destroyed most of the other houses after residents were forced to leave without being allowed to take any of their belongings. The sources said that about 100 residents had been made homeless. The IDF forces also dug a trench around the settlement, with security sources saying the trench was 7 m deep and 3 m wide. (Xinhua)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters that PA President Arafat had addressed related letters to the Quartet representatives urging them to help in implementing the Road Map. “President Arafat insisted in the letters addressed to the Quartet not to let Prime Minister Sharon escape from implementing the Road Map,” noted Mr. Abu Rudeineh, saying further that the expected Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip “could never be enough,” and “there must be activation to the vision of two States, one Israeli and one Palestine, by a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The letters were handed over to the Quartet representatives before their meeting in London on 30 April, he added, stressing: “These meetings should be a new breakthrough in order to push forward the stalled peace process and implement the Road Map.” (Xinhua)

The IDF was well prepared for Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan, which would be implemented at the end of 2005, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a radio interview. “The army’s deployment around the Gaza perimeter will prevent terrorists from entering Israel. Control of the air and sea will remain in our hands. We will also control the Philadelphi route between Rafah and the Egyptian border,” he said. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA))

Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas representative in the Palestinian Highest National Committee, said Hamas had decided to have a plural leadership instead of a single leader, after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi were assassinated by Israel. “In this particular circumstance, Hamas leadership is a group of leaders,” he said, adding that this strategy “is better for the movement in this particular period of time.” Mr. Abu Zuhri, a new Hamas leader who is not wanted by Israel and was selected to speak to journalists, said the assassination of both Mr. Yassin and Mr. Rantissi had been “very painful and very difficult.” “However, internally speaking, Hamas was not that much affected by losing the two top leaders since it has a wide popular support and has so many intellectuals who are able to create new alternative of leaders for Hamas.” Asked about the ability of Hamas to avenge the assassinations, Mr. Abu Zuhri said: “Our battle with the occupation is opened and it is a long-term period and won’t be ended in one round or two. … The Jewish State's leaders shouldn’t be happy for so long because Hamas hasn’t responded yet, but we tell them it is not the time now for a response and this won’t take too long.” (Xinhua)

2

Palestinian militants attacked an Israeli vehicle near the entrance to the “Gush Katif” block of settlements in the Gaza Strip, killing four children and their mother and wounding a motorist in a second vehicle before detonating a bomb, the IDF spokesman said. Two soldiers were wounded by gunfire and the two attackers were killed by return fire. Police said the white Citroen station wagon had spun off the road after the initial shooting, then the attackers had approached the vehicle and had shot the occupants, an eight-month pregnant woman and her four daughters, ages two to 11, at close range. Israel Radiosaid a car belonging to CNN had prevented further bloodshed by blocking the road after shooting broke out. There was no immediate comment from CNN. The Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack in a call to AP,saying: “The attack is part of the Palestinian reprisals for the daily crimes committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people, especially the killings of Yassin and Rantissi.” Prime Minister Sharon said the killing had been an attempt by the Palestin ians to sabotage his plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip. The slain woman was reportedly on her way into Israel to help campaign against Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal plan. (AFP, AP)

An Israeli rocket attack destroyed a local Hamas radio station in Gaza City. Residents in the Remal neighbourhood said they had seen the two helicopters hovering over Gaza and then heard loud explosions as two rockets hit the roof of the 14-storey building called “Burj Falastin” or Palestine Tower. The offices of the Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa radio station on the top floor of the building had been totally destroyed, the witnesses said. Medical sources at the Shiffa Hospital said nobody had been killed or injured in the attack, contradicting earlier reports from the scene that a number of people had been wounded. However, the hospital sources said three women had been treated for shock at the hospital after the attack. Al-Aqsa radio was one of eight radio stations in Gaza City. (DPA)

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy died at midnight from his wounds caused by Israeli gunfire. Medics said Khaled Abu E’lba, from the Al-Nadda neighbourhood near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, had been shot in the head on 30 April and suffered critical wounds. The medics at the intensive care unit of Shiffa Hospital in Gaza City said all their attempts to save his life had failed. (Xinhua)

Israeli helicopters carried out an air raid in the West Bank, killing four members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Nablus. According to the AP,two of the dead were identified as Nader Abu Leil and Hashem Abu Hamdan, leaders of the Brigades in the Balata refugee camp. Residents said one of the four was Ibrahim (Abu) Hamdan, the West Bank commander of the group and one of Israel’s most wanted militants and the other three were Nader Abu Leil, Nael Hassan (Abu Hasanein) and Mohamed Abu Hamdan. The attack marked the first time in two years that Israel had carried out an assassination by air strike in the West Bank. The Governor of Nablus Mahmoud Al-Aloul condemned the assassination, calling it “a big crime” and saying that Israeli helicopters “fired several missiles at a local car that drove in a populated area in the town.” He called on the international community “to end these crimes against our people.” (AFP, Xinhua)

A Palestinian woman was arrested at a checkpoint near Ramallah after she reportedly tried to stab an Israeli border policeman, an IDF spokeswoman said: “She tried to stab him at the checkpoint at the entrance of Jab’a but failed. The woman was taken away by forces for investigation.” (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party in a referendum rejected his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Opponents of the plan obtained 59.5 per cent and supporters 39.7 per cent, with the rest of the votes ruled invalid. Some 96,700 Likud members voted in the referendum, representing 51.6 per cent of the party’s 193,000 members. The Prime Minister, who had said he considered the referendum a vote of confidence on his leadership, said Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party had rejected his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in a referendum. Opponents of the plan obtained 59.5 per cent and supporters 39.7 per cent, with the rest of the votes ruled invalid. Some 96,700 Likud members voted in the referendum, representing 51.6 per cent of the party’s 193,000 members. The Prime Minister, who had said he considered the referendum a vote of confidence in his leadership, said he respected the results but would not resign. “I know the great majority of the Israeli public supports my plan. I know they feel, as I do, disappointment at the results of the referendum. The days ahead will not be easy. We will have to make difficult decisions. In the next few days, I will consult with the ministers, the Likud faction and the factions of the coalition and will thoroughly examine the implications and steps we intend to take. One thing is clear to me: the people of Israel did not elect me to sit idly by for four years. I was elected to find the path that will lead this people to the tranquillity, security and peace they so deserve,” he said in a statement. “There is no doubt disengagement is inevitable and unstoppable,” Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. Mr. Sharon told legislators the next day he might now modify his Gaza pull-out plan. (AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

“After this failure, the Israeli Government should immediately resume negotiations with the representatives of the Palestinian people in order to seriously implement the Road Map,” PA President Arafat’s top adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. (AFP)

“We have been informed of the results of the Likud voting. Our own view has not changed: the President welcomed Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to withdraw settlements from Gaza and a part of the West Bank as a courageous and important step toward peace,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement, adding: “We will be in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Government of Israel about how to move forward.” (AP)

A Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said he hoped the expansion of the European Union would “reflect positively on the Palestinian cause.” He urged the EU to reconsider its earlier decision to put Hamas on its terrorist list, saying: “Hamas is a national liberation movement that defends the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.” Mr. Haniya told reporters he hoped the EU expansion would “create a balance in international policies that would reflect positively on Palestinian rights, ending the occupation and ending the aggression.” He said the EU’s “intention of distancing itself from the biased American political hegemony contributes to strengthening its position and effect on international and regional policies, especially regarding the Palestinian cause.” Mr. Haniya also called on Arab and Muslim countries to “learn from the lessons of expanding the EU and to practically work towards consolidating the unity of the nation.” (UPI)

A conference of religious leaders from 63 Muslim countries held in Cairo condemned, in a final statement, “the savage actions of the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people, the assassination of Palestinian leaders and the construction of the barrier.” (AFP)

3

Dr. Moawiya Hassanein, a PA Health Ministry official, said a 16-year-old boy had died from his wounds. Bahjat Abu Ilba had been in critical condition since he had been shot in the head by Israeli troops during an incursion into Beit Lahiya on 1 May. Ahmed al-Khawaldi, 14, also died from the wounds to the head he sustained from IDF gunfire in Beit Lahiya two weeks ago. (AFP, Xinhua)

The IDF arrested 27 Islamist students at a teacher training college in Ramallah. An IDF spokesman said only four of those detained in the predawn raid were wanted militants and that the other 23 would be released after questioning. Israeli tanks and bulldozers also staged a brief incursion into a refugee camp in Rafah and demolished three Palestinian houses near the Egyptian border, Palestinian security sources said. (AFP)

The IDF said the total closure imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territory after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on 22 March was extended until further notice. (AFP)

Israeli forces besieged a Palestinian-owned house in the central Gaza Strip area, where five Israelis had been killed on 2 May, Palestinian security sources said. They said there were at least 15 people, including a two-month-old infant and some other children and women, living in the house. The Israeli soldiers called upon the residents of the house to leave, saying they were intending to destroy it, the sources added. “The soldiers refuse to let other people in the neighbourhood send the family and the children food and water,” said a source, adding the soldiers were sealing off every tiny hole in the house, which made the residents inside feel a sense of panic. The Palestinian security sources urged human rights and humanitarian organizations to intervene as soon as possible to stop the Israeli actions. (Xinhua)

The IDF raided several areas in the Gaza Strip and carried out demolition operations, destroying many houses and injuring at least three Palestinians, Palestinian residents reported. Palestinian security sources reported that four Israeli bulldozers backed by tanks entered the Al-Mighraqa area, near the “Netzarim” settlement south of Gaza City and razed vast areas of Palestinian-owned lands. Other sources said at least four Palestinian-owned houses had been bulldozed. Palestinian medical sources said the IDF had barred Palestinian ambulances access to the area and had stopped medical staff from reaching the injured. Moawiya Hassanein, director of the emergency room at the Shiffa Hospital, said the Israeli shelling had injured four other Palestinians. He added that the IDF had injured a Palestinian who had refused to evacuate his house and he had been unable to get medical care. The army raided the village of Wadi al-Salqa, from which the two militants had launched their attack on a settler car on 2 May, military sources said. Palestinian security sources said 18 Palestinian homes had been demolished in the operation. The IDF also reportedly bulldozed 24 Palestinian houses in the Al-Hadaf area in the central Gaza Strip and was demolishing Palestinian houses in Block J of Rafah, near the border with Egypt. The Israeli army was maintaining its military roadblocks south of the Gaza city and in the centre of the Gaza Strip for the second consecutive day, barring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians access to their workplaces and schools. (AFP, Xinhua)

Israeli troops had detained 10 Palestinians after raiding the village of Barqin near Jenin, Palestinian security sources said. They said an Israeli force backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers had raided the village, storming a number of houses, arresting 10 young men and taking them to an unknown place for interrogation. Palestinian residents also said Israeli armoured forces had raided Jenin from different directions amid intensive gunfire. Medical sources in the city said a 12-year-old boy had been shot in the leg as he was standing near his house in the town during the IDF attack. (Xinhua)

A group of Israeli settlers took over two Palestinian-built houses in Abu Dis, just east of Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City. Four families had moved there after midnight under police supervision and had been escorted by some 100 settlers, as well as by members of the Ateret Cohanim organization, which finances settlement activity in Jerusalem areas. An Israeli court had earlier ruled that the land where the two houses were built had been owned by Jews since 1927 and therefore ownership should be returned to them. The court also ordered the Palestinian families to pay court and attorney costs for the case, which had been contested in the courts for many years. The houses had been built on the land before 1967, when East Jerusalem and the West Bank were administered by Jordan and had been empty for the duration of the court case. The families that build the houses, Hamudi and Hareish, were offered money to leave them but did not accept it. However, Daniel Luria, a spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, said the houses had been legally bought from Palestinian owners and were located on land owned by Jews since the beginning of the last century. He said Jerusalem’s municipality had approved the new “East of Zion” neighbourhood. Ateret Cohanim member Itzik Konki said that the timing of the move by the group of 20 settlers was not linked to Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan: “There is absolutely no link between what happened today and the Likud vote. We have been working on this for 14 years and it could have happened next week or last week.” Palestinians expressed concern that Ateret Cohanim claimed ownership of a large area of Abu Dis and planned to build an Israeli settlement there. (AFP, AP, DPA, Reuters)

A new settlement was started in the Gaza Strip. Some 150 residents of the “Neve Dekalim” settlement, part of the “Gush Katif” block and the largest of the settlements in the Strip, gathered under Israeli flags to lay the cornerstone for 22 plots on almost three acres (1.2 hectares) of land. “We are starting a new neighbourhood to tell the whole world that we are here to stay,” Esther Lillianthal said in “Neve Dekalim.” (AFP, AP, Reuters)

PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat stated: “[Prime Minister] Sharon’s failure in the Likud Party’s referendum on his plan would push him to impose faits accomplis on the ground.” Mr. Sharon would resume establishing the separation wall in the West Bank and dropping the final status issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees, Mr. Erakat warned, adding: “We fear that it will enter a long-term interim phase during which Sharon will continue his unilateral plans. I hope this will be an incentive for Bush and the Quartet to withdraw the guarantees to Sharon.” PA Prime Minister Qureia also urged Washington to reconsider unprecedented assurances given to Mr. Sharon for a Gaza pullout plan. (Reuters, Xinhua)

Spain's Minister for Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos accused Israeli settlers of obstructing peace, after the Likud party rejected the Prime Minister's proposal that Israel withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The fate of six million Israelis and three million Palestinians hung on the decision of “50,000 people who are settlers and do not want to leave Gaza or the West Bank and are blocking all momentum towards peace,” Mr. Moratinos told Telecino TV. The international community “can no longer be held hostage by so few people,” he said, stressing: “The international community should take its responsibilities because we cannot support the policy of settlement of territories occupied by Israel. This must be said clearly.” Mr. Moratinos also condemned the shooting of a pregnant Israeli woman and her four young daughters by two Palestinians in Gaza on 2 May. (AFP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told journalists in Cairo: “Egypt believes the best way to reach a solution is for the two sides to sit down at the negotiating table for talks based on resolutions and the terms of reference agreed in the past. Unilateral decisions and attempts by one side to impose facts on the ground cannot lead to results.” For Egypt, Mr. Maher said, any Israeli pull-out or dismantling of settlements was “positive as long as it is coordinated with the Palestinians and forms part of a settlement” towards the end of occupation of all Palestinian territory. (AFP)

Australia outlawed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Attorney General Philip Ruddock said although the PIJ had not operated outside the Middle East and had not previously targeted Western interests, it had threatened to do so and Australia’s intelligence agency ASIO had assessed it to be planning terrorist operations overseas. “The actions or threatened actions which the PIJ are assessed to be involved in would, if successfully completed, cause serious physical harm and death to persons and serious damage to property,” he said in a statement. The Government brought in legislation in March 2004 that allowed the Attorney General to outlaw suspected terror groups. Previously such bans could only be imposed on groups listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations. (AFP, DPA)

Several Israeli fighter jets had flown over Gaza City in the evening and caused panic among the population, witnesses said. (Xinhua)

An IDF military court convicted an officer of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to two months in prison for the shooting death of a 16-year-old Palestinian. Enforcing a curfew in the West Bank village of Nazlat Zeid in October 2002, the captain, who was not further identified, fired shots at a house, killing Mohammed Zeid, who was inside. “The court ruled that the behaviour of the officer was extremely reckless and unreasonable and there was no danger to the soldier’s life when the shots were fired,” an army statement said. The court sentenced him to a six-month term. The officer, who was also demoted from captain to lieutenant, is to spend two months in jail and four months doing work in army bases. “I don’t know what kind of message the Israelis want to give with these lenient sentences,” PA Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat wondered, “Isn’t this an encouragement to continue the killing fields?” Since the outbreak of the intifada, more than 1,000 Palestinian bystanders had been killed, said Noam Hoffstater from B’tselem, but only 13 soldiers had been indicted for the killings. Two other officers had been convicted of killing Palestinians but had received suspended sentences. “This dismal number of indictments reflects a lack of motivation to investigate these killings,” Mr. Hoffstater said. The military is giving the soldiers in the field the message that “Palestinian life is cheap.” (AP, Reuters; www.idf.il; see also DF of 1 March 2004 and 7 October 2002)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) urged an Israeli military court to stop an IDF order to demolish about 20 Palestinian houses in the central Gaza Strip. The army had informed residents of Wadi Salqa, near Deir Al-Balah, that it intended to demolish their houses, the group said in a statement sent to the press. Hussein Hammad, a PCHR researcher, said the group had managed to get an order from an Israeli court to stop temporarily the demolition of the 20 houses. The IDF had already destroyed about 20 houses in the area earlier in the day, following an armed attack there on 2 May. PCHR statement said the court had accepted the appeal until it made its final decision whether to demolish the houses or not. “These houses belong to innocent civilians that are not involved in the attack,” said PCHR, adding that it considered the Israeli measure arbitrary and unjustified collective punishment. (Xinhua)

White House spokesman Scott McClellan reaffirmed US support for what he called Prime Minister Sharon’s bold proposal and said staff-level talks had begun with Israel to determine how to move forward. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the same day that the Administration believed Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan could represent a way to move the Road Map forward. “It will be up to Mr. Sharon to decide how to proceed,” Mr. Boucher said. He said the Israelis widely supported “the idea of moving forward and the idea of withdrawing from Gaza.” Mr. Boucher also said, “I don’t think we have hitched our wagon to any single effort.” (AP)

4

A 9-year-old Palestinian boy, Baha Abu Zeitun, was killed in an explosion in the village of Deir Al-Ghusun, north of Tulkarm and not far from the separation barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank. The residents said the blast had apparently been caused by Israeli explosives left in the area, where the army often trained. AFP sources said it was a flare, while Ha’aretz said it was a militants’ pipe bomb. Ahmed Abu Zeitun, 10, was seriously wounded in the explosion. Another 11-year-old boy was also reportedly wounded. The IDF said it had no information on the blast. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

An Israeli attack helicopter fired a missile shortly after midnight at a group of armed Palestinians in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing two and wounding 22. Witnesses said gunmen had fired two missiles at Israeli armoured vehicles raiding the camp before the helicopter struck. Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, later claimed responsibility for firing the rockets, saying in a leaflet: “The Brigades militants on Tuesday morning fired two B2 rockets against Israeli bulldozers during the military raid carried out in the western area of Khan Yunis.” Palestinian hospital officials said one of those killed was a 25-year-old Hamas militant. The other victim, a 16-year-old boy, was a civilian. Earlier, AFP had identified the two as Billel Mohammed Hamdan, 23, and Jamil Abu Mustapha, 18, and said both had been Hamas members. Doctors at Khan Yunis hospital said five of the wounded were in critical condition. Some civilians were among the wounded, they said. The attack came as the IDF, during a predawn raid on Khan Yunis and its refugee camp, demolished 30 Palestinian buildings near the “Neve Dekalim” and “Netzer Hazani” settlements. The security sources estimated 20 houses were totally destroyed, while 10 other houses were badly damaged during the operation that lasted for about six hours. Israeli forces had withdrawn from the area early in the day, the IDF said. (AFP, AP, Xinhua)

IMEMC correspondent said a Palestinian man, suffering from a heart attack, died at Al-Ram checkpoint in Jerusalem in the afternoon, as the IDF had delayed his ambulance for one hour and did not allow a doctor to accompany him in the Israeli ambulance. (IMEMC)

An Israeli jet fired a rocket at a Palestinian medical centre in Nablus. Palestinian sources said the rocket had exploded near the entrance to the centre, but no injuries or damages had been reported. They added the attack had taken place during an IDF incursion into the Old City and the neighbouring Balata refugee camp. At least nine Palestinians were arrested by Israelis. (IMEMC, Xinhua)

The IDF arrested 14 Palestinians during raids carried out in Nablus, Ramallah and the Balata refugee camp, Palestinian sources told Xinhua. (Xinhua)

Israeli troops, in 15 jeeps, took up positions around PA President Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters overnight and blocked its entrances. Mr. Arafat’s advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh expressed the fear that the move was “in preparation for an attack on the President.” Israeli military officials said soldiers were arresting suspects, but the operation was not linked to Arafat’s office. The soldiers had been withdrawn in the morning, the army said. Mr. Arafat spoke to more than 7,000 Palestinians who gathered outside to express their support for him. (AFP, AP, Xinhua)

“Yasser Arafat is the elected president of the Palestinians. No action should be undertaken against him,” French Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hervé Ladsous told a press conference. (AFP)

IMEMCquoted a local source in Tubas as saying that several IDF Jeeps besieged a police station located in Al-Hadeqa neighbourhood and held several policemen in the station. (IMEMC)

Israeli troops had arrested the wife of Marwan Barghuti, the jailed West Bank leader of Fatah, at a hearing for her son who was also in an Israeli prison, Jawad Boulos, the family’s lawyer, told AFP.Fadwa Barghuti, 39, herself a lawyer, was detained inside the military court at "Ofer Detention Centre" near Ramallah. Nida Barghuti, a relative who also attended the hearing, said soldiers had accused Fadwa Barghuti of trying to sneak a mobile telephone to her son. She said the teenager’s mother had forgotten her phone on the bench where she was seated during the hearing. According to IMEMC,one of the detainees found the phone and attempted to hand it back to her when the police saw him and arrested her. There was no immediate comment from the IDF. Qassam Barghuti, 19, was arrested in December 2003 on charges of having given a grenade, later used in an anti-Israeli attack in the West Bank, to a Palestinian militant in March 2003. Israeli police released Mrs. Barghouti after detaining her for several hours. An Israeli police spokesman said the detention had been due to a “misunderstanding.” (AFP, IMEMC, Reuters, Xinhua)

In the morning, the IDF reopened the Abu Houli military roadblock, established in the central Gaza Strip, after closing it for three days. The IDF had started to reopen the Gaza city’s coastal road, after closing it three days ago by establishing sand barricades on the road and restricting Palestinians’ movements. (Xinhua)

An Israeli military court indicted a 16-year-old Palestinian boy on charges of recruiting, preparing and dispatching young suicide bombers. Nasser Awartani was accused of recruiting Hussam Abdo, a 16-year-old Palestinian caught at a West Bank roadblock in March 2004 with an explosives vest strapped to his body. (AP)

PA Prime Minister Qureia said the Quartet should present obligatory mechanisms and timetables for the implementation of the Road Map. (Xinhua)

A poll published in Yediot Aharonotsaid that if Prime Minister Sharon had put his disengagement plan to a general referendum it would have passed by 62 per cent to 32 per cent. The paper did not give a margin of error. (AP)

A senior Government official indicated that Prime Minister Sharon was considering a scaled-back withdrawal from three settlements in the Gaza Strip (“Netzarim,” “Kfar Darom” and “Morag”) and two in the West Bank (“Kadim” and “Ganim”). “This is one option that is being considered. Nothing has been decided,” the official said. He said the Prime Minister was coordinating his moves with other Likud leaders and Cabinet ministers and any new plan would be coordinated with Washington. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

Israeli and Palestinian authors of the Geneva Initiative decided to step up their campaign since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s separation plan had been rejected. The Israelis, led by Yahad party Chairman and former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, and the Palestinians led by former Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, met with PA Prime Minister Qureia and agreed there was a need to move for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, according to Abed Rabbo. “Unilateral and partial solutions do not convince anybody, neither the moderates nor the extremists. The comprehensive solution is the only way out,” Mr. Abed Rabbo said. Mr. Beilin said the Likud referendum left the Geneva Initiative as “the only real option on the agenda.” Also present at the meeting were MK Haim Oron (Yahad), MK Amram Mitzna (Labour), former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, and MK Avshalom (Abu) Vilan (Yahad) on the Israeli side; Ziad Abu Amar, member of the PLC and the Fatah’s Supreme Council and Abdel Khader Husseini on the Palestinian side. (Ma’ariv, UPI)

“The Likud party’s latest stance exposed the hidden intents of this ruling party and indisputably proved that the Israeli Government’s policy does not aim for security, as it claims, but to grab more Palestinian land and evict residents and leave them homeless,” Saudi Minister for Foreign Affairs Prince Saud al-Faisal said. He voiced hope that the Quartet would “take back the reigns of the initiative, propose constructive ideas to revive the peace process under the Road Map and force Israel to meet its pledges under the initiative.” Prince Saud said Palestinians alone had the right to determine their fate and called on the UN to send international troops to protect Palestinians. (Reuters)

The Washington Postreported that the US had decided to reject a Jordanian request for a letter from President Bush balancing the commitments he gave Prime Minister Sharon after their White House meeting on 14 April. Ahead of the meeting, the State Department reportedly began work on a draft of a presidential letter, to be handed to King Abdullah II at his meeting with the President, but the White House vetoed the idea. (Ha’aretz, The Washington Post)

The Israeli-Arab advocacy group Adalah, acting on behalf of a number of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, asked Israel’s High Court of Justice to ban Israel's military from making any use of Palestinians as “human shields” in military operations. The Court banned the practice in 2002 after soldiers had forced the neighbour of a suspected militant to knock on his door and deliver an ultimatum to surrender. The militant had shot and killed the man. Marwan Dalal, a lawyer for Adalah, who submitted the request last week, said the current ban was not strong enough because it left some leeway for field commanders to press Palestinian civilians into service if they determined such action would not put them in danger: “What we are asking for is something broader. “I hope the court will be receptive ... Unfortunately, the military is continuing to use civilians as human shields.” Rights activists complained last month that Israeli forces had used a 13-year-old Palestinian boy as a “human shield” during rock-throwing protests in the village of Biddu. An image of the youth tied to the hood of a jeep was caught on camera. An Israeli police spokesman said that the case had been referred to the Justice Ministry for investigation. Adalah cited the Biddu case and two others as evidence that Israel were continuing to use civilians as human shields. It said Israeli forces compelled a man in Tulkarm in January 2004 to enter and search homes before Israeli soldiers went in. A month earlier, a Palestinian journalist in Nablus had been forced to knock on his neighbour’s door during a military operation, the group said. (Reuters)

