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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
31 December 2003
Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the

Question of Palestine

Monthly media monitoring review

December 2003


1

Before dawn, IDF soldiers launched house-to-house searches rounding up dozens of Palestinians in Ramallah. Israel Radioreported that soldiers had blown up a weapons workshop in a raid targeting Hamas' activities. Four Palestinians, including a boy of six (nine, according to AFP), were killed in the raid. The four were identified as Mohammed Salameh, 37, Saleh Mohammed Talahmeh, 40, Sayyed al-Sheikh Qassem, and the boy Mazen Hamadan. An IDF spokesman said special forces had killed three Islamic militants who had opened fire at them; one of them died in a five-storey block demolished on top of him after he refused to come out and surrender, witnesses said. Palestinian medics said the boy had died after being shot in the head by Israeli troops around midday in a Ramallah refugee camp. Military sources said soldiers had clashed with stone-throwers near the site and the shooting was under investigation. Soldiers arrested 30 Hamas members wanted in connection with 10 bombings that had killed 68 people in Israel, security sources said. Israeli troops also blew up three buildings used to make or hide explosives, acording to an army spokesman. The IDF also said in a statement that the Palestinian Authority had been notified of the operation and had been informed that the IDF had no intention of confronting Palestinian Authority forces or of entering the muqataa.(Reuters, www.idf.il)

Israel’s High Court of Justice reviewed a petition submitted by HaMoked on behalf of Palestinians held in a secret Israeli prison and told the Government to justify the secrecy surrounding Facility 1391, nicknamed “Israel’s Guantanamo