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hosted a principals-level Quartet meeting in New York for US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ryan Cowan of Ireland, which holds the EU’s rotating Presidency, EU High Representative Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten. Fred Eckhard, the UN spokesman, referring to Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, said the previous day Mr. Annan believed “any withdrawal should clearly lead to an end of occupation and be carried out as part of the Quartet’s Road Map in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.” In his opening statement at a news conference the principals held after the meeting, Mr. Annan said: “We reaffirm our commitment to our shared vision of two States living side by side in peace and security. One of those States will be Israel and the other a viable, democratic, sovereign and contiguous Palestine.” He also read the Quartet statement, which listed a number of steps to be implemented and monitored, including on an electoral process, areas from which Israel has withdrawn and security, and said: “An appropriate coordinating and oversight mechanism under the aegis of the Quartet will be established.” (AP,UN News Service)

Mustafa al-Barghouti, head of the Palestinian Initiative Institute, told reporters that the international campaign against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank, which Palestinian Islamic and national powers, as well as corporations, had launched the previous week, had achieved tangible support. He said the campaign was aimed at gathering signatures of Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and international figures and was attracting “many new signatories.” “The new Israeli signatories against the security wall are seriously worrying the Israeli leadership,” Mr. Barghouti said, adding: “The campaign condemns building the apartheid wall in the West Bank. Till now, more than 209 organizations and institutes signed on it, in addition to 447 parliamentarians.” The campaign urged the international community to impose sanctions on Israel, he further said, noting that it would be the best way to pressure Israel to “stop its aggression on the Palestinians.” (Xinhua)

5

IDF troops shot dead Imad Janadra, 30, (Imad Mohammad Janajrah, 32, according to the Palestine Media Centre) a leader of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, in the village of Taluza, north of Nablus. (AFP, Palestine Media Centre)

The IDF said its troops had killed two armed Palestinians south of the (Karni) Crossing in the Gaza Strip, as they tried to cross into Israel, Ha’aretz reported. It said an explosive device had been set off next to the troops, but no one had been injured and no damage caused. (Ha’aretz, UPI)

Israeli troops stationed at the “Kfar Darom” settlement raided Deir Al-Balah and shot dead a Palestinian police captain and wounded 17 others, including six schoolchildren and a Palestinian photographer working for AFP.Mahmoud Al-Hams, 25, was hit by a bullet in one leg and shrapnel in the other while taking pictures of Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in Deir Al-Balah. Israeli military sources said troops had shot only at gunmen but acknowledged that children and other civilians had been in the area. Witnesses said Palestinians involved in the clashes had been unarmed. Christian Chaise, AFPJerusalem Bureau Chief, said Mr. Al-Hams had been taken to hospital and his wounds were not life-threatening. Israeli bulldozers and tanks reportedly razed vast areas of agricultural lands in the area and demolished a Palestinian-owned factory and inflicted severe damage on the town’s infrastructure, such as water and electricity networks and sanitation. An IDF statement said its forces “destroyed an abandoned structure, which is used by terrorists to launch anti-tank missiles, mortar shells and open fire towards the community of Kfar Darom and IDF posts in the area.” Palestine Media Centre reported that a Reuters cameraman, Suhaid Salem, 24, had also been wounded in the incident. (AFP,www.idf.il,Palestine Media Centre, Reuters, Xinhua)

Six Palestinians were injured in an IDF raid in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip. One of them was in serious condition. Seven houses were destroyed in the Khan Yunis refugee camp. In Hebron, the IDF opened fire on Palestinians and injured one of them. Xinhua sources said the troops had taken the injured Palestinian to an unknown destination, while Israeli military sources said the injured had been transferred to the Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. In Ramallah, a number of Israeli vehicles raided the city hours after they pulled out of it, saying that the raid was prompted by new intelligence information. (AP, Xinhua)

An IDF force broke into a Palestinian secondary school in Al-Zeer village, south-east of Bethlehem and destroyed some of the school’s property. According to Abdullah Shakarneh, director of the education bureau in Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers had stormed into the classrooms while the students and teachers were still at school. (Xinhua)

Defence Minister Mofaz said on a tour of the IDF Gaza Strip bases that the army was considering erecting security fences along several roads leading to the “Gush Katif” settlements block in the Gaza Strip. (The Jerusalem Post)

Hebron Governor Areef Al-Ja’bari told reporters the IDF had distributed a court order confiscating the land around the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) in the Old City. The Israeli military administration also ordered the demolition of 11 houses located in the Wadi al-Nassara and Haret Jaber neighbourhoods between the 'Kiryat Arba' settlement and the Mosque, according to a member of the “Hebron Land Defence Committee.” The 700 m2 of land slated for confiscation belong to the Waqf and are close to the holy site, according to Mr. Abdel Hadi Hantash, an architect. He added: “These orders are part of an Israeli plan aimed at demolishing as many houses as possible to create continuity between “Kiryat Arba” and the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque.” (AFP, Xinhua)

Israel freed one of the Hamas co-founders after holding him without trial for 14 months. Mohammed Taha, 68, retuned to his home in the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces had captured him, along with three of his sons, in a raid on the camp in March 2003. The IDF had no immediate comment. (AP, Reuters)

Israeli settlers at the “Neve Dekalim” settlement in the Gaza Strip said they had formed an armed militia to defend themselves. Eilin Kaffe, a rabbi from the settlement, said they did so “because the Israel Army is no longer able to protect them and the only choice before them is self-defence.” (Xinhua)

“I think when you see a step toward peace, it is important for a peaceful nation like America to embrace it. And I felt that a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Prime Minister, as well as the withdrawal from four settlements from the West Bank by the Israeli Prime Minister, was a step toward peace,” President Bush said during an interview with a US-based Arab network Al-Hurra. (Xinhua)

US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, said: “The President remains completely committed to the Road Map as the viable way to get to a two-State solution. But when you have the Israeli Prime Minister come to you and say, we’ll withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza and from four West Bank settlements, we believe that that is worth doing, that it is a good thing Israel begins to withdraw from land, because – and to tear down settlements. All of the negotiations that we’ve had over many, many years, we’ve never been able to see the Palestinians actually recover land. If the Sharon plan or some version of it goes forward, then the Palestinians will begin to recover land. And it’s that opportunity to which the President was reacting. We believe that the Palestinians need an opportunity to build the institutions of their State. The President was the first President to say that there should be a Palestinian State and it ought to be called Palestine. That is really a tremendous change, really. It was a tremendous change in American policy. This President stands for peace. He believes that Palestinians deserve a better future than they have had till now. He believes that Israelis deserve also to live in peace. And he believes that they can live in peace.” (AP)

The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) held the US Administration responsible for the Israeli threats and measures against PA President Yasser Arafat. In a statement issued after its session on 4 May, the PLC reiterated its denouncement and rejection of Prime Minister Sharon’s threats against Mr. Arafat. It also denounced President Bush’s position on supporting Mr. Sharon’s plans and said Mr. Bush was responsible for Mr. Sharon’s policies imposed on the Palestinians. The PLC called on the Arab countries to intensify their efforts regarding the Israeli threats against Mr. Arafat and to tackle them at the next Arab Summit. It also called on the PA to boycott all contacts with Israel until it withdrew its threats against Mr. Arafat and ended the two-year-old siege of his Ramallah headquarters. The Council also called for “re-phrasing” the Palestinian positions to be presented at the Summit. It called on the PLO’s Central Council to hold an urgent session to adopt strategies to deal with Israel’s attempts to target Mr. Arafat. (Xinhua)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia praised the Quartet’s statement the previous day and wrote to its members reiterating that his side was ready for negotiations. He told reporters Palestinians were ready to hold immediate and serious negotiations with Israel in order to implement the Road Map: “There is a Palestinian partner ready for negotiations if there is a serious Israeli partner.” He said “the failure of unilateral solutions proved that Palestinians cannot be ignored,” and the solution lay in a parallel implementation of the Road Map by Palestinians and Israelis, or in holding an international conference that would discuss final status issues. Mr. Qureia further said: “We only have to remain committed to the UN resolutions since [President] Bush took our negotiation papers and handed them to Prime Minister Sharon.” He added that the Palestinians would seek a UN Security Council resolution that stressed the necessity of committing to the peace process references and related international resolutions. (AP, Xinhua)

Ministers for Foreign Affairs from the EU, Arab States and Israel started arriving in Dublin for two days of Euro-Mediterranean talks. Diplomats said Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs Shalom had scheduled a number of bilateral meetings with European and Arab ministers, including possibly with PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath. Members of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership include the 25 EU states as well as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Libya is not yet a full member of the dialogue but attends meetings as an observer. (DPA)

Israel’s State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg wrote in his annual report that the Housing and Construction Ministry spent nearly $6.5 million on unauthorized settlement construction in the West Bank in the past three years, more than half of it to outposts Israel pledged to remove. It was done without Defence Ministry approval, as required by law, and in cases where land ownership had still been under dispute. The money had been sent even as the IDF was “investing resources to track down and demolish illegal construction” in settlements and outposts, Mr. Goldberg wrote. From January 2000 to June 2003, the Ministry had approved 77 contracts for construction projects in 33 West Bank areas, 18 of them unauthorized outposts, the report said. The findings could lead to a criminal probe into the illicit funding, a Justice Ministry source told Reuters. “This is the proof. This is not something the settlers do by themselves. This is Government policy,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Peace Now. Earlier in the day, Israel’s Justice Ministry had announced that the Attorney-General had lifted a freeze on funding for settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after approving a monitoring system to ensure Government money was not used for unauthorized projects. (AP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat told reporters that the Quartet had two choices: either to hold an international peace conference and invite all parties, or to put in place mechanisms to implement the Road Map. The recent Quartet meeting had not introduced a timetable and mechanisms for the Road Map implementation, he said, adding that the Palestinians had also hoped to have clear texts issued by the Quartet related to the Israeli construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank. (Xinhua)

PA President Arafat’s top aide Nabil Rudeineh told reporters that Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov had called Mr. Arafat to brief him on the outcome of the Quartet meeting held in New York the previous day. “[Mr.] Lavrov asserted to President Arafat Russia’s intention to reactivate the peace process in the Middle East and the signed agreements that were ratified by international legislation,” Mr. Rudeineh said. (Xinhua)

6

An Israeli border policeman stationed in Hebron had shot and killed a Palestinian. The man reportedly had tried to take a weapon from a soldier posted at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), an IDF spokesman said. Another border policeman posted nearby saw the incident and fired at the Palestinian. The Palestinian was treated on the spot by military medics but died soon after being shot. (AFP, AP, www.idf.il)

The IDF said its forces had arrested a total of 19 Palestinians throughout the West Bank during the night. In addition to the night, it said, in the early hours of the morning IDF forces had arrested two Hamas members in Anabta, east of Tulkarm, including Rafat Hafif, member of the Hamas political leadership in Tulkarm area, another Hamas member in Beit Al-Tahata, south of Nablus, and 6 Islamic Jihad members in Qalqilya. In Idhna, west of Hebron, the IDF said its forces had arrested 12 Palestinians and IMEMC quoted WAFA as saying that 15 university students had been arrested there. Three more Palestinians were arrested in Beit ‘Ur At-Tahta, west of Ramallah. (IMEMC, www.idf.il)

The IDF started building a to protect the bypass road used by Israeli settlers to go in and out of the southern Gaza Strip, a military spokesman said. This “security fence” would be erected on both sides of the 7-km road from the (Kissufim) crossing point to the “Gush Katif” settlement block. It would complement the system of fences, roadblocks and concrete walls already in place. (AFP, Ma’ariv)

PA President Yasser Arafat’s security erected barricades out of wrecked cars and cement-filled barrels in order to impede an Israeli military push into the compound. A Palestinian official told Reuters the decision to increase security at the muqataa was taken after “foreign friends” passed on information that Israel planned to banish Mr. Arafat to Gaza. “They are rehearsing a plan near Tel Aviv that aims at arresting me but their plan is stupid because I will fight until martyrdom,” Mr. Arafat told reporters. (Reuters, Xinhua)

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Prime Minister Sharon would push through his Gaza pull-out plan virtually unchanged, even as Israel began work on a new fence to secure a settler-only road. Indicating that the barrier was a temporary measure until Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Mr. Olmert said Mr. Sharon would win cabinet approval within weeks despite his party’s [Likud] rejection of the plan. “We will implement the disengagement plan,” Mr. Olmert told The Jerusalem Post. “The Prime Minister must now create a mechanism that will allow him to pass this resolution.” (Reuters)

Ministers for Foreign Affairs from the EU, Israel and Arab States gathered in Dublin for the concluding part of a two-day meeting on the Middle East peace process. The EU Troika held talks in the morning with the Palestinian delegation led by Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath, along with representatives from Egypt, Syria and Jordan, followed by discussions with the Israeli side. The EU delegation included EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen, whose country holds the EU Presidency. Mr. Sha’ath said the talks achieved nothing in moving forward regional peace efforts. “They were extremist to the maximum,” he told reporters, adding that the Palestinian side pressed for Israel to “move to implement” a call by the Quartet to revive the Road Map. “But he [Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom] rejected everything, using typical Israeli slanders. It was not a positive show. But we still have to keep trying,” said Mr. Sha’ath. (AFP)

The US would give Jordan’s King Abdullah II a letter of assurance that Israel and Palestine must decide key issues through negotiations to achieve peace. “We will see the King tomorrow and I think the King will be pleased,” Secretary of State Powell said. King Abdullah was expected to meet with President Bush at the White House on that day. Another US official said the letter would reiterate President Bush’s commitment that final status issues need to be negotiated through the Israelis and Palestinians as well as a Palestinian State living alongside Israel. King Abdullah had made it clear that he wanted such a letter from President Bush to be issued at the time of the White House meeting. (Xinhua)

PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat told Voice of Palestine radio: “By talking about evacuating from the Gaza Strip, Israel has been implementing other plans and is causing more and more destruction in the Strip. Israel is expanding its Jewish settlements and escalating its military aggressions in the Strip under the cover of presenting the unilateral disengagement plan as a peace initiative. The Quartet and many other countries are being misled and if Israel wants peace, it should walk on the path of peace that stipulates an Israeli pullout to the 1967 borders in coordination with the Palestinian partner.” (Xinhua)

The UN General Assembly met on the agenda item entitled “Question of Palestine” to address the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to consider a draft resolution with the same title. Nine speakers took the floor. The Assembly then adopted resolution 58/292 with 140 in favour to 6 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 11 abstentions. By this resolution, the Assembly affirmed that the status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, remained one of military occupation, and affirmed that the Palestinian people had the right to self-determination and to sovereignty over their territory and that Israel had only the duties and obligations of an occupying Power. (UN press release GA/10240)

US President Bush said, “As I have previously stated, all final status issues must be negotiated between the parties in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). And the United States will not prejudice the outcome of those negotiations.” In a news conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Mr. Bush also promised to “expand dialogue” between the US and the Palestinians. The decision to send a letter to King Abdullah II followed a suggestion by the King that Mr. Bush “explain” his position to the Palestinians. Jordanian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marwan Muasher, who accompanied King Abdullah to Washington, said the meeting “has achieved all the results which Jordan had expected. The most significant among them all was the assertion of the American President that issues related to a final Palestinian-Israeli settlement must be tackled only by the sides concerned. They must be agreed upon by the two sides and the United States will not prejudice the outcome of the negotiations.” (AP, DPA, Ha’aretz, www.mfa.gov.jo,www.petra.gov.jo)

The White House announced that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would meet with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Germany on 17 May. Ms. Rice would call on Mr. Qureia to recognize that Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan offered a historic opportunity to advance the Road Map. President Bush told Jordan's King Abdullah II that he would send a letter to Mr. Qureia to balance the letter of understanding and that would “explain my views, and we will expand dialogue between the United States and the Palestinians.” The letter would be sent to Mr. Qureia before the meeting in Germany. (Ha’aretz)

7

Israeli soldiers shot dead three Palestinians during exchanges of fire in Nablus and Tulkarm. An IDF spokesman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that soldiers combing the old city of Nablus had noticed a Palestinian armed with a pistol and opened fire at him. An Israeli armoured force, backed by helicopters, also drove into the Nur al-Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm to arrest wanted Palestinians. The troops had called on three members of the Islamic Jihad to surrender, the army said, adding one did and had been taken in. The two others had opened fire at the soldiers and had been killed in the ensuing gun battle. Witnesses identified the two men as Wahil Rabah and Said Mousai. (AFP, AP, DPA, Ha’aretz)

PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat told the Voice of Palestine Radiothat US President Bush’s remarks [see above] were a “correction” and possibly “even a retraction” of what he had told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during their 14 April meeting in Washington. Mr. Erakat also said that “[Mr.] Bush understood that international agreements and direct talks are the guarantee for continuation of negotiations. The Palestinians are very encouraged by Bush’s declaration, since only the Palestinians and the Israelis can discuss their conflict and come up with solutions. The pledges Bush made to Sharon are not legally valid.” Israel denied that a US promise not to dictate the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations meant President Bush was backtracking on earlier commitments made to Israel. Prime Minister Sharon’s office said in a statement, “[Mr.] Bush’s words do not constitute a retraction of remarks made during the meeting with [Mr.] Sharon on April 14.” Israel Army Radio nevertheless quoted Government sources as admitting the President’s statements were “uncomfortable” for Israel. (DPA, Ma’ariv)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said he would soon meet with US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, following the new commitment by President Bush to the Road Map. He said, “If we take what President Bush and King Abdullah said yesterday and what the Quartet decided, we think it is a very good indication that it is possible, if there is a real practical effort, to go back to negotiations, that it’s possible to start a serious implementation of the Road Map.” (AFP, Reuters)

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert told Army Radiothat Prime Minister Sharon intended to dismantle all the settlements in the Gaza Strip, despite the defeat in the Likud party referendum on the disengagement plan. In a meeting with EU ambassadors, Mr. Sharon had said that updating the disengagement plan would take several weeks, during which he would hold consultations with all of his Cabinet ministers and a number of Knesset members, in order to “overcome obstacles.” He also told the group that the "Erez Industrial Zone" in northern Gaza would be evacuated in addition to the rest of the Gaza Strip. (Ha’aretz)

A Palestinian stone thrower was shot dead by Israeli troops in Beita, 5 km south of Nablus. Muntasser Ziyyad, 18 (Muntaser Theyab, 20, according to Xinhua) had been critically wounded by a bullet to the stomach and died shortly afterwards, doctors at the Rafidiya hospital in Nablus said. An IDF force with 10 jeeps had reportedly raided the village in the afternoon and had immediately imposed a curfew, the witnesses said, adding that the soldiers were opening fire at anything moving. A second youth, aged 17, was said to be in critical condition after being hit in the head by a bullet. He was taken to the hospital in the nearby village of Aqraba. An Israeli military source said troops had encountered a “violent mob of at least 300 people,” who had pelted them with an assortment of bricks, stones and firebombs. They had tried to contain the disturbance by using tear gas and rubber bullets, and had fired live warning shots in the air, but had not used live fire towards the crowd, he said. To his knowledge, only one person had been injured by the shots – a youth who had been “armed with a Molotov cocktail”. (AFP)

IDF bulldozers had destroyed six Palestinian houses in Rafah and Khan Yunis, Palestinian security sources said . An IDF force based in the “Netzer Hazani” settlement destroyed five houses west of Khan Yunis in a raid. One house was destroyed in Rafah near the “Morag” settlement. (Xinhua)

Muawiyah Hassanein, head of the Emergency and Ambulance Department in the PA Ministry of Health, said Israel last month began imposing restrictions on the transfer of critically ill patients with heart disease, kidney failure and cancer from the Gaza Strip to hospitals abroad, especially in Jordan and neighbouring Egypt. “After mid-April we asked for permits to move 316 patients with serious illnesses and Israel approved only four cases,” he said. The IDF disputed the figures, saying 184 requests had been received, of which 155 were approved since mid-April. “Most of these Palestinian civilians receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals,” it said in a statement, adding that the rest of the requests were denied due to “security reasons.” Under interim peace agreements, Israel is in control of Gaza’s borders. It tightened the closure following the 17 April killing of Abdel-Aziz Rantissi. Palestinian hospitals suffered a shortage of medical equipment and staff, especially cancer and heart disease specialists and medicines for these diseases. Mr. Hassanein added that the IDF also prevented delivery of vaccines for newborn babies to the Gaza Strip since the beginning of May. “We condemn Israel’s slow death policy. Many patients could die if they are delayed in reaching hospitals abroad,” Mr. Hassanein said, referring to an Israeli travel ban for Palestinians aged 16-35. He urged international human rights groups and the World Health Organization to intervene to prevent what he described as “medical catastrophes” in Palestinian areas. (Reuters, Xinhua)

8

The IDF said its troops had shot and wounded a Palestinian who was about to throw a Molotov cocktail in Turmus Ayya village, some 15 km north-east of Ramallah. A spokesman said the Palestinian was injured in the hand and had been taken for medical treatment in Israel before being interrogated by the security forces. (AFP)

Clashes broke out between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Qabatiya, south of Jenin, after some 15 Israeli jeeps and armoured personnel carriers entered the village and surrounded its high school. An IDF spokesman confirmed troops were carrying out searches in the village but had no information on the clashes or why the school was surrounded. A day earlier, two 15-year-old Qabatiya residents had been taken for questioning by the IDF after they had opened fire with a home-made rifle on an army base near an Israeli settlement west of Jenin. No one was wounded in the shooting. Palestinian sources confirmed the arrests and a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said the teens were members of the group. (AFP)

Israeli forces backed by jeeps and armoured vehicles raided the Balata refugee camp near Nablus with the aim of arresting Palestinian militants. During the incursion, Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers reportedly exchanged fire. A local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was moderately wounded in the clashes, a member of the group told AFP. (AFP, Xinhua)

President Bush said in an interview with Al-Ahramthat a final settlement to the Middle East conflict would only come about once an independent Palestinian State was in place and that such a State would probably not be created by 2005. “I readily concede the date has slipped some. I think the timetable of 2005 is not as realistic as it was two years ago. Nevertheless, I do think we ought to push hard as fast as possible to get a State in place.” Mr. Bush said it “may be hard” to achieve the 2005 target due to Israeli-Palestinian violence and the collapse of PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’s Government in 2003. But he added the US was committed to the Road Map and he would make this clear in a letter to PA Prime Minister Qureia. In response, PA President Arafat said the creation of a State by 2005 was “more than realistic,” while Mr. Qureia called for stepped-up peace negotiations with Israel to meet the deadline. “Losing time does not serve the peace process nor the stability of this region. Therefore we think 2005 leaves adequate time for serious negotiations,” he told reporters in Ramallah. (AFP, Reuters)

The Governor of Rafah, Majid Al-Agha, said 1,700 Palestinian houses in the city had been demolished since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000. He told reporters that 1,000 houses were completely razed and another 700 partially destroyed and no longer fit for living, rendering more than 10,000 residents homeless. Mr. Al-Agha said most of the demolished houses were located near the border with Egypt, where Israel intends to establish an electronic security fence. He warned that the continuing house demolition campaign would spell disaster for thousands of families living in the area and called on international humanitarian organizations to provide protection to Palestinians. (Xinhua)

A total of 15 Palestinians were killed by the IDF last week, 6 of them in the Gaza Strip and the other 9 in the West Bank, a report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said. It said the IDF had carried out 12 military raids last week in the Strip. Some 80 Palestinian houses were also demolished in Central and Southern Gaza Strip, leaving more than 722 Palestinians homeless. Among the nine Palestinians killed during Israeli military incursions and operations in the West Bank was a 65-year-old woman. (Xinhua)

9

Israeli soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian in the northern Gaza Strip overnight and wounded a second man in the southern part of the region, Israeli media reported. Both Palestinians were spotted during the night by guards in a zone along a security fence off-limits to Palestinians. An IDF spokesman in Tel Aviv was only able to confirm that soldiers had opened fire and hit both men. The first Palestinian was hit by Israeli fire as he was getting close to the “Netzarim” settlement. The second one was hit in a restricted area close to the Sufa border crossing. (AFP, DPA)

Eight Palestinian schoolgirls were injured in an unexplained explosion that occurred in an elementary school in Hebron. Israel Radiosaid the Israeli and Palestinian police were investigating the incident, fearing that it was an attack which targeted the neighbouring “Kiryat Arba” settlement. Palestinian sources as well as experts said the explosion was caused by a gas leak in the school, while medical sources described the girls’ injuries as moderate. (Xinhua)

The Israeli Navy had fired a rocket from a boat at a car on the coastal road near Swedaniya, in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian security sources said, adding that the car’s passengers had been slightly injured when the rocket missed its target and exploded nearby. They did not give any information about the passengers’ identities. (Xinhua)

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claimed responsibility for destroying an IDF tank east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The group said in a leaflet that militants had planted a roadside bomb and detonated it when the tank drove over it. Right after the explosion, Israeli soldiers and the militants had exchanged fire and one of the militants had been shot and wounded, the leaflet said, adding that the group had pulled back with the wounded militant. Palestinian medical sources in Khan Yunis said two Palestinians had been moderately hurt by shrapnel of an Israeli tank shell fired at them near the place where the roadside bomb exploded. (Xinhua)

An IDF spokesman announced the arrest of 10 Palestinians who had been digging a tunnel from Rafah to Egypt. The Palestinians had been transferred to the Israeli security services for investigation, the spokesman said. The tunnel was reportedly the eleventh uncovered since the start of the year and the ninetieth since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. An IDF statement the next day said the tunnel in an olive grove was 150 m long. Palestinian security sources said a number of Israeli armoured vehicles had broken into Al-Jaradat area near Rafah and arrested four Palestinians after breaking into their houses. (AFP, DPA, www.idf.il, Xinhua)

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for attacking a car of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The group said in a leaflet sent to the press that its members had opened fire at the car on a road near the “Brakha” settlement, south of Nablus, injuring several settlers in the car. The group said the attack was to revenge the killing of four of its members in an Israeli air strike in Nablus one week earlier. Palestinian witnesses said an IDF force backed by tanks and armoured vehicles had raided the nearby village of Kafr Qalil and searched the villagers’ homes. No one was arrested. (Xinhua)

The Saraya Al-Quds, armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for opening fire at Israeli soldiers and settlers near the (Kissufim) junction east of Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers killed at least one gunman and were searching the area for the body of the second gunman. Israel Radioreported that the settlers held a service and were building a monument for an Israeli woman and her four daughters who had been shot dead the previous week on a road near the junction. Palestinian witnesses said they saw Israeli ambulances arriving at the area. However, Israel Radiosaid that there had been no injuries. Automatic gunfire kept dozens of settlers, including children, pinned to the ground for 20 minutes. A tank drove along the side of the road, kicking up large clouds of dust that engulfed the settlers and made it harder for gunmen to take aim. The witnesses said Israeli soldiers returned fire where the gunshots came from, as well as at the Palestinian cars at an IDF roadblock. Palestinian security sources said the Israeli soldiers closed down the roadblock at the junction that leads to the “Gush Katif” settlement block. Several Palestinians were reportedly injured and taken to hospitals. (AP, Xinhua)

Palestinians deported from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem to the Gaza Strip urged the world to help them go back home. About 26 Palestinians, who had taken refuge in the Church when the IDF carried out its "Defensive Shield" operation two years ago, were deported to the Gaza Strip for two years. The deportees, who have been living in the Gaza Strip separated from their families, said in a written statement that they first of all rejected “the criminal action of deporting them and depriving them of being with their families.” “The Israeli action of deporting Palestinians indicates the policy of evacuating the land from its native owners and replacing it with settlers,” said the statement. Another 13 Palestinians, who were in the church together with those who were deported to the Gaza Strip, were deported to several European countries. “Our right of return to our towns and villages in the West Bank is a legal and humanitarian right,” said Mazen Hussein, the deportees’ spokesman. “All human rights organizations are urged to end this tragedy.” (Xinhua)

The PFLP called on PA Prime Minister Qureia to cancel his meeting with US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, due to be held in Germany on 17 May. The group issued a leaflet, asking to cancel the meeting “as a protest to the statement by President Bush that it is hard to have a Palestinian State by the year 2005,” since it was “hard to count on the American role in achieving a balanced permanent peaceful settlement in the region that leads to the implementation of the legal international resolutions.” “The implementation of those resolutions would guarantee the Palestinian people their legitimate rights of return, self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital,” said the leaflet, and called upon the PA to stop what it called “gambling on the American stands and projects that stem out from the White House including the Road Map.” “Bush shot the bullet of mercy at the Road Map when he gave historic guarantees to Prime Minister Sharon that there will be no return for the Palestinians and Israeli settlements can be kept,” said the leaflet. (Xinhua)

The meeting of Arab League Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Cairo approved a draft resolution urging President Bush to uphold his commitment to the creation of a “viable Palestinian State,” according to a text. The draft resolution, to be submitted to Arab heads of State at a summit slated for late May in Tunis, made no reference to a previously US-backed proposal to set up the Palestinian State by 2005. “Arab leaders urge President George W. Bush to uphold the undertakings deriving from his vision concerning the establishment of a viable Palestinian State alongside Israel,” the draft resolution said. It also reminded Mr. Bush that all matters pertaining to the final status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory should be decided through negotiations between the two sides. In this context, the draft resolution commended a letter of assurances from Mr. Bush to Jordan’s King Abdullah II in which he said that the US would not prejudice the outcome of such final status negotiations. Another draft resolution endorsed by the meeting condemns Israel’s targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders and expressed the Arabs’ readiness to take part in any effort to fight terror. “Arab leaders condemned Israeli military operations in the Palestinian and Arab territories,” including those that victimize civilians and those “which target Palestinian leaders,” the text said, warning that such acts trigger violence and retaliation. The Arab leaders “renew their condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and express readiness to take part in any effort to combat [it] under a UN umbrella.” (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon cancelled a scheduled trip to the US and said he would bring an alternative disengagement initiative to the Cabinet in three weeks. The Jerusalem Post quoted Mr. Sharon’s office as saying the trip was called off because the Prime Minister would be busy in the next few weeks consulting with ministers over his new initiative. (DPA)

“With or without an agreement, there will no longer be any Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip within five years,” Defence Minister Mofaz was quoted as saying by Israeli Public Radio . “This region was not bequeathed to us by our ancestors and it was a historical mistake to keep settlers there,” he had added at a meeting, the radio said. (AFP)

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Overnight in Abu Dis, Israeli border police shot and killed Fadi Bahar, 19, a student at Al-Quds University. According to witnesses, Israeli troops opened fire on Mr. Bahar and some of his friends, believing they were behaving in a suspicious manner. An Israeli military spokesman said the army only had knowledge of an incident in which a Palestinian threw a firebomb at border guards who responded by firing a warning shot in the air. “The Palestinian panicked and as he was running away, he was hit by a Palestinian car,” the spokesman said. Mr. Bahar was taken to the Mukassed hospital in East Jerusalem, where he died. “It is very clear, the youngster died of a wound caused by a live bullet to his head,” said Khaled Qoreia, the director of the hospital. Mr. Qoreia also pointed out what was once a two-minute trip from the scene of the shooting to the hospital had now been turned into a 15-km detour around the wall Israel had erected in Abu Dis. (AFP)

Israeli troops demolished 13 Palestinian houses in the Gaza Strip. Bulldozers flattened 12 one-story houses along the heavily guarded road, which linked Israeli settlements in Gaza with Israel. A four-story apartment building was also blown up by troops, Palestinian officials said. In all, about 75 Palestinians were left homeless, all members of the same clan. “They left nothing for us,” said Yousef Abu Hadaf, one of the homeowners. “The bulldozers are uprooting trees, demolishing our houses.” The Israeli military said the houses had been torn down because they had served as cover for the gunmen. (AP)

Peace Now, which monitors settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said existing outposts had been reinforced with new infrastructure such as paved roads, running water and electricity in the first four months of 2004. “As of this month, despite court rulings and evacuation orders there have not been any serious removals on the ground,” it said in a report based on its latest aerial survey of the 100 outposts and 145 established settlements. The study said more than 50 permanent houses were being built, more caravans were placed and roads being paved at a number of outposts in the West Bank. It said 95 of the hilltop caravan clusters were inhabited and 61 of them built without Government approval since Prime Minister Sharon took office in 2001. According to Peace Now, there had been a significant development in the permanent construction category at, among other places, “Ofra,” “Brukhin,” “Hayovel,” “Yitzhar West” and “Itamar 777.” In the report’s conclusion, the movement wrote: “The trend of building up the current outposts throughout the territories is continuing. However, the number of outposts has remained stable (a total of 100) after the establishment of a new outpost northwest of ‘Ofra’.” (Ma’ariv, Reuters)

Israeli settlers began setting up a new settlement in the “Gush Katif” block in the southern Gaza Strip, to be called “Moshav Katif.” Three bulldozers were seen levelling the ground about 100 m from the “Katif” settlement in preparation for the construction. “Here, a new community is being built in memory of Tali Hatuel and her daughters,” read a sign at the site, referring to the pregnant woman who was killed with her four daughters by Palestinian gunmen on 2 May. (AFP)

The Palestinian Cabinet decided to hold long-delayed municipal elections in the coming months and appealed for international help in setting a date for general elections. The local elections would be held in stages, with the first voting to take place in Jericho by the end of August 2004, followed by elections in Gaza Strip municipalities, said Local Affairs Minister Jamal Shobaki. The Cabinet did not link local elections to an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns, removing a major obstacle. However, PA Prime Minister Qureia reiterated that legislative and presidential elections would only be held once Israeli soldiers had withdrawn from all Palestinian population centres. Mr. Qureia said he would ask the Quartet to come up with a date for general elections. (AP)

The PLO representative in Tokyo, Walid Seyam, said: “We do not believe the US Administration will ever be a solver” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it had maintained a pro-Israel stance since the State of Israel was established in 1948. Speaking at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club, Mr. Seyam reiterated that peace would never be achieved in the region unless the international community put pressure on Israel. He stressed the importance of solving the long-standing conflict politically, not militarily, and urged Japan, the EU, China and Russia to work together more closely for peace in the region. He praised Japan for stepping up its presence in the Middle East, saying: “We need Japan as a partner not only economically but politically” to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, given that Japan is one of the very few countries both sides respect. Mr. Seyam said Japan could play an important role in the process of building peace in the region by becoming a neutral negotiator. The PLO office in Tokyo closed in 1993 due to financial problems and reopened in September 2003. (AP)

Khaled Meshaal, Head of Hamas' Political Bureau, told an Austrian newspaper that there would be no change in Hamas strategy despite the recent assassination of two of its leaders. The interview was conducted at a secret location under tight security and published in the Standard. Mr. Meshaal denied Hamas' links with al-Qaeda and said: “We’re only fighting on Palestinian soil and against the Israeli occupation, not against the whole world.” By occupation, he meant all of historical Palestine, including today’s Israel. Asked if this meant “driving the Israelis into the sea”, Mr. Meshaal said Hamas did not want to drive anyone out, not even the Israelis: “We only want our land back.” There would be “no problem with Jews, Christians and Moslems living in Palestine,” he said, stressing that the problem between Israel and the Palestinians was political. While many in Hamas would prefer to replace the Jewish State with an Islamic one, the most important thing was democracy, Mr. Meshaal said. If the Palestinians preferred a secular order, that would be respected. (DPA)

The trial of an Israeli soldier facing manslaughter charges in connection with the death of a British activist opened at an IDF base in southern Israel. The soldier, who had not been identified by name, was accused of shooting Tom Hurndall in the head during an army operation in the Gaza Strip in April 2003. He was shot in the Rafah refugee camp, where he was photographing the work of the International Solidarity Movement. Witnesses said Mr. Hurndall, 22, was helping Palestinian children avoid Israeli tanks. The soldier, arrested in December 2003, was originally charged with intent to injure but the charge was upgraded after Mr. Hurndall’s death. Mr. Hurndall’s mother, Jocelyn, was present at the trial and accused the military of not taking the killing seriously: “We have achieved quite a significant amount by getting the investigation. But it is not sufficient to come this far merely for the staging of a show trial.” She said she wanted the soldier to be charged with murder and was angry the army had given her only a three-page summary of the evidence in the case. The defence lawyer, Ilan Bombach, requested that the three-judge panel ignore a confession by the soldier, insisting that it was “given under pressure.” The trial was adjourned until 19 May while judges considered Mr. Bombach’s request. In addition to manslaughter, the soldier had been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of submitting false testimony, one count of obtaining false testimony and one count of unbecoming behaviour. (AP)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa confirmed, during the meeting of Arab League Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Cairo, that the Arab Summit would be held in Tunis from 22 to 23 May 2004. Mr. Moussa also said consensus had been reached on reform issues. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs, meeting on the third day, were expected to draft a resolution calling for US President Bush to support the creation of a “viable Palestinian State.” They were also working on a resolution condemning Israel for its assassinations of Palestinian leaders. Mr. Moussa also said Washington’s reluctance to back the deadline of 2005 for a Palestinian State was a “very serious matter” and an “unacceptable way to proceed with the peace process.” (AFP)

The Israel High Court of Justice had challenged the Israeli Government’s blanket ban on issuing press cards to Palestinian reporters. The High Court on 25 April had ruled that it was illegal for the Government Press Office to refuse credentials to all journalists from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the grounds that they posed a potential security risk. In its petition, submitted that day, the Government said the domestic security service believed giving press cards to Palestinians would increase the danger to Israeli leaders because journalists might have access to them. The High Court’s ruling said Palestinian journalists should be allowed cards if they had been given security clearance to work in Israel. (Reuters)

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Shortly after midnight, Israeli troops began a raid with three dozen tanks and several bulldozers movng into the Gaza neighbourhood of Zeitoun. Seven Palestinians were killed fighting with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip. At least 100 Palestinians were wounded, with 14 in critical condition. Palestinian militants blew up an Israeli armoured personnel carrier, killing six Israeli soldiers. The armoured personnel carrier, loaded with explosives for demolitions, ran over a powerful, improvised mine and was “blown to pieces,” a senior military official said. It happened around 6:30 a.m. local time, as it was on its way out of Gaza City. Among the critically wounded Palestinians was an 11-year-old boy. Seven lost their limbs. For more than 12 hours, explosions and machine gun fire from tanks and helicopters were heard across Gaza City and grey smoke rose into the air. The army had entered Zeitoun in search for weapons. Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for detonating the bomb under the armoured personnel carrier. The IDF was to close off the Zeitoun neighbourhood to ensure the safety of troops evacuating the carrier and remains of the killed Israeli soldiers. (AFP, AP, DPA, Ma’ariv, Reuters, Xinhua)

An Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile at two militants in a car in Gaza City. According to witnesses, the car was completely destroyed, while three bystanders were injured and taken to a hospital. The car had been hit in the Shajeiyeh district of Gaza City, just hours after Palestinians had blown up an Israeli armoured personnel carrier. Medical sources at the Shiffa Hospital in Gaza City confirmed that two had been killed and three injured by the shrapnel of the Apache rockets fired at the car. (AP, Xinhua)

PA Prime Minister Qureia accused the Israeli military of trying to sabotage all peace hopes. “Israel does not want calm. Every time we try to restore peace they strike back with military actions,” he told reporters. “Each time there is hope for peace and for the resumption of the peace talks, Israel insists on going into places and escalating the situation,” he also said. Israeli MK Yossi Sarid said, “Every soldier who dies in Gaza, dies in vain … No one has anything in Gaza except for the settlers.” Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about the connection between the “attack” and the disengagement plan and replied, “There is no connection between the two. The fight against terror must be persistent and the Government is committed to that. We will fight terror regardless of the political questions.” MK Uri Ariel said, “We must attack the Gaza murderers, even if we hit innocent civilians in the process,” while Labour MK Pines-Paz said, “Military response to deaths of soldiers in Gaza is not enough; Israel must evacuate Gaza.” The Chairman of the Labour Party and the Opposition, Shimon Peres, said, “Real conclusions must be drawn regarding the Gaza Strip.” (AP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Reuters)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia would present US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice with a plan for a new Palestinian State, based on the Road Map, according to PA Security Chief Jibril Rajoub at a press conference in Ramallah. Mr. Rajoub spoke following a meeting of the PA National Security Council, which had been convened by PA President Arafat. During their scheduled 17 May meeting in Berlin, Mr. Qureia would also present Ms. Rice with a security programme to be implemented after any Israeli pull-out from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He was expected to press Ms. Rice on the planned Israeli pullout from Gaza and the construction of the separation wall. Israeli Radiohad quoted Mr. Rajoub the previous day as saying that talks were under way between Egypt, Israel and the US over an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha'ath was to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell during an international economic convention in Jordan the following week. PA Prime Minister Qureia and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad were also expected to attend. (Ha’aretz)

President Arafat’s top aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh said there were ongoing European efforts aimed at ending the current crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Abu Rudeineh told Al-Ayyam that efforts were “aimed at finding a way out of the current crisis and ending the Israeli siege imposed on Arafat is one of the top priorities of these contacts,” he said. He also said that efforts had not reached a clear position that could be relied upon but Europe was making intensive efforts to “unfreeze the current situation.” “They (Europeans) are trying so hard but the US Administration and Israel still haven’t made any clear position,” he added. Meanwhile, Mr. Abu Rudeineh denied reports that Arab and Egyptian officials would accompany Mr. Arafat from his headquarters to Tunis to attend the Arab Summit on 22-23 May. “We haven’t heard such suggestions and they are inconsiderable. Our position is to grant Arafat freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank without any restrictions as well as to move freely from and to the Palestinian territories,” he added. (Xinhua)

Syrian President Bashar Assad met with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen for talks on the Middle East peace process and the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, according to Syria’s official news agency SANA. Following his meeting with Mr. Assad, Mr. Rød-Larsen told reporters that any Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip had to take place in such a manner that it could be defined as the end of the occupation of Gaza. “It has to be clean and full. Such a withdrawal should be linked to similar withdrawals from the West Bank within the framework of the Road Map plan to peace in the Middle East,” he said. Mr. Rød-Larsen also said all Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian lands had to take place within the broader context of a comprehensive solution encompassing all tracks, including the Lebanese and Syrian ones, of the Middle East peace process. A day earlier, Mr. Rød-Larsen was in Beirut to meet senior officials, including Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. He briefed them on the recent meeting of the Quartet held in New York. (DPA, UN News Centre)

Several Christian organizations, headed by the Church of Sweden, launched a campaign urging Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The campaign includes a boycott of Israeli settlers' goods from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to pressure Israel to end the occupation as part of efforts to promote peace in the region. “The occupation is the main problem. Everything else is a consequence of it,” Archbishop K.G. Hammar told Swedish television SVT. “A prerequisite for a just peace is an end to the occupation.” The campaign, known as the Hope campaign, was a response to an initiative launched by the World Council of Churches. Supporters said they rejected violence committed by both Israel and the Palestinians and urged support for non-violent means to promote a lasting solution. They said they hoped the European Union would ensure that its trade agreements with Israel did not fund or support settlements in the territory. Among groups that supported the campaign were the Swedish Mission Covenant Church, the Catholic aid agency Caritas, YMCA-YWCA and the Christian peace movement Kristna Freds. (DPA)

US President George Bush sent a letter to PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia asking him to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. “If the plan is implemented, there is a real chance to move forward toward peace and toward the realization of Palestinian national aspirations,” the letter said. “The United States will not prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations, including on the borders of a Palestinian State,” it also said. (AFP, Ma’ariv, www.ipc.gv.ps)

The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on violence in Gaza City:


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Five Palestinians were killed, including three who were killed when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile on the Zeitun neighbourhood of Gaza City, as Israeli troops searched for the remains of six soldiers killed the day before. Palestinian residents said the missile strike, the second in less than two hours, had targeted a group of people outside a mosque. Hospital officials confirmed three deaths and at least 40 people injured, including a woman and two girls. Two other Palestinians were shot during street clashes, one of them was identified as Midhat al-Baana, a 35-year-old street vendor. Earlier, six Palestinians had been wounded when an Israeli helicopter had fired a missile on a house belonging to Rashid Eshtewi, who was reportedly an Islamist militant. It was not immediately clear whether the wounded were fighters or civilians, sources said. Israeli infantry backed by helicopters were combing the Zeitun neighbourhood. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz)

Five Israeli soldiers were killed in a rocket attack in Rafah, southern Gaza, the army confirmed. “An IDF officer and four IDF soldiers were killed and three soldiers slightly injured in an activity intended to target weapon-smuggling tunnels along the Israel-Egypt border near Rafah this evening,” a military source said. The blast occurred as a three-vehicle convoy was about to blow up a cross-border tunnel used by Palestinian militants for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. “The convoy had stopped and one of the vehicles was hit by what we believe to be a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) after which there was a very large explosion,” Capt. Erik Snider said, adding that at the time soldiers were unloading explosive material in order to blow up the tunnel. Capt. Snider stressed that the attack was different from the blast which destroyed an armoured personnel carrier the previous day on 11 May. “Yesterday, an APC went over a mine but in this case, the vehicle was struck by an RPG. No vehicle drove over an explosive device,” he said. Immediately after the incident, Israeli soldiers in the border area had opened fire towards Palestinian houses in the refugee camp, wounding 20 people, said witnesses and medical sources. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. (AFP)

Amid sporadic gunfire, Israeli troops hunted house-to-house for the remains of the killed Israeli soldiers. Schools and shops were closed while residents complained that electricity had been shut off after a tank shell hit a local generator. That also meant many Palestinians were without water. “We are under siege,” one resident said over the phone. “Children are frightened and we are dismayed ...” A massive concentration of Israeli troops settled down for a lengthy stay in Gaza City after the Security Cabinet decided the IDF would remain until all body parts of the soldiers had been found. Bulldozers entered Zeitun, destroying parts of the main road and water pipes damaged in fighting the day earlier. Israeli security forces also conducted operations in Jenin and Nablus. (AP, Reuters)

Egyptian mediators and PA security officials were in talks with the Islamic Jihad, which was holding remains of Israeli soldiers killed a day earlier in Gaza City. “Negotiations are under way with the Islamic Jihad in Palestine and abroad in order to recover the remains of the Israeli soldiers in exchange for an army withdrawal from the Zeitun neighbourhood,” a PA official told AFP. PA President Yasser Arafat wanted to “show respect for the dead,” his aides said. “I think we should give the remains back, even though Israel is still keeping dozens of Palestinian and Arab bodies.” Danny Rubenstein of Ha’aretzstated that the gruesome scenes [of the Israeli soldiers’ remains] were no escalation in horror and pointed out that the body of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin had suffered a similar fate in the minutes following his death by an Israeli missile. Sources said the militants holding the soldiers’ remains said they would return them to Israel only when the IDF pulls out of the Zeitun neighbourhood. (AFP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Five Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in Nablus. Four of them were injured by the explosion of a device they had tried to detonate, as an Israeli army vehicle passed by during an incursion into the Balata refugee camp. The army had then intercepted a Palestinian ambulance carrying one of them and arrested him, Palestinian medical and security sources said. An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers had opened fire on the explosive device Palestinian militants were planting and that two of them had been wounded by the blast. Moments later, a 19-year-old Palestinian was seriously wounded when soldiers opened fire on a group of young stone-throwers. (AFP)

After Israeli helicopter gunships had fired missiles into Gaza City, killing three Palestinians, the Israeli navy fired a shell at a Palestinian security target on the coast of Gaza. There was no immediate word of casualties or damage. (Reuters)

The Israeli Government called on UNRWA international staff to immediately evacuate the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said foreign diplomatic missions and embassy staff were also urged to leave. (Xinhua)

US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is to meet today with German Minister for Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer for talks on how to advance the Middle East peace process. Ms. Rice and Mr. Fischer will exchange views on how to revive the peace process, sources said. (AFP)

Speaking on Israel Radio,Minister for Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom said if Israel wanted to change life in the region, it must continue building the West Bank separation barrier, work to get Palestinian terror groups placed on international lists of terrorists and try to bring about a different Palestinian leadership – in part by removing PA President Yasser Arafat from power. (Ha’aretz)

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At least 12 Palestinians had been killed in heavy fighting with Israeli soldiers in Rafah, hospital officials reported. Witnesses said eleven had been killed in helicopter missile strikes in the Rafah refugee camp. “A helicopter fired missiles at a group of armed militants in two separate incidents at the same spot,” an Israeli military source said. Israeli troops searching the area for soldiers’ remains, later shot dead a 19-year-old Palestinian in Rafah, where 10 homes had been demolished. Palestinians said army bulldozers had also destroyed a [Thou Nurayn mosque] in the Yebna neighbourhood near the border with Egypt. The PA Ministry of Islamic Properties said the IDF had demolished four mosques in the city since the start of the intifada II. A total of 16 Palestinians had been killed and around 150 injured since Israeli armour backed by helicopters stormed the Zeitun area early 11 May. (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Israeli troops withdrew from the Zeitun neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip after reaching an Egyptian-brokered agreement with the Islamic Jihad. Local residents and medics said the withdrawal began shortly after midnight, with at least two tanks pulling back from the main Salah al-Din street, which had been completely destroyed during the incursion. Under the terms of the agreement, the group were to hand over the soldiers’ remains in return for an Israeli pull-out from Zeitun and the return of an undisclosed number of militants’ bodies held by Israel. Within hours of the pull-out, Palestinian militants had turned over the remains to an Egyptian diplomat and two senior Palestinian officials, who had handed them to Israeli officials at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) checkpoint, sources on both sides said. “The Israeli side has received the box containing the remains of the soldiers’ bodies,” according to a senior Palestinian official. “The IDF received this evening the findings taken by the Palestinians from the scene of the incident on Tuesday 11 May in which six IDF soldiers were killed in Zeitun,” the army said. (AFP)

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, where 11 Israeli soldiers and 19 Palestinians had been killed in two days of fighting, would eventually take place. Prime Minister Sharon “will continue to fight terrorism uncompromisingly whilst at the same time carrying out his disengagement plan,” Mr. Olmert said. He also said that the attack in Rafah had proved the IDF presence in the Gaza Strip did not prevent terror. (AF, Ha’aretz)

UNRWA called on all parties to the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to respect the integrity of its ambulance services and the neutrality of its staff. A statement by the agency said the call followed an incident in Gaza City on 11 May, in which armed Palestinian militants had threatened the lives of an UNRWA driver and paramedic and forced them to transport an injured gunman and two other armed Palestinians to a hospital in Gaza City. “UNRWA condemns this action in the strongest possible terms,” the statement said. “While its ambulances do not make any distinction between the injured, whether they are injured fighters or non-combatants, at no time and under no circumstances should armed men enter any UNRWA vehicle.” (DPA, UNRWA press release HQ/G/09/2004)

The US renewed its warning to US citizens to leave the Gaza Strip immediately, saying those even “remotely considering” departing should do so. The US Embassy in Tel Aviv also said the American International School in Gaza would be closed, at least through the end of the week. A notice issued to US citizens in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory said, “The (Embassy) reiterates its advice to all Americans to avoid travel to the Gaza Strip and urges all Americans presently there to leave immediately. (AFP)

Malaysian Prime Minister and Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told the Ministerial Meeting of the Committee on Palestine of the Movement at the Putrajaya Convention Centre in Malaysia that the UN, notably the Security Council, remained the last hope for the Palestinian people. “This is the way to end the bloodshed and bring about a modicum of calm to a situation steeped in mistrust and antipathy,” he said. Opening the meeting the previous day, Mr. Abdullah had also said there was an urgent need for everyone to manifest solidarity with the continuing struggle of the Palestinian people and their elected representatives. Mr. Abdullah said the campaign would be like the one carried out against apartheid in South Africa. Farouk Kaddoumi, Head of the PLO Political Department, said the meeting had discussed President Bush’s assurances of support to Prime Minister Sharon and his recent dismissal of 2005 as a viable date for creating a Palestinian State. “These assurances have destroyed the peace process. How can we really revive the peace process after all these assurances, which really deny the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes,” he said. Palestinian officials at the meeting said they would ask the NAM members to call for a trade and economic boycott of Israel. “I think it’s a good idea to decide upon,” according to Mr. Abdullah. According to a draft communiqué of the meeting, the Movement will call on Washington to renew its support for the Road Map and to promise a Palestinian State by 2005. (Reuters)

South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad welcomed Prime Minister Abdullah’s suggestion for a global, people-based movement to support the Palestinian cause. Mr. Pahad said that by mobilizing the people, it would also help break the propaganda machinery against the Palestinian cause. Saying it was time for countries across the world to build on the suggestion, he told Bernamaon the sidelines of the meeting: “I think it is a good idea, which we must develop … Some Governments are not taking an objective stand on this issue. They are taking sides … If we mobilize people on the just cause of the Palestinian people we can bring pressure on Governments to act more decisively. … We must now help the Palestinian-Israelis to find a political solution based on the movement of people that we mobilize.” (Bernama)

The European Commission said it was giving €28 million in urgently needed humanitarian aid to various victims in the Middle East, including Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The funds would help provide food, water, sanitation and emergency health care to about 1 million people, the Commission said. European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson deplored the “deteriorating living conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories,” which he said was the direct result of escalating violence. “Only a lifting of closures policy and of the constraints faced in implementing aid programmes can help reverse the situation,” he said. The Commissioner said about two million people, or 60 per cent of the population, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lived below the poverty line on less than €2 a day. Nearly half of Palestinians of working age are unemployed. Officials also cited a UN warning that Israel’s construction of a “security barrier” had already cut off more than 200,000 Palestinians from health and education services, water resources and livelihoods. “The psychological impact, especially on children, is dramatic,” the Commissioner noted, adding that a portion of the Commission's aid would be used to finance recreational activities in schools in refugee camps and would also provide children with psychological support. (DPA)

According to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by Maagar Mokhot and led by Prof. Y. Katz for Israel Radio, the majority of respondents said the recent rocket attack on the armoured personnel carrier in the Gaza Strip had not changed their position regarding Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plans. Some 83 per cent of Israeli respondents said their position did not change, with 9 per cent saying it had. Among Likud members, 81 per cent said their position remained the same, with 5 per cent saying their position had changed. When asked whether they supported the disengagement plan, 56 per cent of Israeli respondents said they supported the disengagement plan, while 32 per cent opposed such a move. Among Likud members, who rejected the plan in the 2 May referendum, 32 per cent said they supported the disengagement plan, while 49 per cent opposed it. (IMRA)

The IDF demolished the house of Hamas member Ra’ad Abu Daher in Ramallah overnight, the Israel Broadcasting Authority reported. He was allegedly responsible for planning suicide attacks, including the one in Nevi’im street in [West] Jerusalem, in which 14 people were injured and the car bomb in “Pisgat Ze’ev” near East Jerusalem, two and a half years ago. (The Jerusalem Post)

On the issue of handing over Israeli soldiers’ remains, the Director of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip Col. Rashid Abushbak said during a press conference: “We dealt with this issue [for] moral and humane reasons, away from the threats Israel made all the time of stepping up military operations in Gaza City.” (International Press Center-Palestine)

Russia expressed concern over the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip, calling for political dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians. Russia is “seriously concerned about another spiral of confrontation in the Gaza Strip,” the Foreign Ministry stated, stressing “durable peace can only be achieved as a result of political negotiations” between the two sides in accordance with the Road Map. Pointing out that “the use of force will not bring closer the solution of problems,” the Ministry called on both sides to promote a ceasefire and the resumption of security cooperation, which would open the way to political dialogue and the implementation of the Road Map. (AFP, www.mid.ru, Xinhua)

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Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen exchanged heavy fire in the Rafah refugee camp, as IDF bulldozers tore down nine houses close to a military patrol road that runs between Rafah and the Egyptian border where five IDF soldiers had been killed earlier in the week. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades announced over megaphones and in a leaflet that its members had hit an IDF jeep with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing two soldiers and wounding two others. An IDF spokeswoman would only say that militants had opened fire at an Israeli force and that there had been casualties, due to censorship imposed until the families had been informed. On the Palestinian side, one man was killed in a missile strike and nine were injured, two of them seriously. Initial reports said three men had died in the strike. A second Palestinian, identified as Mahmud Jumaa, 22, died when an explosive device exploded prematurely and blew up in his hands outside the “Rafiah Yam” settlement. Also, three Palestinians had been buried under rubble when their house was destroyed, witnesses said. Rescue workers said they were unable to reach the site and an ambulance came under fire. (AFP, AP, DPA, Xinhua)

Israel Radiosaid the IDF planned to demolish hundreds of buildings in the Rafah refugee camp, to remove firing positions or cover for potential attackers. During the day, frantic refugees waving white flags removed valuables in boxes and plastic bags and carted away furniture, doors and window frames. Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the IDF's Chief of Staff, told Israel Radiothe armoured personnel carrier destroyed earlier in the week had been hit by a projectile fired from one of the camp’s houses. “There’s a process whereby the first row of houses is abandoned and used for digging tunnels for smuggling weapons and cover for shooting,” he said. “We’ve been forced to destroy houses here in the past and apparently we’ll have to destroy more houses in the future.” The Israeli military said so far it had demolished only one house used as cover by gunmen, whereas several other buildings had been damaged unintentionally by wide armoured vehicles moving through narrow alleys. Since September 2000, the IDF had razed 1,026 houses in Rafah and damaged 767, according to Palestinian officials. The destruction had left more than 10,000 Palestinians homeless. PA Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat called for US intervention to halt the destruction, “This is a catastrophe. At a time when the Israelis are speaking of disengaging from Gaza this is really re-engaging. I hope that President Bush, who says he is encouraged by disengagement, will interfere to stop the demolitions.” PA President Yasser Arafat’s top aide, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told Voice of Palestineradio the Israeli plan exposed “the lie of withdrawing from Gaza”. He appealed to the Security Council and General Assembly to stop “these Israeli crimes.” (AP, DPA)

Israel Radioreported, quoting a “senior security source,” that the IDF would clear an area hundreds of metres wide to widen the “Philadelphi axis” between Rafah and the border with Egypt until it becomes virtually impossible for Palestinian snipers to open fire at Israeli troops along the border or for militants to launch anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The demolition work is scheduled to begin immediately upon completion of searches for the body parts of the Israeli soldiers killed in the 11 May attack. The army will first demolish abandoned houses on the outskirts of Rafah before moving on to inhabited homes, the radio said. Israel would seek “alternative housing solutions” for the hundreds of Palestinian families that were to become homeless. UNRWA spokesman Paul McCann said Israel had already widened its "security strip" on the border to at least 300 m and made 11,000 people in Rafah homeless since September 2000. “It’s impossible to believe that every one of these houses shelters militants or the entrance to a tunnel,” he said, also pointing out that occupants only abandoned the “empty buildings” because of the constant danger of being killed or wounded and eventually expelled by the IDF. UNRWA, which condemns Israel’s policy as “collective punishment,” doubted that the Israeli Government would assist the Palestinians in finding new homes. “What’s happened in Rafah is already a humanitarian catastrophe. We would deplore any move to destroy even more homes of innocent civilians,” Mr. McCann said. (DPA)

Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza City following the biggest offensive in the area in years. The IDF said in a statement it had completed its search for body parts of six soldiers killed in an explosion that had destroyed an armoured vehicle on 11 May. The IDF left behind a swath of destruction in Gaza City: one high-rise building demolished, two others rendered uninhabitable, walls collapsed from explosions, hundreds of trees uprooted, Gaza’s main road rendered impassable for two miles. (AFP, www.idf.il)

A poll in Yediot Aharonotshowed a sharp rise in support for Prime Minister Sharon’s plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The survey of 503 people conducted after the latest violence showed 71 per cent of respondents in favour of a pullout, up from 62 per cent on 4 May. Opposition slipped to 24 per cent from 32 per cent. The margin of error was 4.4 per cent. (AP)

A Ma’arivsurvey showed that 79 per cent of Israelis supported withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, with 40 per cent saying they wanted Israel out of Gaza immediately with or without an agreement and 39 per cent saying they wanted Israel to leave Gaza but only if an agreement with the Palestinians was reached. Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan was supported by 58 per cent of those asked, who said they would vote in favour of the plan if presented in a national referendum. (Ma’ariv)

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Radioof “the inhumanity and depravity of Palestinians in violating the honour of Israeli soldiers and the fact that they used UN ambulances and UNRWA to spirit away body parts from the site of the attack.” “I hope that the UN Secretary-General will say his piece on this issue,” he added. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad dismissed the accusation as a lie. “After the vehicle was blown up, the fighters ... stormed the scene, took the body parts and withdrew,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told Reuters in Gaza. A spokesman for UNRWA, which operates six ambulances in the Gaza Strip, declined to comment on Mr. Mofaz’s remarks. (Reuters)

Hundreds of Israeli women had volunteered for a new grass-roots movement Shuvi, to get soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, organisers said. Echoing the “Four Mothers” group whose children fell in Lebanon before Israeli forces withdrew in 2000, the Shuvi (“Come Back”) movement was galvanized by Prime Minister Sharon’s failure to win approval for a Gaza pull-out from Likud. “We have had hundreds of thousands of responses since we went public with our website after the Likud vote and hundreds of volunteers in just the last few days,” Dorit Eldar, spokeswoman for Shuvi said. “The tragedies of the past few days have been a big wake-up call to those not focused on this problem before. It’s a feeling that being in Gaza is a disaster not just for the grieving families but for Israel as a whole.” Shuvi activists said they had swamped Prime Minister’s Office website with e-mails this week. The group also intended to send 60,000 letters calling for withdrawal to the Prime Minister’s bureau, the same number as those who had voted “no” in Likud referendum. Shuvi planned to join a pro pull-out rally on 15 May in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. (Reuters, www.shuvi.org)

The IDF said two soldiers had been killed in a Palestinian refugee camp near Rafah, where troops had been razing houses. The soldier had been stationed in a Palestinian house to guard soldiers searching for the remains of five soldiers killed earlier in the week, Ha’aretzreported. The woman went out shopping and when she returned the soldier opened the door and was shot and killed. An Israeli patrol tried to rescue the soldier and one was killed and two injured. That brought the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip that week to 13. Ha’aretzsaid the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the deaths. (Ha’aretz, UPI)

An IDF tank had fired a shell at a Palestinian civilian car near the “Netzarim” settlement, south of Gaza City, witnesses said. They said a local car carrying a pregnant woman and her relatives had been on the way to a hospital when it had been hit by a tank shell. Medical sources at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital said the pregnant woman and other two civilians were injured by the fragments of the tank shell. (Xinhua)

Following are the text of two statements attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General issued in New York:



UNRWA denied allegations by Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz that its ambulances had carried off any remains of the six Israeli soldiers killed on 11 May in Gaza City. An UNRWA spokesman in Gaza said: “These alleged statements are unacceptable ... If the allegations are true, he should show evidence to prove his allegations.” The spokesman said such claims were part of the continuous war against the Palestinian people and were an attempt to prevent UNRWA from continuing its humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. (UPI, Xinhua)

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan said in a statement issued at OHCHR headquarters that he was alarmed over the violence and death toll following Israeli incursions that had left more than 25 Palestinians dead and dozens of others injured. At least 11 Israeli soldiers had also died. He was concerned about the scale of the use of force by the IDF in its latest operations and urged all parties to respect the right to life, fundamental to all other human rights. Mr. Ramcharan emphasized the duty of protection of human rights even in armed conflict and appealed to all concerned to live up to this obligation. (UPI, Xinhua)

Israel must “immediately” stop the destruction of Palestinian homes in the refugee camp of Rafah, the Irish Presidency of the EU said. “The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., called on the Israeli Government to halt its demolition of Palestinian homes in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip immediately,” it said in a statement. Mr. Cowen also recalled in his communiqué that the Quartet had urged Israel at their 4 May meeting “to take steps to respect the dignity of the Palestinian people and improve their quality of life” and “had also emphasized that Israel should refrain from demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction.” “I reiterate my call to both sides to declare an immediate ceasefire, supervised by international monitors, as a prelude to the opening of negotiations,” he said. (AFP, www.ue2004.ie)

Israel’s High Court of Justice, responding to a petition by Muhammad Al-Bassiouni and 12 other residents of Block O of the Rafah refugee camp whose homes were among those slated for destruction, had issued a temporary injunction against further demolitions, pending today’s ruling. It exempted only demolitions carried out “as part of military operations in a combat situation.” (AFP, DPA)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with Al Arabiya,released before his departure for the World Economic Forum in Amman, that he hoped “whatever disappointment existed is behind them [Palestinians and Israelis], and they can now see the opportunities.” Sympathizing with Arab goals, Mr. Powell said the evacuation of settlements “is what we have been after for a long time.” (AP)

Japan's Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi told the Group of Eight partners that Japan would donate $10 million to a newly-created World Bank trust fund to support the PA. At the meeting of the G-8 Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Washington, Ms. Kawaguchi said the PA was in a difficult situation and that it was necessary for the international community to support it. While calling on the PA to crack down on terrorism, she urged Israel to stop assassinating Hamas leaders. (AP, Kyodo)

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The body of a Palestinian man, killed during an IDF operation in Rafah during the night, was discovered in the morning. Ashraf Pechta, 30, was found under the rubble of his home which had been demolished by the IDF. (AFP)

Fouad Abu Shaban, 21, died from wounds sustained in IDF shelling of the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City earlier in the week. Palestinian medical sources said his death brought to 17 the number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli raid in Zeitoun, while the overall death toll in the latest IDF raids in the Gaza Strip climbed to 32. (AFP, Xinhua)

Israeli helicopters fired nine missiles at two separate targets in Gaza City and a third one in Rafah. Twelve bystanders had been wounded, hospital officials said. The missiles struck two buildings in Gaza City housing offices associated with Islamic Jihad, the group said. One of them was a seminary also housing an office of group leader Mohammed al-Hindi. An official from the Islamic movement, Khader Habib, said Mr. Al-Hindi had not been in his office at the time of the attack. In the Rafah refugee camp, an Israeli helicopter had destroyed an Islamic Jihad bomb laboratory, the IDF said. Palestinian witnesses described the target as the home of a local group commander, Mohammed Sheikh Khalil, who had not been at home at the time, while two bystanders, including a woman, had been wounded. (AP, Reuters, www.idf.il, Xinhua)

Hosni Abu Zgeb, 29, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Tulkarm refugee camp, was shot and wounded after being ambushed by an Israeli undercover unit. He was moderately wounded in an exchange of fire with the soldiers after the troops surprised him inside his house, but managed to escape. (AFP)

In the morning, after recovering the remains of the five soldiers, Israeli troops withdrew from the Rafah refugee camp leaving behind dozens of demolished homes. “The army has completely destroyed more than 100 houses in Rafah,” Raji al-Sourani, head of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), told AFPshortly after IDF withdrawal. “On entering the camp this morning, we found 88 buildings demolished which had housed 206 families. It affects 1,064 people. … This is incredibly intense. It is probably one of the worst days of the intifada for Rafah which has already been hit very hard,” UNRWA spokesman Paul McCann told AFP. “This is a humanitarian catastrophe and a war crime,” said Rashid Abushbak, Director of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza. “The army destroyed roads, electricity and water supplies in the camp. They have destroyed everything,” he said in a statement faxed to AFP. The IDF did not give a figure for the number of houses it had razed but a spokeswoman said troops had demolished only houses which were being used as cover by militants. She also suggested that some houses might have been damaged during clashes, including Palestinians’ own fire. (AFP, AP)

Upon his arrival to Amman after an overnight flight from the United States, Secretary Powell met PA Prime Minister Qureia at the Queen Alia Airport for 40 minutes. He urged the Palestinians to “seize the opportunity” of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a first step toward statehood next year, saying time was running out on President Bush’s pledge to create a Palestinian State in 2005. “I don’t think anyone can predict” whether that timetable will be met, Mr. Powell said at a joint news conference with Mr. Qureia after the meeting and assured that President Bush “has not stepped back one inch from his 2002 speech.” Mr. Qureia said the Palestinian leadership wanted to see exactly what Prime Minister Sharon would propose: “We are waiting to see what the plan is and to see the details of it.” Mr. Qureia called the talks “very, very constructive,” and, appearing more upbeat than Mr. Powell on the prospects for statehood, said: “We have time to finish negotiations and to have a State by 2005.” The meeting was the first between Mr. Powell and Mr. Qureia in his quality as Prime Minister and marked the re-engagement of the US Administration with the PA. (AFP, AP)

Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in refugee camps in the region commemorated the fifty-sixth anniversary of Al-Nakba, or “catastrophe of Israel’s establishment" on 15 May 1948. “Israel cannot ignore its moral and political responsibility for this national tragedy which has hurt the Palestinian refugees,” PA President Arafat said, speaking live on Palestinian TV and stressed that refugees’ right of return was “holy” and backed by law and no one could legally deny the right of refugees to return to their homes. In his speech, Mr. Arafat repeatedly called on the Palestinian people to be steadfast in their struggle against Israeli occupation. He ended the speech with a quote from the Qur’an: “Find what strength you have to terrorize your enemy and the enemy of God. And if they want peace, then let’s have peace.” (AFP, AP)

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Three Palestinian children had been shot by Israeli troops stationed at a lookout post on the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, Ali Musa, chief of emergency at Rafah Hospital, said. He described the injuries as light and added that they had been transferred to the European Hospital in Gaza. Palestinian witnesses in the Rafah refugee camp said Israeli troops had opened random fire at Palestinians looking for their belongings in the rubble of houses destroyed by the IDF in the previous four days. (IMEMC, Xinhua)

The IDF announced that its forces had targeted “two structures in Gaza City which serve as focal points for terrorist activity,” namely an office of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Sajaiya neighbourhood and offices of the Hamas Al-Risalah journal in the Nazer neighbourhood. It also said that two Palestinians had been arrested in Bethlehem, one a member of Hamas and the other a member of PFLP, and two more Palestinians in Hebron. (www.idf.il)

At least two Israeli helicopters fired five missiles at a building in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighbourhood in the evening, completely destroying a Fatah office and offices of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Fatah Secretary-General in the Gaza Strip Ahmad Heles denounced the airstrike. No injuries were reported during the shelling. The two offices were empty. A third airstrike reportedly targeted a local Palestinian car travelling near Palestine Square in central Gaza City, totally destroying the car. Medical sources at Shifa Hospital said several people had been injured, but they did not say whether there had been any fatalities. (AFP, Xinhua)

Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for destroying an IDF bulldozer in Rafah. (Xinhua)

The IDF commander in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, told Israel Public Radio that only around 40 buildings had been destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip, saying that they had been used as cover by armed Palestinians to shoot at soldiers. The same day, UNRWA said the IDF had demolished 150 Palestinian homes during the previous three days in Rafah. Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA’s local media officer, said UNRWA was “going through serious difficulties and can not provide homeless Palestinians with necessary services.” “We have hundreds of families residing currently in our schools but we can not house all those whose homes were demolished,” he said, adding: “We asked the United Nations and donor countries to provide us with $193 million and we only received 40 per cent of this sum; notwithstanding, the latest destruction caused in Rafah requires additional support.” (AFP, Xinhua)

Palestinian factions in Rafah set up an emergency committee to house 1,500 homeless Palestinians. The committee issued a statement calling upon all residents whose houses were not destroyed to host the homeless temporarily. Schools and mosques were full of people, mostly women and children who took them as shelters. (Xinhua)

Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a Palestinian appeal and ruled that the IDF could continue its demolitions in Rafah, which it said were not a form of collective punishment. The three-panel court said the IDF was entitled to undertake demolitions for security reasons, or according to its operational needs, or if soldiers’ lives were in danger. Judges accepted the army’s pledge that it would refrain from demolishing houses for any other reason. Yunes Tamim, a lawyer for the petitioners, told reporters the decision could ultimately limit the scope of destruction: “We are sure that the army will think very carefully about destroying houses in the future. This is a clear decision that there are certain conditions in which houses can be demolished.” Following the Court’s decision, dozens of Palestinians began leaving their houses, fearing they would be destroyed soon. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz)

PA President Arafat dismissed the Court’s decision as “another crime that allows Israel to continue its aggression … against our people, our land, our cities and our sacred Christian and Muslim places.” Rafah Mayor Sa’eed Zu’rub said Palestinians did not “acknowledge” the decision, which he called “illegal” and by “a court of occupation.” A statement issued by the PA Cabinet also criticised what it described as “ethnic cleansing,” adding: “We condemn the international silence from countries that are afraid to condemn this organized Israeli terror in the occupied Palestinian land.” Secretary of State Powell, speaking at a joint press conference with his Jordanian host Marwan Muasher on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, said that “we oppose the destruction of homes, we don’t think that is productive,” but made no comment on the Court’s decision. UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said in a statement he was “extremely alarmed that even more demolitions are planned.” “Already huge swathes of Rafah have been flattened to the extent that some families have experienced the trauma of demolition more than once. With these disproportionate military operations, Israel is in grave breach of international humanitarian law,” he said. (AFP, DPA)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon was quoted by Israel Public Radioas telling the weekly Cabinet meeting that Israel was planning to demolish “hundreds of empty houses,” without giving a time frame. Defence Minister Mofaz told the meeting that Israel would create a “different reality” along the border with Egypt and pledged to step up military activity in Gaza, noting that Israel had carried out a number of airstrikes on militant targets in recent days. “We started continuous airstrikes. We will deepen the fighting,” he said, according to participants in the meeting. (AFP, AP, DPA, Reuters)

US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East William Burns, speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Shuneh, Jordan, said the US Administration recognized Yasser Arafat as the elected leader of the Palestinians, insisting the “problem lies in the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to implement its commitments” outlined in the Road Map. He said while Washington did not have any illusions about the difficulties in achieving progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process, there was no alternative to a two-State solution, as declared by President Bush two years ago. Mr. Burns said the US understood the frustration in the region towards US policies in the Middle East, adding the US was doing its best to move the peace process forward, adding: “Public relations alone will not succeed in easing the frustration felt by the Arabs.” He said political and economic reforms are required to ease the anger and frustration. Speaking at one of the Forum’s panels, Mr. Burns said that since the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation began in September 2000, the “main casualty for all of us has been hope.” “The sad irony ... is that the outlines of a permanent solution are clearer than they’ve ever been: a two-State solution ... living side by side in peace and security and dignity,” he said. (AP, UPI)

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Olmert said on the World Economic Forum sidelines that Israel had no plans to kill PA President Arafat: “I don’t know of any plan to get rid of him. I know for sure that there is no such plan.” (Xinhua)

The IDF revealed plans to create a 60 m wide and 20 m deep moat to prevent the creation of smuggling tunnels from the Egyptian side of Rafah to the Palestinian side. This is one alternative to widening the "Philadelphi corridor", Israeli Channel 2 TV news reported. A water-filled moat would be built in addition to an eight-metre-high iron wall blocking Rafah from the border buffer zone. “We tried an underground wall; but they dug deeper; we demolished several rows of houses so they dug longer tunnels ... We’ve got to have something that would make tunnels impossible,” a senior Israeli military source said. (Reuters, The Jerusalem Post)

PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath said the Palestinians had asked the US to put pressure on Israel to commit to a halt in fighting. He said the Islamic Jihad and Hamas had told Egyptian mediators they were ready to commit to a ceasefire. “We told [Mr.] Powell that ... we are ready for such a ceasefire if the United States is able to bring an Israeli commitment to such an agreement,” he said. Mr. Sha’ath said Powell did not respond to the offer. (AP)

In an interview with Germany’s ARD TV, a day before talks in Berlin with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said: “The institutions of statehood need to get started now.” She said she would tell Mr. Qureia that the US offer of partnership depended on the Palestinians’ building “accountable political and economic institutions,” including security services controlled by an “empowered Prime Minister” who can use them “to fight terrorism.” “We are ready to be full partners with the Palestinians in doing that,” she said. “We need movement from the Palestinians on those elements of the Road Map.” (AP)

Ramadan Shallah, Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad, announced that the Palestinians insisted on ending the Israeli occupation only by carrying out more armed attacks against Israel. (Xinhua)

A demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, attended by up to 150,000 people, heard a series of calls for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. It was one of the largest demonstrations by the Israeli “peace camp” in years. “This is not a rally of the left but a rally of the majority,” Labour Party leader Shimon Peres told the crowd. Other speakers included Ami Ayalon, a former director of the Shin Bet internal security service, and Yom Tov Samia, a former military commander responsible for Gaza. “Exit from Gaza, begin talking,” read a large poster over the main stage. “It was a great success, when the time and place are ripe for protest our people come of their own free will. We don’t take them out to the streets, we provide them with an organized framework,” MK Yossi Sarid said. (AFP, AP, Ma’ariv)

A press release issued by the Israeli Prime Minister's Office describing the Cabinet meeting, said, among other things: “Foreign Minister Shalom said that an UNRWA ambulance was caught transporting terrorists in the area of the Philadelphi corridor. The Foreign Minister stated that this is an additional proof of the terrorist organizations cynical manipulation of the humanitarian aid given to them. Following Israeli diplomatic pressure, UNRWA announced an internal investigation into the incident. The Foreign Minister also announced that he plans to call on UN Secretary Kofi Annan to begin an external investigation into the behaviour of this agency regarding this incident, and in every matter relating to Palestinian terror.” (www.pmo.gov.il)

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Mohammed Hamed, 22 (21, according to DPA),had died after being shot in the head during an IDF incursion in the village of Silwad, near Ramallah, sources in the Palestinian ambulance service told AFP. Troops had imposed a curfew. The victim had been reportedly throwing stones at the soldiers. An IDF spokesman said illegal weapons had been discovered in the village. (AFP, DPA)

The bodies of three Palestinians who had been killed by Israeli forces near Gaza City were handed over to Palestinian authorities. One had been killed by a tank shell while the other two had been shot dead while attempting to breach a security fence close to the Karni border crossing into Israel late the previous day. Israeli military sources had earlier said that troops in Gaza had either injured or killed three Palestinians attempting to cross the border fence but their bodies had only been recovered in the morning. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had earlier issued a statement saying that two of its followers had been “martyred” near Karni. The leaflet said that one of the two militants was Abdel-Aziz Al-Kilani, 19, from Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza Strip, and the other, Ibrahim Shahin, 20, was from the village of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. The identity of the third Palestinian killed was not immediately known. (AFP, Xinhua)

Israeli soldiers and police clashed with settlers as they attempted to evacuate “Mitzpeh Yitzhar,” an unauthorized settler outpost near Nablus. Some 40 settlers were arrested and half of them released soon afterwards. About 300 settlers, most of them bussed in, attempted to block the roads leading to the outpost and dug trenches in the roads to block the passage of Israeli military vehicles. They also set fire to surrounding fields and managed to stop an army bulldozer from approaching the site. (AFP, DPA)

Rafah residents continued to evacuate their houses, fearing their demolition at any moment as Israeli tanks and bulldozers gathered on the outskirts of the town. Palestinian legislator Mohammed Hijazi, an area resident, said hundreds of families had left the camp since 16 May and local officials put the number of evacuees at more than 2,000. The IDF isolated Rafah in a move which seemed to indicate preparations for a large-scale incursion. Soldiers backed by armour took up positions north of Rafah, blocking the road to Khan Yunis, several kilometres away, amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire with armed Palestinians. Israeli authorities also closed the Rafah crossing at the border with Egypt. Egyptian sources also said their Palestinian colleagues across the border had informed them that Israeli troops had forced Palestinian officials out of the area. Israeli Army Radiosaid that the IDF was moving reinforcements into Rafah to seal off the town with a view to a major security operation. (AFP, AP, DPA)

Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, told Israel Radio the situation in Rafah was “a human tragedy.” “Thousands of people have nowhere to live. We in UNRWA opened the schools to these people. We don’t know what to do with the thousands of people looking for a roof, for a place to live.” UNWRA spokesman Paul McCann said that the Agency had prepared emergency shelters for 1,600 residents in four schools – two in Rafah and two in Khan Yunis. “We have prepared stocks of food, water, mattresses and bedding,” he said. UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha told Xinhua that the Agency would do its utmost to provide tents, water and food supplies to the families who had lost their homes but stressed that the problem didn’t lie in providing the families with urgent supplies but in the reconstruction of 2018 homes, which had been demolished or damaged beyond repair by the IDF. He said that UNRWA had launched an appeal for $32 million for the reconstruction of the demolished houses, adding that the Agency had completed the reconstruction of 288 housing units, although it could not afford to reconstruct houses for the great numbers of Palestinian families. Mr. Mshasha also asserted that all the houses bulldozed by the IDF in the previous few days had been occupied by Palestinian families, contradicting the Israeli claims that the demolished houses had been abandoned. (AFP, AP, DPA, Xinhua)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to PA President Yasser Arafat, told reporters that the PA was going to ask the UN Security Council to discuss in an urgent session the situation in the Gaza Strip. He said that the PA appeal would urge the Council to call upon Israel to stop immediately its decision to demolish hundreds of houses in Rafah, where hundreds of children, men and women became homeless. (Xinhua)

Chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Rawhi Fattouh voiced his strong denouncement of the decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice to demolish Palestinians’ houses in Rafah. He said in a statement to reporters: “This decision is proof of the state terrorism practiced by the Israeli government and asserts the Israeli ideology of racism that allows war crimes as well as genocide and collective punishment policies.” He called on the international community to stand up to its responsibilities regarding the Court’s decision, calling on all international organizations and the UN to denounce the decision and exert pressure on Israel to halt its practices against Palestinians. (Xinhua)

Israeli Government officials were quoted as saying that Prime Minister Sharon planned to complete minor revisions to his Gaza pull-out plan within two weeks and present it to his Cabinet shortly thereafter. Revisions would be minimal, an unidentified senior Government official told AP, adding: “It is difficult for me to see that there will be territorial changes.” In a meeting with Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky, Mr. Sharon said he was making “minimal changes,” according to Iris Goldman, Mr. Sharansky’s adviser. Mr. Sharon had been meeting Cabinet ministers since the 2 May vote to hear their opinions and put together a proposal that would receive broader support. He told Mr. Sharansky he would bring the plan to the Cabinet in “the near future” but did not give an exact date, Ms. Goldman said. (AP)

The PA Health Ministry said 55 Palestinians had been killed by the IDF since the beginning of May, describing the month as the deadliest. A total of 42 Palestinians had been killed in the Gaza Strip and 13 in the West Bank; 15 had been children, one of them a six-year-old boy, who had been killed in Khan Yunis. At least 437 Palestinians had been injured in the raids, the ministry said, calling on the international community to provide protection to Palestinians. (Xinhua)

Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, dismissed the Palestinian Authority’s calls for a ceasefire and the resumption of political negotiations and also ruled out municipal elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (DPA)

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Berlin, Germany. Ms. Rice said she underscored the Bush Administration’s support of Palestinian statehood and urged the Palestinians to reorganize their security forces to make them “both capable of fighting terrorism and of protecting the Palestinian people.” “We need to get moving on those steps,” she told reporters after the meeting. Ms. Rice said she urged the Palestinian officials to seize the opportunity in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal to dismantle Israeli settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank. “We have made clear to the Israelis that this has to be part of, or the beginning of a process, not the end,” she said. “But as a stimulus to get moving along the path to a two-State solution, we think it’s very useful.” Ms. Rice, speaking in Berlin after the meeting, said the US had told Israel “that some of their actions don’t create the best atmosphere.” “It’s a subject of conversation and it’s a subject of concern,” she said. “He [Mr. Qureia] asked Condoleezza Rice to immediately intervene to stop the catastrophe in Rafah,” PA Negotiations Minister and a member of Mr. Qureia’s delegation, Saeb Erakat, said by telephone from Berlin. He also said the 1½-hour meeting had been “in-depth, constructive and positive.” Mr. Erakat said the Palestinians had stressed their “full commitment” to the road map, “including our security obligations.” He said the Palestinians were willing to begin immediately with a US-backed effort to retrain and rebuild security forces “as specified in the Road Map, with the help of Jordan and Egypt.” “We want the withdrawal from Gaza to be comprehensive, with a full dismantlement of settlements. The crossings should be in our control and the withdrawal should be part of the Road Map, and not an alternative to it.” Mr. Erakat said Mr. Qureia had raised the Palestinians’ demand that PA President Arafat be allowed to travel. Ms. Rice said the dialogue would continue. (AP, Reuters)

EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs condemned Israeli house demolitions in the Gaza Strip and pressed Israel to stop the action immediately. Meeting as Israeli forces launched a new operation in Rafah, they said the actions were illegal and against Israeli commitments under the road map. The Ministers “condemned the large scale demolition of Palestinian houses in the Rafah district of Gaza as disproportionate and in conflict with international law and also with Israel's obligations under the roadmap. “The Council called on the Israeli Government to cease such demolitions immediately,” they added in a statement. (AFP)

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called on Israel to halt attacks in the Gaza Strip while saying he saw positive signs for a new bid to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. “I am happy there is apparently movement in the peace process,” he said after talks with PA Prime Minister Queria in Berlin. Mr. Schroeder said these “modest” but positive signs could only be sustained by a policy of de-escalation in Israeli occupied territories. Mr. Qureia welcomed Schroeder’s remarks and said he hoped Israel would follow the advice. “An organised withdrawal in the framework of the Road Map must be welcomed,” he told a press conference with Mr. Schroeder. (AFP, DPA)

Abdullah al-Turki, Secretary-General of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, said in a statement: “Muslims were bewildered by Israel’s [High Court of Justice] approval of Israeli military’s destruction of the houses of Palestinian civilians in Rafah.” He urged the UN Security Council to take the necessary measures to halt Israel’s mass punishment against the Palestinian population of Rafah, where dozens of houses had been demolished and thousands of people displaced. “We demand that international human rights groups, especially the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights intervene immediately to stop the killing and destruction perpetrated by the Israeli war machine against Rafah and other Palestinian cities,” the statement said. He also urged UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan “to put an end to this humanitarian disaster.” (UPI)

Jaleb Jaradat, 21, a member of the Islamic Jihad, was sentenced by an Israeli military court to 35 consecutive life terms for masterminding two suicide bombings in northern Israel in 2002. Thirty-one Israelis were killed in the attacks. Mr. Jaradat was given a life sentence for each Israeli killed and another four for attempting to carry out other attacks. In addition, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for “other actions,” according to a court document. (AP)

Israeli security forces had prevented distribution of the three main Palestinian newspapers in the Gaza Strip for the previous six days. Copies of Al-Ayyamand Al-Hayat al-Jadida,both printed in Ramallah, as well as the East Jerusalem-based Al-Quds,had reportedly been turned back at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing since 11 May. The papers were usually delivered at the Israeli side of Erez and then passed through the crossing point before being picked up by delivery drivers on the Palestinian side. There are no newspaper printing presses in the Gaza Strip. “Israel is trying to cover up its crimes in Gaza,” PA Deputy Information Minister Ahmed Sobuh said. “By preventing the newspapers from being delivered to Gaza, they are showing up the big lie of Israeli democracy,” he added. The Palestinian Journalists’ Union denounced the IDF decision to bar Palestinian dailies from going into the Gaza Strip, saying in a statement: “We consider this measure as extremely dangerous, where the dailies haven’t reached the Strip for six consecutive days.” The union denounced in its second statement the Israeli airstrike that had destroyed the office of Al-Risalah newspaper on 16 May, describing it as “an ugly Israeli crime.” The union called on the International Journalists’ Federation and other related organizations in both statements to protect freedom of expression and halt the crimes committed against Palestinian journalists. (AFP, Xinhua)

The Palestinian charity association Ansar said it would file a suit against the Israeli Government to seek reimbursement for the damage to its office in Gaza by Israeli bombings. The association’s office was recently completely destroyed by Israeli helicopters amid Israeli reports about its links with Hizbullah and the Islamic Jihad, a charge refuted by the charity. Ansar director Nafez Al-A’raj told reporters that the association followed the PA rules and was licensed by the Interior and Social Affairs Ministries as a charity. (Xinhua)

The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General issued in New York:


US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice pledged that the conflict would be resolved in final status talks between all sides. “We happen to believe there’s nothing wrong with unilateral steps in the right direction,” Ms. Rice told reporters after meeting with PA Prime Minister Qureia in Berlin. “Not everything in the world needs to be negotiated.” In a telephone call to AFP in Gaza City, PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat said Mr. Qureia had asked Dr. Rice for “immediate final status talks” between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Erakat also said there should be a “geographic contact,” essentially a land bridge, between Gaza and the West Bank. (AFP)

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “I am deeply concerned at Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in Rafah. While I understand Israel’s need to defend itself, the demolition of homes is a form of collective punishment which harms innocent people.” (www.fco.gov.uk)

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An estimated 100 tanks and armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers backed by helicopter air support moved to cut off the southern stretch of Gaza from the rest of the Strip, creating a contiguous IDF line north, west and east of Rafah. Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said the aim was to establish “a new security order” in Gaza. (Ha’aretz)

At least 20 Palestinians, including three children, were killed as Israeli forces continued their incursion into Rafah refugee camp. Scores of Palestinians were wounded. Some of them could not reach the hospital as Israeli gunships and tanks targeted them. Shortly after 4 a.m., an Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile at a crowd in the Rafah refugee camp, killing at least four and wounding 17. The air strike, near a mosque in the Tel Sultan neighbourhood of Rafah, came as people were gathering for morning prayers. Palestinian sources said the mosque had been damaged by the strike. At the Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, Dr. Ali Mousa declared that the capacity of the hospital was not big enough to absorb all the casualties around the city. “Some of the dead bodies had to be put in nearby warehouses, as our morgue was not enough to fit all of them. We don’t have proper equipment also to perform some of the surgeries here.” The Israeli army began destroying buildings overnight on the border with Egypt. Israel said it intended to demolish hundreds of Palestinian-owned houses in Rafah with the aim of building a trench on the border with Egypt to prevent attacks against the Israeli army and prevent the digging of tunnels used in smuggling weapons. (Albawaba.com, DPA, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online, Reuters, Xinhua)

A Palestinian man was killed in an explosion in Rafah. According to Palestinian security forces, Ibrahim Darwish, 23, had been killed while trying to plant a bomb ahead of a major Israeli raid into the town. (AFP)

In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed a 24-year-old Palestinian man. Nidal Abd al-Rahman Akasha had been shot in the chest, WAFA reported. In the Jenin area, an elite unit of the Israeli army had killed Mohammed Ahmed Ubaid, who had been shot at close range. Israeli sources said both men were “wanted” Fatah activists. (Albawaba.com, DPA)

Defence Minister Mofaz said the open-ended operation, reportedly called “Operation Rainbow,” would continue for as long as necessary. “The operation in Rafah is not limited in time, and is a result of our assessment of the situation,” he said. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said during the meeting of the Knesset’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, “I estimate that the operation in Rafah will last for longer than a day or two because we’re advancing cautiously.” Mr. Ya’alon had also said that the Philadelphi corridor was under Israeli sovereignty as set out under all international agreements. (Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

Israeli MK Yossi Sarid said Israel’s demolition of houses in Rafah constituted a war crime. Upon leaving a meeting of the Knesset’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Sarid said that “when children flee for their lives, dragging a suitcase bigger than them behind them, it is certainly seen as a war crime in the international community.” He told IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon during the meeting that he believed the operation in Rafah would have to be stopped due to international pressure. (Ha’aretz)

The PA was appealing to the international community to put pressure on Israel to end its massive military operation in the southern Gaza Strip, according to PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat. Mr. Erakat told the Voice of Palestine Radiofrom Spain that the PA was holding “extensive contacts” with countries to persuade them to act immediately to stop the Rafah raid. “We call upon the whole world to immediately intervene to block Israel’s military escalation,” he said. (Ha’aretz)

The Arab League, which convened a meeting in Cairo, said the Israeli operation was aimed at “ethnic cleansing.” The League also said it would start taking judicial steps to bring Israelis to trial for war crimes. “[The Council] … holds the Government of Israel wholly responsible for the consequences of the crime it is committing against the unarmed Palestinian people and condemns them as war crimes aimed at ethnic cleansing and collective punishment,” according to the Governments, meeting at the level of permanent representatives of the Arab League. “[The Council] … affirms that the Arab legal authorities, in coordination with relevant international organizations, will prosecute the Israeli war crimes and present for trial the perpetrators and those responsible for them,” it added. (Ha’aretz)

The EU reiterated its condemnation of the military action in Rafah, warning that the demolitions of Palestinian homes broke the “letter and spirit” of the Road Map. “What is taking place now in Gaza is something that we have to condemn and condemn very strongly,” according to EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana. “What is going on is the destruction of houses and that is something that goes very much against the letter and spirit of the Road Map.” (Ha’aretz)

US President George Bush told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that the recent “troubling” events in the Gaza Strip illustrated the need for Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations. “The unfolding of the violence in the Gaza Strip is troubling and underscores the need for all parties to seize every opportunity for peace,” Mr. Bush said. Israeli Deputy Minister Ehud Olmert told the same conference that Prime Minister Sharon was determined to implement his disengagement plan despite the defeat of the plan in a Likud referendum. Leading Democratic and Republican Congressmen told the conference that they planned to work toward formalizing in American law the contents of the letter that President Bush gave to Prime Minister Sharon last April. The bill was not expected to mention unilateral disengagement. (Ha’aretz)

An Amnesty International report charged that Israeli was guilty of war crimes in its destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The report said the demolition and destruction were “grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes.” It called on Israel to halt the practices immediately. Amnesty also said the house demolitions were linked to Israeli intentions to take over West Bank and Gaza land. The report said Israel had destroyed more than 3,000 Palestinian homes, most of them in the Gaza Strip, since Palestinian-Israeli fighting broke out more than three years ago. Ten per cent of Gaza’s agricultural land had been destroyed and more than 226,000 trees uprooted there in 2002 and 2003. Amnesty also said the destruction of homes, land and other property was disproportionate to Israeli’s security needs. It accused Israel of collective punishment and of demolishing homes and property of Palestinians who were not involved in attacks against Israel. (AFP, AP, web.amnesty.org)

In an interview published in the The New York Times,Jordan’s King Abdullah II was asked whether he concurred with a view expressed by Secretary Powell over the weekend that [PA President Arafat] was an obstacle to peace. King Abdullah said “I think Arafat needs to have a long look in the mirror to be able to see whether his position is helping the Palestinian cause or not. I know that there are discussions inside the Palestinian leadership of this idea of him becoming President and giving the Prime Minister more authority. If this allows the Palestinians to get beyond the obstacle that they are facing now with the United States and Israel, then that’s something the Palestinians need to sort out and sort out quickly,” he said. Jordan’s Royal Court said remarks in The New York Times attributed to King Abdullah appearing to propose that PA President Arafat yield authority were “inaccurate.” “His Majesty did not mention the issue of abdication, by near or by far … this is an issue that concerns the Palestinians alone,” the Royal Court official said. “Jordan does not interfere in other people’s affairs,” he added. (AFP, The New York Times)

The Palestinian leadership issued a statement condemning the heinous and grave “war crimes” Israel committed in Rafah and its refugee camp, calling for a United Nations resolution that provided international protection for the Palestinian people. In its statement, the Palestinians called on the US Administration to lift its “political support” that allowed the Israeli Government to continue its crimes and aggression against Palestinian cities, villages and Christian and Muslim shrines. It appealed to the Security Council to issue a resolution that allowed the international body to exercise “genuine procedures” to protect the Palestinian people from the Israeli crimes. (Albawaba.com, www.ipc.gov.ps)

A group of Israeli border police had beaten up a group of Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel, breaking the leg of a 45-year-old man, his family said. Mr. Mohammed Karkur, 45, was on his way to work with three other workers from the village of Al-Dhahiriya, near Hebron, when they were stopped by a group of border police. They set upon the four, beating them up and breaking Mr. Karkur’s leg. He was taken to Ahli Hospital in Hebron. The border police could not be reached for comment. (AFP)

PA President Yasser Arafat asked that United States troops be sent into the Occupied Palestinian Territory to act as a buffer between Israelis and Palestinians, according to Anne-Marie Lizin, Head of the Belgian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who spoke with Mr. Arafat by telephone. She said, “I said to him: ‘Don’t you mean international troops?’ and he repeated: ‘No, today the only thing that is useful and will be efficient quickly would be to ask for United States troops.’” (AFP)

19

At least ten Palestinians, many of them school pupils, were killed when IDF helicopter gunships and tanks fired missiles and shells into a crowd of protesters at the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. At least 60 people, including women and children, had been wounded in the incident, witnesses said. An estimated 3,000 people marched to the nearby Tel Sultan neighbourhood of the camp to protest the IDF raid on the area. Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, the chief hospital spokesman said, “I got instructions from President Arafat to mobilize all our teams to Rafah immediately and declare a state of emergency all over Gaza Strip hospitals.” The morgue in Rafah overflowed following the strike and bodies of Palestinians killed during the previous IDF raids were stowed in a flower freezer after being hastily removed to make space for more casualties. Earlier, it was reported that five Palestinians had been killed also in the Tel Sultan neighbourhood. Palestinian sources said there had been several other casualties from gun fights in the area but that rescue services had been having difficulties reaching them due to the gunfire and lack of ambulances. (Albawaba.com, BBC News, cbc.ca, CNN, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

The Israeli Army said in a statement that Israeli forces had fired warning shots to push back the protestors – first a helicopter missile directed well away from the crowd, then machine gun fire and tank shells at an abandoned building. “It is possible that the casualties were a result of the tank fire on the abandoned structure. The details of the incident continue to be investigated,” the statement said. (Reuters)

In the West Bank, IDF troops entered the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli soldiers shot dead a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in an exchange of fire. Another member of the group was killed by IDF soldiers in Nablus. (Albawaba.com, DPA, Ha’aretz)

Israeli forces had massed around the Rafah refugee camp and used a loudspeaker to call on Palestinian militants to come out waving white flags and surrender or risk demolition of their families' homes, residents said. Residents said their menfolk had been emerging in front of the tanks but it had been feared they could be harmed whether they were militants or not. In the Tel Sultan neighbourhood, Israeli troops ordered all males 16 years of age or older to gather in a local school, and Palestinians in the area had been instructed to surrender. According to WAFA,Mr. Abu Nasser and Khalil Abu Saadeh had been shot dead as they followed the Israeli troops’order for Palestinians to gather in the local school. Medical sources at the Al-Najjar Hospital reported a boy, identified as Saber Abu Libda, 13, had been killed. His two brothers had been critically wounded. (Albawaba.com, Reuters)

Israeli Radioreported that the army had demolished five houses in Rafah. The IDF were conducting house-to-house searches for armed Palestinian militants in the Tel Sultan neighbourhood. (Ha’aretz)

The White House called on Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in Gaza and said it was very concerned about the number of Palestinian fatalities after Israeli forces had opened fire on a protest march. The White House said it had asked Israel to explain its actions, which had resulted in the deaths of at least ten Palestinians and raised the two-day death toll to 33. “We are very concerned about reports from Gaza and the number of Palestinians who are said to have been injured and killed,” according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “We have asked the Government of Israel for the facts about what happened today. We will continue to follow this closely and we urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint,” he added. (AP, Reuters)

In Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia condemned Israeli attacks in Gaza and called for a ceasefire. “I wish to begin this statement by condemning the latest actions by Israel. It is a negative road for peace,” Mr. Zapatero told a news conference after talks with Mr. Qureia and EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana. (Reuters)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa described Israel’s large-scale offensive in Rafah as “a massacre and a crime that has gone beyond all limits. The silence from some departments over the massacres that are taking place fall within the framework of war crimes.” Mr. Moussa also said “every detail of the massacres” would be included when discussing the Palestinian issue during the Arab League Summit scheduled for 22 and 23 May. (DPA)

A Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers near Tulkarm. The unidentified man had been killed in an exchange of fire, witnesses said, adding that an Arab-Israeli had also been wounded in the incident. Meanwhile, four Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire near the Qalandiya refugee camp, near Ramallah, during a demonstration against the raids in Rafah. (AFP)

The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General:


The Security Council adopted resolution 1544 (2004) by a vote of 14 in favour, none against and 1 abstention (United States). In the resolution, the Council expressed its grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area and called for the provision of emergency assistance to them. It called on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law and insisted, in particular, on its obligations not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law. (UN press release SC/8098)

Fatah called for a three-day general strike to mourn the dozens killed in the massive ongoing Israeli operation in southern Gaza Strip. Fatah members used loudspeakers to call for a shutdown “to mourn the martyrs of Rafah refugee camp and Tel Sultan” neighbourhood. Up to 1,000 Palestinians took to the streets of Bethlehem to denounce the Israeli raids. They marched from the offices of the Red Cross in Bethlehem to the United Nations office in Beit Jala. Local charities launched a fund-raising campaign to assist the victims of Rafah. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, when asked about his reaction to Israel’s explanation of the raids in Gaza Strip, said : “… it is a tragic incident. I believe the activities of the [Israel] Defense Forces in Gaza in recent days have caused a problem and it worsened the situation, and I think made it more difficult for us to move forward and get back into the peace process.” "It does not assist us in the process of moving forward to get back into the Road Map. Now is the time for everybody to exercise maximum restraint. We disapprove and oppose the destruction of the houses of innocent people and we’ve said that and that remains our position. US Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN James Cunningham said: “While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that the operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security.” Mr. Cunningham also said recent events “serve as a grim reminder of the wisdom of Israel disengaging from Gaza.” In an interview with Al-Jazeera,Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: “All people have the right of self-defence,” but he added that there had been a “lack of restraint” on the Israeli side. (AP, www.state.gov/secretary)

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, Brian Cowen, speaking on behalf of the EU Presidency, said Israel’s attack on protestors in the Rafah refugee camp was “completely disproportionate” and showed “a reckless disregard for human life.” He cited initial reports suggesting children were among the casualties. “It is clear that today’s action was completely disproportionate to any threat faced by the Israeli military ...” “The killing of children does not serve any legitimate cause and degrades any purpose which it purports to advance.” Mr. Cowen met with representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to discuss the Middle East peace process. (Reuters, www.eu2004.ie)

The Canadian Government summoned the Israeli Ambassador in Ottawa to voice concern about the death of Palestinians in Gaza and the destruction of civilian property, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Bill Graham. Senior Canadian foreign affairs officials met with Ambassador Haim Divon to raise the concerns and to urge a proportional response to the killing of Israeli soldiers. “We are deeply concerned and troubled that, in fact, this widespread destruction will lead to a spiralling out of control of the situation,” according to Mr. Graham. (Reuters)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament that Israel’s destruction of homes in Gaza was “unacceptable and wrong.” “We entirely understand the concern of Israel about acts of terrorism but what happened yesterday was unacceptable and wrong,” he said. “We need to press on with the proposals for disengagement from the whole of Gaza and parts of the West Bank,” he added. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “I understand those killed were protesting against the demolition of Palestinian homes, a practice which I have already condemned.” (AFP)

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) accused Israel of war crimes for its actions in the Gaza Strip and called on the international community to intervene urgently. “This so-called Operation Rainbow, launched … in order to halt weapons smuggling from Egypt and arrest or kill Palestinian militants, has so far ended in the killing of at least 20 Palestinian civilians and the demolition of hundreds of homes,” a spokesperson for FIDH said. “The FIDH once again reaffirms that these killings of civilians and destructions of private properties … constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war and amount to war crime.” (AFP)

The IDF said it was working to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians living in Rafah despite the “heavy fighting” there since the start of an Israeli raid. It said it worked through its district coordination offices to allow 70 ambulances as well as 40 trucks loaded with food, water, medical supplies, mattresses and blankets to enter the area. Hospitals in Gaza had received 490 oxygen tanks, the statement said. The army said the Palestinians had declined offers to treat the wounded in Israeli hospitals, with only two patients transferred to Israeli facilities. It attributed heavy damage to civilian infrastructure in Rafah to “intensive fighting and the fact that the Palestinians rigged the roads and alleys with explosive devices.” (AFP, www.idf.il)

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At least seven Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli soldiers in the Rafah refugee camp. The latest deaths occurred when three Palestinian militants were hit by an Israeli missile, while another two were killed by tank fire. Israeli troops continued to push deeper into the southern part of Rafah. Palestinian doctors said two Palestinians who had been killed by Israeli tank shells before daybreak near the Egyptian border in the Gaza Strip. One of the victims was identified as Mahmoud Najib Al-Akhras. Three men were killed by an Israeli helicopter missile near the border. Two other men were wounded in the attack. The dead were identified as Yusuf Muhammaed Al-Maghari, 22, Mahmoud Mustafa Dib, 22, and Hamed Yassin Bahloul, 18. In the Fawar refugee camp near Hebron, a 13-year-old boy was killed by IDF fire. In a separate incident, a 3-year-old child, Samer Al-Arja, died of shock from a sudden Israeli bombardment on the neighbourhood of Al-Juneina in Rafah, witnesses said. (Albawaba.com, BBC News, Ha’aretz)

The local head of the armed wing of Hamas was killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah. The body of 37-year-old Khalid Abu Anza, who was killed in the early morning, was recovered by medics in the evening. His death brought to eight the number of Palestinians killed in Rafah on 20 May. (AFP)

An Israeli tank fired a shell at a large crowd of Palestinians who were coming out of a graveyard in Rafah, killing two people, eyewitnesses said. The tank, stationed at the main entrance of Rafah’s Brazil neighbourhood, opened fire after the crowd buried Palestinians killed in the raid on Rafah. An IDF spokesman said he would check the report. (DPA)

Iyad Assana, 15, died from a serious wound to the head he sustained during an IDF operation in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City on 11 May. (AFP)

An Israeli Court convicted PLC member Marwan Barghouti for murder in the killing of five people by militants and accused PA President Yasser Arafat of giving broad approval for the attacks. The Court declared Mr. Barghouti guilty of five counts of murder and said it found insufficient evidence to convict him of the killings of more than 20 Israelis listed in the indictment. It found him guilty of the deaths of a Greek Orthodox monk in the West Bank in 2001, a settler from “Givat Zeev” in 2002 and three people at a Tel Aviv restaurant in 2002. Prosecutors asked the Court to hand down five life sentences when it reconvened on 6 June. Reading the verdict, Judge Sarah Sirotta said, “Arafat would never give explicit orders for this or that attack but he let it be known when the timing would be right.” Mr. Arafat’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in response, “This is a pretext to continue their escalation and threats” against Mr. Arafat. Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Israel might consider putting Mr. Arafat on trial. “After the verdict, we may have to consider putting Arafat on trial one of these days,” he said. After the sentence was read, Mr. Barghouti said, “I am against the occupation and that is my duty. I believe in peace and belong to those who want to see it happening. The Palestinian people are close to achieving independence and freedom. Peace, occupation and settlements do not go hand in hand.” He also said “a disaster is unfolding in Israeli jails. Tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffer from abuse.” Mr. Barghouti has consistently denied the Court’s right to try him, by virtue of his being a member of the PA Parliament and therefore in possession of diplomatic immunity. (Ma’ariv, Reuters)

Palestinian National Information Center issued a statistical report showing that the Israeli occupation practices throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory over 43 months had inflicted losses at the cost of $381 million, including $54.9 million in Rafah alone. The report also mentioned the damage inflicted on roads, which totalled $107,390,000,000. (www.ipc.gov.ps)

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz instructed the IDF to redraw its plan to expand the Israeli-patrolled buffer area, the “Philadelphi route,” to limit the number of Palestinian homes that would be razed, Israeli media reported. (Reuters)

The IDF destroyed the only zoo in the Gaza Strip during its Rafah raid. Mohammed Jumaa, the owner of a small private zoo, located in the Brazil neighbourhood, said Israeli troops, backed by bulldozers, had demolished cages and pens, killing some animals and setting dozens more free. An IDF spokesman denied that troops had destroyed the zoo. “It was a very small petting zoo close to a school and the animals just escaped somehow. We didn’t hurt them.” (AFP, AP, Reuters)

The Road Map should not be replaced by Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, PA Prime Minister Queria said in Madrid. “We do not want a limited withdrawal, we want a total withdrawal” from the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the dismantling of all the settlements, Mr. Qureia said and urged the Quartet to say “stop” to Israel’s violence. He also said that “Europe can do much more than what it’s doing” for peace in a region that was “so close and with many common interests.” Mr. Qureia expressed satisfaction about the meetings held in Madrid with Spanish King Juan Carlos I, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Minister for Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos and representatives of all the parties, who condemned the recent Israeli attacks in Gaza. (Xinhua)

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, and the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, criticized Israel’s military operations in the Rafah refugee camp and called on Israel to halt the violence in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Lavrov held talks with an OIC delegation at the initiative of the OIC, which was also holding separate consultations with all the members of the Quartet. Russia and the OIC demanded compliance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council and adherence to the Road Map, which Mr. Lavrov described as “the most important international legal instrument to achieve” a settlement. Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Belkeziz also agreed that PA President Arafat must not be ignored. “[Mr.] Arafat must be provided with the possibility of fully realizing his authority,” said Mr. Lavrov, adding that the PA Prime Minister should be given the necessary security and financial powers. “If the intention of the international community, of the Quartet is to stop violence, it is equally important that military action and violence undertaken by Israel against the civilian population be stopped immediately,” Mr. Belkeziz said. (AP)

The Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Government strongly condemned Israeli military actions in Gaza, especially the killing of innocent civilians, and rejected “the indiscriminate use of force and the practice of collective punishment, such as the demolition of houses.” Such actions violated international humanitarian law, the statement added. (www.sre.gob.mx,Xinhua)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Ireland’s Ambassador to Israel, Patrick Hennessy, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a meeting during which he was informed that Israel was sickened by the declarations” of Brian Cowen, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland. “We reject any attempt to link the regrettable events that occurred yesterday in Rafah with the horrible murder by Palestinian terrorists of Tali Hatuel, who was nine months pregnant, and her four daughters [on 2 May]. We also reject any insinuation aimed at sullying our soldiers that hints they deliberately tried to kill children. We would have expected the Presidency of the European Union to express the opinions of all of the countries it represents and not to base its statements on false information and lies.” (AFP, Reuters)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the Israeli military’s “unlawful” use of tanks and helicopters to disperse a Palestinian protest in the southern Gaza Strip. “It’s outrageous that Israeli forces used battlefield weaponry to block peaceful marchers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the organization’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “By using heavy weapons against non-violent demonstrators, Israel has violated not only international law, but also its own open-fire regulations.” HRW quoted eyewitnesses as saying the killings in Rafah were not preceded by any warning fire and that shelling continued as protestors sought to evacuate the wounded. (AFP, www.hrw.org)

PA Prime Minister Qureia called the trial of Fatah West Bank leader and PLC deputy Marwan Barghouti “a grave error.” “Israeli forces should not have arrested a Palestinian deputy on Palestinian soil,” Mr. Qureia said, adding that “Israel cannot judge a parliamentarian if it wants to respect democracy.” (AFP)

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Ahmed Saleh Abu Siam, 45, died from stomach wounds he suffered on 15 May, when Israeli tanks opened fire in the Rafah refugee camp. (AFP)

Israeli troops in the morning withdrew from two neighbourhoods of Rafah. Israeli security sources said that “redeployment” was under way but a scaled-down force would remain in the area for an undefined period. While admitting that no new tunnels or weapons caches under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt had been found since the start of Operation Rainbow, an IDF spokesman said 11 tunnels had been discovered since the beginning of 2004 and noted: “The army now has much more information about these tunnels than it had in the past, thanks to the interrogations of arrested suspects.” Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff pointed out that only one Palestinian wanted in connection with digging tunnels under the border had been apprehended. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

As the main IDF group withdrew, leaving behind torn-up roads and toppled power lines, hundreds of residents in the Brazil neighbourhood returned to find some 25 Palestinian homes destroyed. In the Tel al-Sultan neighbourhood, where the army had pulled out its armour but continued to cut off access roads to the rest of the camp, a resident said 10 homes had been demolished and dozens damaged and there was no power or running water. Municipal officials indicated that at least 43 houses had been demolished and dozens more damaged in the camp since the offensive began on 18 May. The IDF said it had deliberately demolished seven homes, including one belonging to an Islamic Jihad militant and other damage had been caused by heavy military vehicles and Palestinian roadside bombs. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Israeli security officials said the IDF was still insisting on an expansion of the ["Philadelphi Corridor"] by at least 300 m, down from 1 km originally requested. The new plan would still require the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes. (AP, Reuters)

UNRWA officials said several water trucks had negotiated torn-up roads to bring fresh supplies to some 25,000 residents of the Tel Sultan neighbourhood. “It’s quite wild, the trucks are being mobbed by the locals, who have been without supplies for such a long time,” UNRWA spokesman Johan Eriksson said. (AP)

The IDF said it had fired earlier this week on Palestinian protesters in Rafah – killing ten – to protect a secret special unit from being cut off from the main contingent. The army feared that Palestinian militants would try to use the hundreds of demonstrators advancing into the sector, where the special unit was deployed, to surround it, Brig.-Gen. Shmuel Zakai, commander of Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip, told a press conference. “The danger stemmed from the fact that armed militants were part of the cortège. If they crossed a certain line, we would have been faced with a situation in which some of our forces operating secretly would have been cut off.” (AFP)

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council on “the situation in the Middle East”. (UN press release SC/8100; S/PV.4974)

A statement from UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, said he was “deeply disturbed about the consequences of Israel’s recent military operation in the Gaza strip, in particular in Rafah, and its disproportionate use of force in densely populated areas.” He was “particularly concerned at reports of the use by the Israel Defense Forces last Wednesday of helicopters and tanks to fire into a crowd of civilians during a peaceful demonstration, resulting in numerous deaths.” “The Acting High Commissioner emphasizes that even when there are security-related considerations, there is no such thing as a licence to kill,” the statement said. Mr. Ramcharan also reiterated “the duty of protection of human rights even in time of armed conflict,” José Luis Díaz, spokesman for the High Commissioner's Office, told journalists. (AFP, UN News Service)

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) demanded free access for all charities to residents of the Rafah refugee camp. In a statement released in Paris, the group also asked for an end to “firing on civilians and to the massive destruction of homes.” MSF said its teams had great difficulty in reaching rescue centres in the area: “With virtually no coordination with Israeli military authorities on the ground, our teams, which have official permission to operate, are being threatened and blocked by tanks.” The group said it had been operating in Rafah for the past four years “to provide medical, psychological and social assistance to residents faced with repeated violence.” (AFP, www.msf.fr)

Nearly 1,000 Israelis marched on a Gaza Strip checkpoint to demand an end to the IDF raid in Rafah and a full withdrawal from the territory. Demonstrators carrying black flags marched 2 km to the "Kissufim crossing" between Israel and the Gaza Strip, shouting “No to war crimes” and “No to the occupation”. The protest was organized by several peace groups and army reservists who had refused to serve in the Palestinian territories. Earlier, protesters had gathered further south at the "Sufa crossing", but had been confronted by counter-demonstrators who voiced their support for Operation Rainbow. On 19 May, police in Tel Aviv had dispersed a demonstration organized by Peace Now to condemn the killing in Rafah of 10 Palestinians by Israeli forces. (AFP)

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said: “We strongly condemn the killing and wounding of Palestinians who were demonstrating peacefully, many of whom were women and children. Israel’s brutal and savage action, which was further exacerbated by the demolition of Palestinian homes, is clearly against international law and must be stopped.” Mr. Natalegawa said Indonesia welcomed a Security Council resolution passed on 19 May criticizing Israel for killing Palestinian civilians and demolishing their houses in Rafah in southern Gaza. “The UN Security Council must assume its responsibility and do its best to make sure that Israel abides by the resolution,” he said. (AFP)

Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) David Nabarro said Israeli restrictions on movement into and out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could soon lead to increased illness and death among the Palestinians, as poverty and shortages of food and water would increase malnutrition as well as problems for people with chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension and the situation could soon become disastrous. “I think we are at a very delicate point; that the well-being of the Palestinians ... is absolutely on a cusp and there is a real likelihood that in the next few months we are going to start a real and dramatic decline in health status of these communities. When you’ve got a decline in the economic status and increasing poverty on one hand, and at the same time big restrictions on movements of people and of goods, it is almost inevitable that this will feed through to consequences for people’s health … There is usually a 1-3 year lag between economic decline and measurable falls in health indices, increased levels of death and reduced life expectancy. There is increasing evidence that supplies of medicines, particularly medicines delivered in Ramallah in the West Bank that are consigned to Gaza, are either being turned back at the various crossing points in Gaza or being detained for long periods. There also is a real problem with fresh foods being held up inside the territories or getting across into the territories ... These are now almost two separated communities.” Dr. Nabarro said the restrictions had “dramatic consequences for the 4 million or so Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.” He noted an increased proportion of people with chronic diseases which were not being controlled because sufferers could not reach specialized clinics and health services for regular check-ups. Dr. Nabarro said it would take $2 million to $3 million to get flagging immunization coverage and other services up and running properly, while at the moment WHO was operating on some $200,000 to $300,000 per year. “We are plastering over cracks, as they appear,” Dr. Nabarro said. “We’ll deal with these chronic conditions first because they are highest on priority list.” (AP)

IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Ya'alon announced late in the day that the army had uncovered the first tunnel four days into its Rafah raid. (AFP, www.idf.il)

Brig.-Gen. Shmuel Zakai, the Gaza divisional commander, told reporters: “To my knowledge there is no humanitarian disaster in Rafah, no starvation or insufficient water, and throughout we have informed the local population either through Palestinian officials or by distributing leaflets asking them to refrain from going out into the streets in order to protect their lives.” He also said “supreme efforts” were made by soldiers to minimize as much as possible the harming of innocent civilians. (The Jerusalem Post)

“We’re watching it [the situation] closely,” US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a regular press briefing. “We’ll have to see what it leads to. Obviously, a lessening of these military operations can ease the lives of some of the people that have been affected by them. I think it’s clear that US support for Israel is going to stay strong. We have always supported Israel strongly. That doesn’t mean we support everything that Israel does or every policy that Israel undertakes.” (AFP)

Bosnia and Herzegovina condemned Israel’s use of military force against Palestinian civilians during its Gaza raid. “The Foreign Ministry condemns [Israeli] operations ... [and] appeals to the parties in the conflict and the international community to do all in their power to prevent further violence,” a statement said. The Ministry stressed its support for the Security Council resolution 1544 (2004) adopted on 19 May. (AFP, www.mvp.gov.ba)

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A 3-year-old girl was killed in the Brazil neighbourhood of Rafah while an UNRWA delegation was in the area. Ali Musa, the head of Rafah’s Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, told reporters that Rawan Abu Zeid, 3, had been killed by gunshot wounds to the neck and abdomen. “We were playing in the house when she told me she wanted some candy,” her brother Diyab Abu Zeid, 19, said. “The older kids in the neighbourhood were going to the store so I let her go with them. “There was no one in the street but the kids, not even other adults,” he added. The IDF said it had no reports of shots being fired in the area. (AP, DPA)

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself in the early afternoon, wounding four people – three Palestinians and an Israeli soldier. He blew himself up at an IDF roadblock in the West Bank's northern Jordan Valley, near the “Bekaot” settlement, 15 km east of Nablus. One of the Palestinians suffered serious wounds while the others sustained light injuries. Col. Roni Belkin, the IDF's Jordan Valley district commander, told reporters that a soldier at a lookout point had spotted a Palestinian wearing a coat on such a hot day and immediately contacted the commander of the checkpoint. The bomber was ordered to stop, with soldiers firing warning shots in the air when he did not. The bomber then detonated his explosives some 30 m from the checkpoint. Two anonymous callers purporting to represent the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the PFLP’s armed wing, claimed responsibility for the attack. The bomber was later identified as Sami Salamma, 19, from Nablus. (AFP, DPA, www.idf.il, The Jerusalem Post, Xinhua)

Medical sources at the Abu Yousef Al-Najjar Hospital said two Palestinians had died from wounds sustained during military operations in the Gaza Strip. Mohammad Al-Hamas, 16, died in a Saudi hospital from critical gunshot wounds he had sustained in October 2000 in Gaza and which had left him in a coma. Hussein Al-Lad’a, 18, died in Gaza from wounds sustained on 11 May during the IDF's military invasion in the Al-Zaitoun neighbourhood. (AFP, IMEMC)

The IDF blew up a workshop in Qalqilya that it said had been used to make weapons. In Yabed, 12 km east of Jenin, Palestinians threw stones at a convoy of about 15 IDF vehicles. Israeli soldiers had opened fire, slightly wounding one, Palestinian security sources said. (AFP)

The IDF said it had uncovered a tunnel in Rafah used to smuggle arms into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the second since the start of a raid there five days ago. An IDF statement said the tunnel, dug 8 m below the surface, was found in an abandoned home in the Brazil neighbourhood of Rafah, with its entrance rigged with 40 kg of explosives. The statement said the tunnel had been destroyed in a controlled explosion. (AFP, www.idf.il)

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen visited the Tal al-Sultan and Brazil neighbourhoods of Rafah to survey damage and deliver aid supplies. Dozens of Palestinians, angry over Israel’s raid, pounded on the cars in the UNRWA convoy as it entered a sealed-off neighbourhood in the camp, smashing windows in one car, and mobbed a shipment of humanitarian aid. An IDF spokeswoman said international relief workers in the previous few days had been allowed to deliver aid to residents in the camp. UNRWA confirmed one shipment had reached the camp. “The human price has been extremely high for this operation,” Mr. Hansen said, adding that 1,650 Palestinians had been made homeless over the previous 10 days of the operation. Municipal officials said at least 43 houses had been demolished and dozens more damaged in the camp this week. The army said five houses had been destroyed after they had been used as cover by militants to attack troops. “I think that the destruction is probably even worse than I’ve seen ... and is indeed completely, completely unacceptable,” Mr. Hansen said. One ambulance team from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society was allowed into Tal al-Sultan on 23 May to take a pregnant woman to hospital but only after their vehicle had been extensively searched by the soldiers. (AFP, AP)

Abdel Jabar Tibi, director of medical care in the PA Ministry of Health, warned in a statement of an environmental disaster in Rafah after the IDF operation there. He said that diseases might break out after the army had destroyed all the infrastructures in the town’s neighbourhoods of Tal al-Sultan and Brazil. “These neighbourhoods were left without water or electricity or milk for children; drinking water had mixed with the dirty sewage water, which would badly affect the public health,” said Mr. Tibi. He further said that the children immunization schedule had been disrupted by the IDF operations in Rafah, affecting more than 30,000 newborns and children. (Xinhua)

PA President Arafat addressed the opening session of the sixteenth Arab Summit in Tunis via satellite from his Ramallah headquarters, appealing for an international force to be dispatched to the Occupied Palestinian Territory to monitor the application of the Road Map and to protect the Palestinians. Mr. Arafat also called for holding a meeting of the OIC's Al-Quds Committee as soon as possible to discuss threats of destruction and Judaization of Jerusalem. “Al-Quds is the responsibility of all Arab leaders,” he said, expressing hope that they would some day perform prayers there. After Mr. Arafat’s speech, a UAE delegate at the summit said that the President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan had offered to pay for 400 new houses in the Gaza Strip to replace homes demolished by Israeli forces. Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali at the summit called on Israel to back down on threats to kill Palestinian leaders and to stop its construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank. The Palestinian delegation at the summit asked for an emergency assistance fund for the Palestinians of Rafah and called on the Arab leaders to work on lifting the Israeli siege on Mr. Arafat. A member of the Fatah Central Committee said the Palestinian delegation was headed by the PLO Political Department Head Farouk Kaddoumi. The Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the PFLP were reportedly also represented at the meeting. Senior Hamas representative Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said in a statement that the Palestinians wanted the summit to support their resistance and to distinguish it from Israel's state terrorism perpetrated in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (AFP, DPA, Reuters, Xinhua)

Representatives of opposition parties in Egypt addressed a statement to Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia, demanding they cut ties with Israel and the United States, which was described as the “partner of Israel.” They attempted to present the statement at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, surrounded by over 100 security guards. “Official Arab condemnations of such Israeli aggressions are no longer acceptable. The Egyptian people, like their fellow Arabs, are boiling with anger,” said the statement. (DPA)

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Arab leaders at the summit in Tunisia, saying: “concerted efforts are required at present to improve the situation and foster the process of the implementation of the road map as an unalternative program for settlement. Furthermore, no unilateral steps should predetermine a final settlement, which can only be achieved via direct talks and mutually acceptable agreements between the parties on a firm international legal basis, as set forth, above all, in UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.” (www.mid.ru, Xinhua)

Israeli officials announced the decision to shut the trade office of its embassy in South Africa but denied the move was a reaction to Pretoria’s strong condemnation of its policy in the Middle East. Whereas This Day newspaper said South Africa had reacted angrily to the move, asking whether Israel wanted to impose sanctions on the country, Foreign Ministry officials declined comment. Acting Israeli Ambassador Daniel Pinhasi said the decision to close the trade office in two months was not political, though he said a recent submission by South Africa to the World Court appeared “anti-Israel.” “The decision was purely professional,” Mr. Pinhasi said. “Things have not been happening in the last 10 years ... in terms of increasing exports of Israel to South Africa, in the same way as South Africa exporting to Israel.” Referring to South Africa’s strong condemnation of Israel’s construction of a barrier in the West Bank at ICJ hearings in The Hague earlier that year, which South Africa had attended, Mr. Pinhasi said this aligned it with several “undemocratic” states also there. “In The Hague, South Africa was in a way more extreme than some of the Arab League members. One thing I must indicate: dialogue with South Africa is not always easy but it is always open,” he said. (Reuters)

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Three Hamas members were killed in Nablus. Palestinian security sources said the men had pulled their car up alongside an "abandoned" vehicle used to store explosives. The abandoned vehicle had blown up while one of the militants was inside. Witnesses said the men had rushed to scene after police attempted to clear the area due to suspicions about the abandoned vehicle. Security sources said it was unclear whether the explosion had been accidental or whether Israel had carried it out. Xinhua quoted witnesses as saying that an Israeli warplane had flown over the town during an IDF raid that had started in the morning, then one rocket had been fired at a white Mazda car going through the Ras Al-Aein neighbourhood with two Palestinians in it. Israel denied any involvement. “We have helicopters flying in the area all the time and I can tell you that no one fired anything,” a military source said. Initial reports said Saad Ghazal, 23, and Saad Zamel Aliyan, 22, had been immediately killed and the third Palestinian had later died in hospital. Nine bystanders had also been injured, two of them critically, the medics said. (AFP, AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

Adnan Bahsh, between the age of 12 to 14, died after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the old city of Nablus. Troops fired on a crowd of stone-throwing youths, shooting the boy in the chest, a spokesperson for the hospital said. (AFP, DPA)

IDF forces, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles, raided the old city of Nablus before dawn and carried out house-to-house searches. The residents said the troops had stormed the house of Sami Salamma, forced its residents to leave it and then blown it up. Mr. Salamma, a member of Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the PFLP’s armed wing, carried out a suicide bombing at an IDF roadblock east of Nablus the previous day. The residents said that nine houses next to Mr. Salamma’s house had been damaged since all houses were leaning on each other in the overcrowded casbah. (Xinhua)

IDF tanks opened heavy gunfire in the morning in the eastern part of Gaza City, wounding at least two Palestinians. Medical sources at Shifa Hospital said that the two were in a moderate condition. Palestinian security sources confirmed that the IDF tanks stationed in eastern Gaza City had opened haphazard gunfire at the residents’ houses and injured the two Palestinians. Earlier in the day, Israeli forces had raided the central Gaza Strip near Deir al-Balah and conducted house searches. No injuries were reported. (Xinhua)

Intense gun battles broke out on the streets of Rafah. In the Brazil area, tank shells were fired at buildings on the district’s main thoroughfare, Abu Baker Siddiq Street. At least two army bulldozers could be seen razing buildings nearby. Two helicopter gunships fired machine guns at the area, with no immediate signs of casualties. At least four tanks and two armoured personnel carriers could be seen taking up new positions at the entrance to the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood, while army bulldozers were demolishing more buildings in the area. Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told a weekly Cabinet meeting that the operation “would continue for several days, but not for several weeks,” Israeli Public Radioreported. (AFP)

The IDF established a new detention camp on the Philadelphi route along the border with Egypt, Palestinian officials in charge of prisoner affairs said, adding that since the beginning of the IDF operation in Rafah, 180 Palestinians had been arrested. The Palestinian Association to Defend Prisoners said in a statement: “The Palestinian prisoners are badly treated and brutally tortured in the detention camp,” adding that “among the prisoners there are doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers.” It appealed to the international human rights organizations to stop keeping silent over what was happening in Rafah: “They must move and save the poor Palestinians who are suffering day after day and no one says a single word even of protest or condemnation.” (Xinhua)

The IDF offered to compensate families whose houses in Rafah had been demolished by the army. The proposal came in a discussion with the Attorney General on the legal aspects of a plan to destroy hundreds more homes in Rafah to widen the Philadelphi route. Defence Minister Mofaz and Army Chief of Staff reportedly back the proposal. The discussion did not detail the sums involved but it was understood that the owners of the razed homes would be offered enough to rebuild their houses elsewhere, the paper said. According to the media, aerial photographs indicated that widening the Philadelphi route by 200 m would result in the destruction of about 700 Palestinian houses, most of them abandoned, and if the route was widened by 300 m, the number of houses destroyed would increase to at least 2,000. PA Communications Minister Azzam Al-Ahmed said the offer was “totally rejected.” Israel had offered to give the Palestinian families money on the condition they left their house on the route and found another place far from the borders to build a house and live there. “It is not Israel’s right to decide where the Palestinians should live or build their houses. If Israel really wants to, there is an elected Palestinian leadership it can contact.” Expressing doubt about Israel’s “good intentions”, Mr. Ahmed added: “The Israeli announcement of compensation is meant to absorb the anger of the Palestinians and public opinion in the world.” (DPA, Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

A spokeswoman for the Israeli port authorities said that the Rafah crossing had been reopened for people crossing in from Egypt but not to anyone travelling in the other direection. (AFP)

In an interview, Defence Minister Mofaz apologized for his troops opening fire on Palestinian demonstrators on 19 May. “It was unintentional. We are sorry,” Mr. Mofaz told Newsweek, stressing that Israel was not destroying houses without a reason. “The houses that we have destroyed had tunnels dug [under them],” he claimed. He said Palestinian groups were using these tunnels to smuggle in ammunition and anti-tank weapons: “We must stop it. Part of the munitions smuggled in were rocket-propelled grenade that hit our tanks and we lost 11 soldiers.” (AFP, MSNBC)

Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharon presented to key military and security officials a new version of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The proposal was explained in detail by the head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, one week before the Prime Minister was to submit the initiative to the Government. The new plan calls for a phased military pull-out as well as the evacuation of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and a few in the northern West Bank. A gradual withdrawal would allow Israel to link the evacuation to the evolution of the situation on the ground, Israeli Public Radio reported. After a nine-month preparation period, the settlements that were at greatest risk of being attacked would be the first to be evacuated, once the Government approved the initiative. By the end of the process, the IDF would have withdrawn from the whole area except the Philadelphi route. (AFP)

UNRWA issued a statement, saying IDF troops had broken into the UNRWA office for the Jenin Camp Reconstruction Project on 20 May and fired a shot in the direction of the senior project manager, Paul Wolstenholme, and had then blindfolded, handcuffed and detained him for three hours, threatening physical violence. IDF sources said in response that the troops had entered the building during an arrest operation in the city and detained Mr. Wolstenholme after he refused to identify himself. After ascertaining his identity the troops reportedly apologized and left the area. An Israeli officer later apologised to the agency for having mistakenly “entered an UNRWA building and caused unpleasantness.” UNWRA pointed out that this was the second time IDF troops forcefully entered the Jenin office. On 22 November 2002, an Israeli soldier had shot and killed Iain Hook, then the UNRWA project manager. UNWRA said the fact that the official had been detained and threatened and his predecessor had been killed by an IDF soldier was “of great concern.” “I am personally upset and alarmed,” Anders Fange, director of UNRWA West Bank operations said in the statement. “Israel has agreed to ensure the protection and security of the personnel, installation and property of UNWRA but this was not done in the present case.” The $27 million housing project has been funded mainly by the United Arab Emirates. (AP, Ha’aretz, Reuters, UNRWA press release HQ/J/3/2004)

UNRWA appealed to Israeli authorities to allow relatives in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood to bury their dead. Some of the 16 bodies in a makeshift morgue in Rafah had been there for nearly a week. An IDF spokesman said the army had authorized buses to take relatives of the dead from Tal al-Sultan to Rafah but did not know when that might happen. (AFP)

Kuwait’s Cabinet condemned Israel’s military incursion into Rafah. A statement issued by the Council of Ministers following its weekly meeting said: “The Rafah incursion was just one more example of Israel’s organized terrorist practices against the Palestinian people.” The Cabinet also welcomed the UN Security Council 1544 (2004), which condemned Israel’s military action in the camp. (DPA)

The final communiqué adopted by Arab leaders at the League of Arab States Summit in Tunis, called on the Quartet to resume its serious actions to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East on the basis of the Arab peace initiative and the road map and work toward obtaining Israel’s commitment to halting its aggressive military actions in order to reach a reciprocal and simultaneous ceasefire under international monitoring and stressed that any Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories must be comprehensive and full and must end the occupation and take place under international supervision and in coordination with the Palestinian Authority. (...)

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Israeli soldiers shot and wounded an armed Palestinian man in Nablus. Initial reports said the Palestinian man had been killed. He was discovered carrying an M-16 rifle by soldiers on patrol, according to Israeli Army Radio. (DPA)

Israeli troops pulled out of most of Rafah, six days after launching their incursion into the city, leaving behind what Majid Al-Agha, the town’s Governor, called “a tragic disaster.” Palestinians said troops were now dug in only in parts of the Brazil neighbourhood and in the Philadelphi route. The army also kept a small force in the Kishta neighbourhood of the refugee camp. “The losses are huge and ... more than 100 houses were totally destroyed and we are still counting. The Israeli army destroyed the infrastructure of the whole area and this would of course cause health and environmental problems and dangers that might cause fatal diseases,” Mr. Agha said. “The destruction of Rafah occurred as fast as an arrow, but construction, aid and support comes as slow as a turtle,” Rafah Mayor Saeed Zurub stated. An Israeli military source said troops had withdrawn from Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood as part of a “new deployment” and to “ease conditions for Palestinians” in the area. The army also lifted a blockade that had cut Rafah off from the rest of the Gaza Strip for nearly a week, saying it was easing conditions for the population. Palestinian reports said Egypt had played an important mediation role in negotiating the withdrawal. (DPA, Reuters)

After the withdrawal of most of the IDF troops from Rafah, the residents buried 16 victims. More than 10,000 people packed into the town’s soccer stadium for a mass funeral for victims from the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood. Israeli troops opened machine-gun fire as the funeral cortege approached a tank guarding an army bulldozer in the Brazil neighbourhood, with gunmen firing in the air. Many of the mourners, including pall-bearers, hurriedly dived for cover as they turned right after the Al-Awda Mosque before rerouting their procession under the guidance of PA security officers. Two Palestinians had been injured in the shooting, one a 20-year-old who was in serious condition after being hit in the eye, according to sources at the Rafah hospital. (AFP, Reuters)

UNRWA allocated 86 new homes to people whose shelters Israel had destroyed. The new shelters would house 475 refugees, an UNRWA spokesman said, which was only a fraction of the need. Homeless families had been provided with tents, blankets, mats, kitchen utensils and food parcels and UNRWA helped cover some rental expenses. An UNRWA statement said that 374 new houses had already been built, 241 were under construction and 201 others were at the design stage. It added that since September 2000, 1,309 buildings, housing more than 18,300 Palestinians, had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. (UPI, UNRWA press release HQ/G/13/2004)

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking on a planned UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, stressed that “above all” there would be no stability in the region until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been settled. The two core issues were security for the Israeli people within their borders and the creation of an independent Palestinian State, he said. (DPA)

“We’ve asked Egypt to train our security personnel and the head of Egypt’s intelligence service, Omar Suleiman, was expected here Monday to discuss that,” PA Prime Minister Qureia told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Ramallah. He categorically denied rumours that Egypt would try to convince PA President Arafat to leave his Ramallah headquarters for the Gaza Strip, stressing: “It’s unacceptable to think about transferring Mr. Arafat, as he is the democratically elected president of the Palestinians and should therefore be able to move about freely.” (AFP)

PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath praised the decisions of the Arab League Summit the day before, saying: “There were no better decisions that had been taken before in terms of the full support but it is more important to have these decisions implemented on the ground.” (Xinhua)

Hamas criticized the Arab Summit’s resolution the previous day that had denounced violence against all civilians without distinction. In a statement faxed to UPI’s Beirut office, the group said: “We condemn the Arab summit’s resolution, which implicitly denounced the operations of the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation under the subhead of killing civilians.” It said the resolution “appeared to be confusing and vague and placed both the executioner and the victim on an equal footing.” (UPI)

Palestinian sources reported that three Palestinians, including a child, had been wounded by Israeli fire in Rafah. Medical sources confirmed that Mohammed Abu Tailaikh, 5, had been moderately wounded. (Albawaba.com)

In Bucharest, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Romanian President Ion Iliescu said there was no military solution to the Middle East conflict. Mr. Iliescu added that the founding of a viable Palestinian State was a condition for the solution to the problem and that Israel must also receive international guarantees in support of its existence and independence. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who also arrived in Bucharest after King Abdullah, said he along with President Iliescu, had agreed that a solution to the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians should be found “through accelerated political negotiations and … implementation by both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides of their obligations to the Road Map.” (AP, DPA)

Egypt’s head of intelligence service Omar Suleiman met with PA President Arafat at a meeting in which the Palestinians proposed a four-member committee comprising Israel, Egypt, PA and US to agree on arrangements after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Israel had yet to respond to the proposal which had been submitted to the US but not yet formally to Israel. Mr. Suleiman also met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Minister for Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom. Mr. Suleiman asked to hear the details of the latest version of Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan. Sources said Egypt was ready to send “an active training force” to train Palestinian security forces in Gaza. It was also ready to carry out more stringent inspections of the tunnels in Rafah, to monitor the Philadelphi route between Rafah and the Egyptian border and to put especially trained soldiers on the job. (Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

According to a report in Dar al-Hayat,Israel would allow PA President Yasser Arafat freedom of movement in exchange for a Palestinian pledge to end terror attacks in the Gaza Strip. After meeting with Mr. Suleiman, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said, “Removing restrictions from PA President Arafat is a fundamental issue that concerns everybody and President Mubarak in particular. Not just to Gaza but complete and full freedom of movement.” According to the report, Israel would remove travel restrictions from Mr. Arafat if Palestinians ended attacks in the Gaza Strip and if the Palestinian security mechanisms were given full control to keep order there. Israel had agreed to train the Palestinian security groups for that purpose, sources said. PA President Arafat’s top aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the PA was ready to take over security in the Gaza Strip after a possible Israeli army pull-out. He emphasized that all these must be part of the Road Map, including the establishment of a Palestinian State by 2005. Mr. Arafat had promised to prepare a Gaza security plan by 15 June, officials said. (AP, Ma’ariv, Xinhua)

25

IDF troops shot and killed a man spotted digging some 30 or 40 metres from the Gaza Strip fence near the "Sufa" crossing. According to the IDF, he had been planting a bomb. (Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Sharon was expected to present the latest version of the disengagement plan to the cabinet for a vote on 30 May. The plan called for evacuation of settlements in Gaza and four others in the northern West Bank. The withdrawal would take place in four stages but only after an approval in principle of the overall plan. Each stage would be brought to the Government for approval before execution. The first stage would involve the removal of “Netzarim,” “Morag,” and “Kfar Darom” in the Gaza Strip. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believed that 12 of the Government's 23 ministers would support the revised disengagement plan. Sources also said Mr. Sharon had managed to persuade Minister for Foreign Affairs Shalom to support the plan by allowing him to meet with PA officials. Mr. Shalom was expected to meet with them in the next few days. (BBC News, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

Troops left the Tel Sultan and Brazil neighbourhoods earlier in the day and lifted the siege north of Rafah and renewed traffic flow to other parts of the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Israeli military officials warned that their “mission” had not been fulfilled, indicating they might send forces back soon. The IDF started allowing passage of Palestinians between Rafah and Khan Yunis. The IDF said they had detained 100 Palestinians during the operation. (Albawaba.com, Ha’aretz)

Palestinian security forces said Rafah was still surrounded by the Israeli army. Dozens of Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles as well as troops were stationed on the Philadelphi route after the Israeli army had made partial withdrawals from two neighbourhoods. There had been conflicting reports on whether the six-day old Operation Rainbow was over or was still going on. Meanwhile, Palestinian security officials said the army had closed the Abu Houli roadblock, splitting the Gaza Strip into two parts. (Xinhua)

Residents of Rafah surveyed the devastation left behind by the Israel army’s Operation Rainbow, which had left more than 40 Palestinians dead. An Israeli army statement said “approximately 56 buildings [had] sustained damage during the operation,” whereas the media reported that more than 100 buildings had either been razed to the ground or were now too dangerous to live in. Mr. Roni Daniel, military correspondent for Israel TV’s Channel Two, quoted a field commander as saying troops moved in the camp like a “bull in a china shop” and destroyed dozens of greenhouses for no reason. Military commentators said the operation achieved little in what it set out to do, at a very high price – both in Palestinians suffering and harm to Israel’s image. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, www1.idf.il)

UNRWA had completed its initial assessment of the number of homes demolished or damaged beyond repair during the latest Israeli military operation in Rafah, according to a statement. From 18 May to 23 May a total of 45 buildings in the Tel Sultan, Brazil and Salam quarters of Rafah had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. These buildings had housed 98 families or 575 individuals. The latest round of demolitions came on top of what had already been one of the worst months of the intifada in Rafah. In total, from 1 May to 23 May, 155 buildings, housing 360 families, or 1960 individuals had been demolished in Rafah. Since the start of the intifada, 1,354 buildings had been demolished in Rafah, affecting 13,175 people. Some structures had been destroyed when troops passed through them rather than moving over roads. (Ha’aretz, Reuters, UNRWA press release HQ/G/14/2004)

EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten, in a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, outlined four policy areas that he said potentially aggravated tension between the West and Islam. The first was the “treatment of the Palestinians.” The other three were “how we engage in the debate on reform in the Arab world; where we go from here in the dreadful situation in Iraq; and how we handle Turkey’s aspirations for EU membership.” (The Financial Times)

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen demanded an apology and retraction from the Israeli Government and the military for the damaging and baseless allegations they had made against UNRWA’s ambulance drivers in the Gaza Strip. On 14 May, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz had alleged that a UN ambulance had transported body parts of Israeli soldiers. Mr. Hansen stated that despite repeated requests from UNRWA, no evidence of UNRWA ambulance drivers transporting the body parts of Israeli soldiers had been presented by Israel. Accordingly, he had no reason to believe that there was any truth in the accusation. (UNRWA press release HQ/G/15/2004)

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan took issue with Israel’s military operation in Rafah. Mr. Ramcharan said he was “deeply troubled by the consequences of the recent Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, in Rafah particularly, which he said “used disproportionate force in a densely populated area.” “Large-scale destruction of property, which is a form of collective punishment, is a flagrant violation of human rights and international humanitarian rights.” (AFP)

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized Israel’s Rafah operation, saying that although Turkey also suffered from terrorism and was fighting it, he did not see a difference between what terrorists were doing and Israel’s demolition of homes and the damage it was bringing to civilians. Mr. Erdogan met with Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky, who said that Mr. Erdogan had renewed offers to mediate between Israel and both the Palestinians and Syria. Mr. Erdogan said the activities of Israel did not promote peace but he was willing to offer his services to mediate, negotiate and bring peace to the area. (Ha’aretz)

Seventy-six percent of Israelis and Palestinians favour a two-State solution to the conflict, according to a poll of people on both sides. The finding was announced by leaders of One Voice, a privately-funded group. Although its results were preliminary, the survey suggested that giving ordinary citizens an active role might help end the region’s “60-year cycle of bloodshed.” Meeting with reporters in New York, Dr. Daniel Lubetzky, the group’s founder-president, and Mideast regional director Mohammad Darawshe, said their aim was to survey a quarter of a million people to show there was a “silent majority” on each side who favoured mutual agreement instead of violence and extremism. The survey had been conducted in the previous two months among residents of Israel and the West Bank using questionnaires designed to draw specific answers to 10 basic questions. So far, 25,000 responses had been recorded, with another 15,000 awaiting tabulation. (Ha’aretz)

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A Palestinian man had been killed by Israeli fire in Rafah, according to Palestinian medical sources. Mohammed Zurob, 42, had been hit in the chest by fire originating from an Israeli army position near the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. He had been near the Tel Sultan neighbourhood in the Rafah refugee camp when he was hit. It had not been immediately clear why the Israeli army had opened fire. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Israeli troops had continued their military operation in Nablus for the fourth consecutive day, military sources said. Israeli troops had taken over 30 Palestinian houses in the city while opening random fire on houses and pedestrians. Armed clashes had erupted between Israeli soldiers on rooftops and Palestinian armed men, witnesses said, adding that the Israeli soldiers had also opened fire on paramedics and ambulances that attempted to access the area. Five Palestinians had been injured in the operation, while a number of others suffered from suffocation due to tear gas canisters fired by the soldiers. Troops had also raided Tulkarm earlier in the day and seized a number of houses. Military undercover units had ordered many Palestinians to remain in one room of their houses and asked others to evacuate their homes. (Xinhua)

A total of 62 Palestinians had been killed during the seven-day Israeli military operation in Rafah, according to Palestinian medical sources. Director of the Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, Ali Mussa, told reporters that 25 out of the 62 people killed were under age 18. Mr. Mussa added that 280 others had been injured and that half of them were children. He described the operation as very different from previous ones, in that the Israeli army “intended to kill as many people as possible during the operation in addition to using different and various kinds of weapons and ammunitions.” He also said most of the injuries had been due to helicopter rocket shrapnels as well as bullets fired by military snipers. (Xinhua)

Following the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Rafah on 24 May, UNRWA had now been able to complete its full assessment of the number of homes demolished or damaged during the operation. From 18 May to 24 May, a total of 167 buildings in the Tel Sultan, Brazil and Salam quarters of Rafah had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. These buildings housed 379 families or 2,066 individuals. Since the start of the intifada, 1,476 buildings had been demolished in Rafah, affecting 14,666 people. (UNRWA press release HQ/G/16/2004)

About 700 Palestinian police officers would be deployed on the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt after the Israeli military evacuation, Palestinian sources said. Egypt was getting ready to send a special force to the area, where it would take over the task of preventing arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, sources added. Meanwhile, witnesses reported that earlier that week, a number of Jordanian officers had been seen with Israeli military officers in the eastern hills of the West Bank, near the border of Jordan. Jordanian and Israeli officers were reportedly discussing issues in the area where the Israeli Government intended to establish a separation wall. (Xinhua)

Amnesty International’s annual report charged that the IDF had killed some 600 Palestinians, including more than 100 children, between January and December 2003. According to the report, most of those who had died had been killed unlawfully, in “reckless shooting, shelling and bombing in civilian residential areas, in extra-judicial executions and through excessive use of force.” The report goes on to criticize the deaths of around 200 Israelis, at least 130 of them civilians and including 21 children, who had been killed in suicide bombings and other “deliberate attacks” by Palestinian militants. The IDF came under criticism for “certain abuses” that constituted war crimes, including unlawful killings, obstruction of medical personnel, the extensive and wanton destruction of property, torture and the use of “human shields.” The report condemned the restriction of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, attributing “unprecedented poverty, unemployment and health problems” to that measure. In a separate report, Amnesty International urged Israel to hold a “thorough, independent and impartial investigation” into the deaths of two teenage siblings, Asman and Ahmad Al-Mughayr, during the recent raid in Rafah. On 18 May, the two teenagers were killed within minutes of each other from gunshot wounds to the head, while collecting laundry on the roof of their house. AI dismissed the IDF claims that the two victims had been killed in an explosion caused by militants. (Ha’aretz, www.amnestyusa.org/news)

In its report, Oxfam International called on Israel, the PA and the international community, through the Quartet, to act urgently to reduce the impact of conflict on Palestinians and Israeli civilians. According to its research, the humanitarian situation had become critical and it was civilians on both sides who were suffering most. The report called on the Quartet to convene an emergency meeting of all parties to consider possible new ways that the international community could step up its involvement, including through the deployment of a protection force for civilians; international force to work as a verification and implementation mission; a mechanism for settling disputes; and a UN-mandated international peacekeeping force. Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking told a news conference to launch the report, “Oxfam is calling on these key players [Quartet] to meet around the negotiating table without delay, to decide what action to take in order to protect civilians on both sides and to put an end to the suffering.” The report showed that Israel was failing to fulfil its legal obligations as the occupying Power. (Reuters, www.oxfam.org.uk)

27

Three IDF tanks and a bulldozer had entered the town of Deir Al-Balah in Gaza, wounding and arresting a number of Palestinians, as well as destroying three Palestinian houses, witnesses said. The IDF said an operation was underway in an area where militants had been operating. In Nablus, IDF forces demolished two houses of Palestinians said to be involved in suicide bombing. One of the houses belonged to Nayaf Abu Sharkh, senior commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, accused of planning the suicide bombing at a shopping mall in Kfar Saba in November 2002 that had killed two Israelis, and the other to the family of Sami Sallam[a], member of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, armed wing of the PFLP. According to witnesses, the two houses had been blown up after their residents had been forced to evacuate. The IDF had set up 15 observation posts in Palestinian homes in Nablus. Israeli soldiers also arrested five civilians in Bethlehem and two men and one woman in Hebron. (Albawaba.com, AP, Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post, Xinhua)

Mayor of Rafah Said Zu’rub said the latest Israeli operation in the city and the refugee camps had caused material losses estimated at $10 million. He said the army had partially and completed destroyed about 800 Palestinian-owned homes and killed 72 Palestinians during the operation. Secretary-General of the PA Cabinet Hassan Abu Libdeh said the PA would spend $15 million on rebuilding houses in Rafah to assist the homeless. “The PNA is seeking a long-term solution for the residents,” he said. (Xinhua)

PA Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat denied reports that Egypt would deploy 700 troops on the borderline between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in case of an Israeli pull-out. Speaking to Al-Ayyam, he said: “All what had been said about redeploying Egyptian security forces on the borders are just untrue rumours. All that Egypt has promised is to help reorganize and re-establish the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip.” He also said sending Egyptian security forces to train Palestinian officers would coincide with sending Jordanian security offices to the West Bank town of Jericho for the same purpose. (Xinhua)

PA Minister of Local Government Affairs Jamal Shobaki said preparations for holding local elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been launched. His remarks came during a visit to Tulkarm, where he said elections were a political, as well as a national issue. PA officials said the balloting would begin in Jericho in late August, to be completed in the 127 other municipal districts in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip within a year. Mr. Shobaki said the PA’s “capabilities are limited and the local governments cannot provide the necessary needs, given that the Israeli Government chaired by Ariel Sharon works on destroying the Palestinian infrastructure.” But he said his Ministry would do its utmost to provide the needs of local councils. (Xinhua)

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released a new survey entitled “Impact of the Israeli measures on the economic conditions of Palestinian households (8th round: January-March, 2004).” It said more than 61 per cent of households had seen their income decrease since the outbreak of the intifada and almost 50 per cent of households reported that they lost more than 50 per cent of their income. (The Jerusalem Times, www.pcbs.org)

Prime Minister Sharon presented his revised Gaza plan to Cabinet members. A ministerial debate on the “new” plan would take place on 30 May. The new plan called for many of the evacuated buildings to be destroyed. The withdrawal plan was expected to be carried out by the end of 2005. It also said details of the plan would be presented to Jordan and Egypt that day. In the event that the new proposal won a majority in the Cabinet, the subsequent Government decision was expected to state that settlements slated for evacuation would be divided into four groups and the dismantling of each group would be approved in advance by the Cabinet. The four groups of settlements to be dismantled were: settlements in the Gaza Strip (“Netzarim,” “Morag,” “Kfar Darom” and “Rafiah Yam”); settlements in the northern West Bank (“Ganim,” “Kadim,” “Sa-Nur,” “Homesh”); “Gush Katif;” and settlements in the northern Gaza Strip (“Elei Sinai,” “Dugit,” “Nissanit”). Mr. Sharon proposed that the Cabinet vote only on one portion of the plan – the evacuation of three small settlements in Gaza – and that a repeat vote be held several months later. The Government would establish a “ministerial committee for the disengagement plan,” to be headed by Mr. Sharon. A senior official said that after the plan received Cabinet backing, it would be brought to the Knesset for approval. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly gave only limited support and the pro-settlement National Religious Party threatened to pull out of the Government if any settlements were uprooted. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post)

PA Prime Minister Qureia criticized Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, saying: “By talking about a unilateral withdrawal, his aim is to drag the world’s attention from being interested to see the Road Map implemented to making them believe that he presents a new political initiative.” He said the plan “would ... impose everything Sharon wants on the Palestinians unilaterally,” adding: “We have concerns about the time. No one knows if Sharon really wants to implement his plan gradually and within nine months or if it would take him years in order to finalize implementing his plan.” (UPI)

The Israeli High Court of Justice, acting on a petition filed by residents of Shuqba [Shobaka], west of Ramallah, issued a temporary order to halt the construction of the separation barrier near the village. (IMEMC)

28

A car bomb exploded near an Israeli convoy on the Philadelphi road at the Gaza-Egypt border, killing a Palestinian attacker and wounding two soldiers. The attack, carried out in a four-wheel-drive vehicle packed with explosives, targeted a bus with Israeli workers headed for a crossing point with Egypt. An IDF statement said the car had hit a dirt mound and the driver had jumped out and opened fire, and “as he was shooting, his vehicle exploded, killing him.” An army jeep accompanying the bus had then collided with the bus, slightly injuring two soldiers. “A white jeep with two people aboard tried to ram the bus transporting some 40 employees to the [Rafah] terminal and blew up. The jeep was totally wrecked,” Anat Moore, a spokeswoman for the Israeli ports and airports administration said. “The employees of the administration are unharmed,” she said, adding that two soldiers in the escorting military vehicle, including an officer, were slightly hurt. The Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Popular Resistance Committees took joint responsibility for the attack. A videotape left behind by the attacker, Ahmed Abu Jamous, 22, showed him in combat fatigues saying his attack was also in revenge for Israel’s killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. (AFP, AP, www.idf.il, Reuters)

Taeb Abdel Raheem, an adviser to PA President Arafat, condemned the car bomb attack in the southern Gaza Strip as counterproductive, noting that it had provoked Israel into closing the Rafah crossing. “Such attacks committed by some individuals ... bring more suffering to our people,” he said the next day. “These attacks have no aim except to bring more attacks and more pressure on our people.” Similar attacks had led to the closures of the Erez and Karni terminals between Israel and Gaza, he said. Those crossings had been closed for 10 days, leading to shortages of milk, cheese and other food in Gaza. (AP)

A Palestinian man was shot and killed and a woman wounded by Israeli fire near Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip. The medics at Deir al-Balah Hospital said the soldiers had shot dead farmer Tayesser Abu Haddaf, 25-34, as he worked at his farm near the “Gush Katif” settlement. Military sources said the army knew of no shooting by soldiers in the area. The medics said three other Palestinians had been shot and wounded by Israeli troops at the settlement of “Netzarim,” south of Gaza City. (AFP, AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

A Palestinian identified as Nabil Zeino, 21, had been killed in the evening near the border with Egypt when an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade prematurely had exploded as he tried to fire it at an Israeli armoured vehicle in the Brazil neighbourhood of the Rafah refugee camp, witnesses said. Palestinian security sources said he had been killed by an Israeli tank shell. (AFP, Xinhua)

Two Palestinians died from their wounds, bringing the day’s Palestinian death toll to five. Ayman Abu Hassanin, 24, was injured during the IDF Operation Rainbow in Rafah. The second Palestinian from Jabalya refugee camp, whose name was not immediately available, died from wounds sustained in Jericho. (AFP, DPA, Xinhua)

Israeli forces had destroyed a house in the Rafah refugee camp, residents told AP. According to IMEMC, in 24 hours the IDF had demolished six homes in Gaza and bulldozed agricultural fields in the Brazil and Al-Salam neighbourhoods of Rafah. (AP, IMEMC)

In Nablus, Israeli troops arrested a senior member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Palestinians identified the man as Aimad Akubi. (AP)

Israeli Civil Administration officials, accompanied by IDF soldiers, handed the orders to residents of Mas'ha village, south-east of Qalqilya, which stated that the army had decided to confiscate more than five dunams of their land located near the separation barrier and the “Elkana” settlement. (IMEMC)

Prime Minister Sharon decided to bring the plan to the Cabinet vote on 30 May. The Prime Minister’s Office announced that ministers had received copies of the proposal, an exchange of letters between Mr. Sharon and President Bush regarding the plan and details on technical preparations for the withdrawal. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

The Indian ruling coalition’s Common Minimum Programme said: “The UPA Government reiterates India’s decades-old commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people for a homeland of their own.” India’s Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjeehas said the new Government would continue the country’s close defence ties with Israel. (Ma’ariv, pmindia.nic.in, Reuters)

Israel’s membership in the United Nations Western Europeans and Other States group (WEOG) was extended to 2008, Israel’s Mission to the UN announced. “Our membership in WEOG has been very fruitful and it has enabled us to play a more positive role at the UN and prove that Israel is not just about the Middle East conflict,” said Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Arye Mekel. WEOG, which had accepted Israel in 2000, had asked Israel to apply once again to the Asia group before extending its membership. According to Mr. Mekel, the Asia group “didn’t even honor us with an answer.” (The Jerusalem Post)

Turkey said it planned to recall its Ambassador to Israel for consultations. “It is only natural that when there is an unusual situation, we want to hear from our people what they think,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül said. Asked whether Turkey would consider breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel, Mr. Gül said: “If the air in the region is polluted, it will affect everyone.” (Ha'aretz, UPI)

29

Israeli troops killed a Palestinian as he tried to plant a roadside bomb east of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip in the morning. The PFLP said Shadi Nasser, 22, a member of the organization, was killed while carrying out his “military duties.” Beit Hanoun residents identified the man as Mazen Nasser, 25, and said he was a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Brigades did not comment. The IDF said three Palestinians had entered the closed military zone bordering the fence and when one of them had walked up to the fence and touched it, troops had opened fire, killing him. The other two men, who had remained about 150 m from the fence, fled. The IDF said two explosive devices, weighing between 30 to 40 kg, were found near the body. (AFP, UPI)

An Israeli paratroops company commander, Capt. Sachar Ben Ishay, 25, was killed in the morning in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. The officer was going with his soldiers to the camp’s outskirts to collect intelligence and engage the militants. As the company boarded their vehicles after the raid, the group came under fire from a distance of 50 m. One bullet had hit Mr. Ben Ishay and killed him, his battalion commander said. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the shooting. (UPI, www.idf.il, Xinhua)

“I believe if Israel withdraws fully from the Gaza Strip, there will be no attacks in or from the Gaza Strip,” former Palestinian security chief Mohammad Dahlan said in an interview. “We must exploit it to build a positive model so that the world community would be encouraged to apply pressure on Israel to begin similar withdrawals from the West Bank,” Mr. Dahlan said, adding that Egypt had agreed to set up training centres for Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. (Reuters)

Egypt had agreed to a request from Prime Minister Sharon to help maintain security in the Gaza Strip if he carried out his plan to end the Israeli presence in the territory, MENA reported. The report said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had told Sharon that Cairo was prepared to “send experts in all fields, notably security, to the Palestinian territories immediately to help the PA assume its responsibilities in the matter of security.” MENA said Mr. Sharon had informed Mr. Mubarak of his latest plan and had asked Egypt to play “an effective role” in the operation, by helping “to install confidence between the two sides, notably in guaranteeing stability and security in the Gaza Strip and ending ‘acts of violence and terrorism’.” Mr. Sharon singled out “the training and reorganisation of the Palestinian security services” and “strengthening cooperation between Israel and Egypt to ensure that their borders are safe.” In reply, Mr. Mubarak confirmed Egypt’s support for “any withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as laid down in the Road Map.” He added that “after consultation with the PA, Egypt had said it was prepared to make every effort to assist the authority to fulfil its commitment with regard to the Road Map.” Mr. Mubarak cited “the improvement of security in the Palestinian territories and in particular the Gaza Strip, and engagement in the necessary reforms enabling the authority to totally control the Palestinian territories, beginning with the areas that are to be evacuated.” (AFP)

A telethon in the United Arab Emirates had raised $27 million (€22 million) for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip whose houses had been razed by the IDF, Al-Emarat TV said. The eight-hour campaign the previous day run by the UAE Red Crescent Society saw the ruling family of Abu Dhabi donate at least half of the 100 million dirhams raised. President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan contributed 20 million dirhams ($5.5 million), Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa 15 million, Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Hamdan 10 million and his wife Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak 5 million. Mr. Hamdan, who is also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, issued a statement calling Israeli raids on Rafah immoral and inhuman, adding: “We wish that the Arab Summit which was held in Tunisia recently had taken an initiative to reconstruct the homes.” Red Crescent staff was collecting donations throughout the country and outside mosques, Red Crescent chief Khalifa Nasser al-Swaidi said. (AFP)

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy started a two-and-a-half day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, her first since being appointed to the post in 1995. Several planned visits had been scrapped for security reasons. (AP)

30

Three Palestinians were killed after midnight in an Israeli helicopter strike in the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City. Several others, including a woman and two children, suffered injuries in the incident. Palestinian sources said an Israeli helicopter had fired two missiles, one of which had killed two members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, travelling on a motorcycle, named as Wael Nasser, 38, a Brigades commander, and Mohammed Sarsur, 31, his assistant. A bystander, Madi al-Madi, 18, had died when another rocket hit his home. His wife had been among those injured. Palestinian Red Crescent medics said they had found three bodies, two of which were charred beyond recognition. An IDF spokesman said the air strike had targeted “two important activists responsible for plotting suicide attacks,” with a list of charges provided in an IDF statement. Ismail Haniyah, a senior leader of Hamas in Gaza, said that Mr. Nasser and Mr. Sarsur had been behind a series of high-profile attacks on Israeli targets, including a double suicide attack in Ashdod which had killed 10 Israelis on 14 March 2004. Hamas sources also said that they too had masterminded an ambush in which six Israeli soldiers had been killed during their 11 May raid in Gaza City. The bodies of Mr. Sarsur and Mr. Nasser were taken from Shifa hospital to their homes. The funeral procession to Al-Kabir Mosque and then to the Sheikh Radwan cemetery, north of the city, was spontaneously joined by more and more Palestinians, turning it into a massive march in the streets. (AFP, AP, Reuters, UPI, Xinhua)

Five Palestinians were wounded during clashes with Israeli forces in Ramallah. They suffered gunshot wounds to the legs during a brief mid-morning incursion by Israeli troops. Witnesses and security sources said that troops travelling in about a dozen armoured vehicles which opened fire at stone-throwing protesters. None of the injured was thought to be in a serious condition. (AFP)

Israeli troops in the Tulkarm refugee camp shot and wounded Suleiman Fawwaza, 18-year-old member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Israeli military sources said troops had opened fire after he had tried to throw a grenade at soldiers. He was then taken by the Israelis from the Thabet hospital where he was treated. Medical sources said Mr. Fawwaza’s condition was bad and he was bleeding due to the amputation to his right-hand fingers. A 17-year-old Palestinian was wounded in the same attack, whose condition was said to be stable. (AFP, Xinhua)

IDF forces with more than 15 Israeli tanks and bulldozers supported by helicopters raided the Al-Sh’ut refugee camp in Rafah in the morning, blowing up and then levelling eight Palestinian houses. (Xinhua)

Prime Minister Sharon presented his disengagement plan to the Israeli Cabinet and failed to muster a majority during a seven-hour meeting. Mr. Sharon said at the beginning of the meeting that he was postponing a vote until the following week’s Cabinet meeting. (AFP, AP)

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10TV, PA President Arafat gave conditional support to Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, asking: “When will it come? Will it be a complete withdrawal?” “I extend my hand to Sharon, to the nation of Israel and its Government,” Mr. Arafat also said, offering to meet Prime Minister Sharon and talk peace: “Why not? If there is a will for peace, it will overcome all other ideas.” (AFP, AP, Reuters)

PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat told reporters: “Egypt will not play a security or military role in the territories but has agreed on training the Palestinian security services in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in cooperation with Jordan.” He insisted that the Palestinians alone would take over the security responsibilities in any Palestinian area evacuated by Israel, adding that Egypt and Jordan would help only in rehabilitating and training the Palestinian security services. (Xinhua)

Palestinian security sources said that an Egyptian security delegation was expected to visit the Gaza Strip from 17 to 20 June to convene with Palestinian security services and be briefed on the latest developments ahead of the proposed Israeli withdrawal. It would consist of 130 security officers specialized in different areas. “We learned that the first Egyptian training team will arrive in the Palestinian territories on 17 June to start their mission of rehabilitating the Palestinian security forces,” Samir Masharwi, a Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, had said the previous day. (AP, Xinhua)

A group of 46 soldiers and officers from an Israeli parachute regiment guarding the “Netzarim” settlement in the Gaza Strip addressed an open letter to Prime Minister Sharon, urging the immediate evacuation of the settlement. “After our last period of reserve duty, we have decided to be silent no more,” the soldiers said, insisting they were not conscientious objectors. “We do not want to risk our lives for a settlement which makes no sense and where only 60 families live.” “We have become the chauffeurs and servants of the settlers in Netzarim,” the letter added. (AFP)

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on a petition filed by a number of human rights groups during Israel’s weeklong incursion into the Rafah refugee camp, saying the IDF must uphold international law and make sure Palestinian civilians had access to medicine, food and water during military operations. The Court did not explicitly accuse the army of violating international law, said Fatmeh El-Ajou, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), one of the petitioners. The three-judge panel ruled that during combat the military was bound by “international law and custom, international conventions that Israel is a signatory to and the basic laws of Israel.” The ruling quoted the Fourth Geneva Convention but did not say the army had violated it. The IDF insisted it had not violated international law and had done its utmost to ensure the basic rights of the Rafah residents had been protected during the operation. ACRI welcomed the ruling, with its spokesman Yoav Loeff saying: “These are important decisions about the obligations of the army to provide different services to citizens in theatres of operations.” The ruling further said that during combat operations military commanders were obligated to ensure sufficient medical supplies for soldiers and civilians, alternate water supplies if water systems were damaged, and to fix electricity lines and ensure that civilians had food. The ruling also ordered the army to allow “an honourable” burial for the dead, saying that troops had not taken into consideration the need for immediate burial and that the army should “avoid this in the future.” The court rejected a demand that a delegation of Israeli doctors be allowed into Rafah to treat the wounded, accepting the army’s position that the entry of Israeli doctors would be dangerous but said foreign doctors must be allowed to enter. (AP, IMRA)

A five-day International Conference on Water Demand Management, organized by the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was formally opened by King Abdullah II in the Shuneh resort on the Dead Sea. Organisers said more than 1,200 participants from 32 countries were attending the conference, whereas an AFPcorrespondent said that only about 500 delegates were present. Jordan's Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem Nasser told The Jordan Times that Jordan, Israel and the PA had reached an initial agreement to conduct a feasibility study, financed by the World Bank, to build a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal. The canal would replenish the Dead Sea, whose existence was threatened. (AFP, The Jordan Times)

Israeli Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented to visiting Russian officials his own plan to separate Jews from Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, Ha’aretzreported. Mr. Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, described his plan as an alternative to Prime Minister Sharon’s. “It would be right if the Quartet, including Russia, were to support my plan out of a deep understanding that only in this way can it actually be possible to reach an end to the conflict,” Mr. Lieberman said after meeting with Alexander Galkin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal envoy and Russia's Ambassador to Israel, Gennady Tarasov. According to Mr. Lieberman’s plan, only those Israeli Arabs who feel a connection with the State of Israel and were completely loyal to it would be allowed to stay. Mr. Sharon condemned Lieberman’s plan on transferring Israeli Arabs to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, saying at a cabinet meeting: “We regard the Israeli Arabs as part of the state of Israel.” (Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

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The IDF, deployed in Nablus for the tenth consecutive day, shot and wounded two Palestinians, a 14-year-old girl and her grandmother. Palestinian sources said that the Israeli forces stationed at the graveyard of the Balata refugee camp had opened fire against the adjacent houses, injuring the two. (IMEMC, Xinhua)

The IDF raided Al-Qarara area, in the central Gaza Strip and started bulldozing two Palestiniand houses and areas of agricultural lands amid intensive shooting. (Xinhua)

Prime Minister Sharon asked Likud MKs to accept a revised Gaza withdrawal plan but the meeting was cut short after he had come under sharp verbal attack. “You have no majority in any party forum,” MK Naomi Blumenthal told Mr. Sharon at the meeting, accusing him of ignoring the party’s wishes. (AP)

Director of the PA's Borders and Border Terminals Security, Colonel Abu Salim Abu Safiya told reporters the IDF still held a tight grip on passages and terminals in the Gaza Strip, barring the access of agricultural merchandise to the strip, contrary to Israeli reports which said that the military siege had been lifted. The IDF imposed a closure on the strip in the beginning of May and the Beit Hanoun (Erez) and Al-Muntar (Karni) commercial crossings had been closed since then. Palestinian security sources also said that the IDF had closed the Abu Huli roadblock in the central Gaza Strip and started a search campaign there. (Xinhua)

Israel said it had reopened the main crossing into the Gaza Strip to allow food and medicines through to Palestinians who said they were suffering severe shortages. Palestinian officials said Israel had promised a gradual reopening of the Al-Muntar (Karni) crossing. They said at least 10 Israeli trucks had been allowed into Gaza laden with food and medicine but Palestinian goods still could not enter the Jewish state. A spokeswoman for the Israeli Airport Authority, which runs the Karni side, said the crossing was open “both ways” after enhanced security measures were put in place. Israel says there have been recent attempts to smuggle bombs into Israel through Karni. Palestinians said on-and-off closures since March had left stores in the Gaza Strip empty of basic food products and prices for imported goods had skyrocketed. “There is a crisis in Gaza Strip. There has been a shortage of food material, dairy products, fruits and flour. It gets more severe every day,” said Jehad Sleem, a merchant. Officials said the Gaza closures had cost the Palestinian economy millions of dollars. “Not a single truck has been allowed from the Palestinian side into Israel or the West Bank. They are allowing only trucks from Israeli territory,” said Nabil Faraj, Palestinian head of the crossing. Israel tightened security measures at border crossings after two Palestinian suicide bombers had slipped out of Gaza in a container and blown themselves up at the Israeli port of Ashdod in March 2004, killing 10 people. (Reuters)

UNRWA launched an appeal for $15.8 million to provide assistance to Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp, as the amount of damage caused during Israel’s recent operation there surpassed its abilities. “UNRWA needs the funds to provide emergency cash, food and housing assistance to the hundreds of families who have lost their homes, had a breadwinner killed or wounded or who are in need of ongoing medical care” following “weeks of the most intense destruction in Gaza since the start of the intifada,” a statement from the Agency said. (DPA, Xinhua, UNRWA press release HQ/G/17/2004)

Prime Minister Sharon’s Office issued a statement, announcing that Minister for Foreign Affairs Shalom would visit Egypt later in the week to meet President Mubarak. Prime Minister Sharon and President Mubarak had agreed that the two countries would set up a joint committee “to deal with various bilateral issues,” and Mr. Shalom was to finalize details of the committee, the statement said, without elaborating. (AP, IMRA, Xinhua)

The Israelis and Palestinians had accepted an Egyptian plan for a ceasefire, a resumption of peace talks and a meeting between Prime Ministers Sharon and Qureia, MENAreported. The plan, for which no time frame has been set, fell within the framework of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s agreement to help maintain security in the territory afterwards. It had been put to Mr. Sharon and PA President Arafat last week by the head of Egypt’s intelligence services Gen. Omar Suleiman, at the request of President Mubarak, MENAsaid. Mr. Arafat’s principal adviser, Nabil Abu Rudeina, confirmed the existence of Egyptian “proposals” but said their implementation was dependent upon an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. There was no immediate comment from Israel. The plan had been “welcomed” by Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and “other capitals,” which promised to help equip Palestinian forces to be able to secure Gaza following a withdrawal, MENAadded. It said Sharon had “agreed to stop violence, bombings and assassinations, on condition that the Palestinians remain committed” to an end to hostilities. In a gesture of goodwill, he had also agreed to “meet Ahmed Qureia to discuss the proposals.” Mr. Arafat had “approved the Egyptian plan and said he was ready to start working immediately towards a ceasefire” and asked Gen. Suleiman “to get Israel to agree to end its attacks and to give him time to consult with the different Palestinian factions in order to secure their agreement.” If the different factions were to agree, they could be invited to Cairo to finalize the “accord which seeks to bring an end to all illegitimate violence and to secure the lasting commitment of all parties” for peace. Egypt was willing to send between 150 and 200 security experts to Gaza for six months to train a security force for the Palestinian Authority, MENAsaid. Technicians, security experts and administrators from European countries would work alongside the Egyptians during the training programme. Moreover, Egypt would rebuild police stations and jails in Gaza and provide the Palestinian security forces with radio equipment, vehicles and light weapons. The report came after President Mubarak said in an interview with Romanian TV: “We are ready to train Palestinian forces in case of a withdrawal from Gaza,” in order to help them to “secure” the area, “because if they were to leave things like they are after a withdrawal, Gaza will become a breeding ground for terrorism and the Israelis could return.” Mr. Mubarak said he had put his proposal to the Israelis and the Palestinians two days ago, and was “waiting for their answer and for the Israeli Government to approve the plan and the withdrawal to start.” He stressed however that Egypt “would not send troops” to the Gaza Strip. (AFP, Reuters)

PA Prime Minister Qureia said he was willing to hold talks with his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon but only if such a summit “would lead to results.” “We are in favour of any meeting which could bring an end to the suffering and bring about the implementation of the Road Map. Such a meeting is possible and we are not against it. We are very much in favour of a meeting which can lead to results,” he told reporters after the weekly PA Cabinet meeting in Ramallah. (AFP)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the previous four years had had a severe impact on children, both physically and psychologically, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said during her visit to the region. “This is very severe crisis for children on both sides with long-term implications. It is not just the physical violence, it’s also the psychological impact,” she said. Although noting children were subject to more behaviour changes than adults, she stressed that “normality does not exist when children are not sure they are going to school, when there are checkpoints or when they are afraid somebody is going to blow themselves up.” Ms. Bellamy, who during her two-and-a-half day visit met PA Prime Minister Qureia and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Palestinian children were likely to be affected by interrupted schooling: “There is probably a special burden on Palestinian children in the context of border crossings, the daily walks to school and the curfews.” Asked about UNICEF’s response to a major Israeli raid in Rafah, Ms. Bellamy said her organization was providing residents with water and medicines. “There has been a disruption of water that has health implications for children and schools have been disrupted,” she said, describing the large-scale operation as “yet another incident of violence.” Ms. Bellamy deplored the exploitation of children in the conflict, saying: “Children should not be in the frontline, they should not be used as substitutes for somebody who is angry and wants to act out.” “The good news in the midst of all this is that there are still some of the highest education enrolments in the region, in both Israel and Palestinian areas,” she said. (AFP)


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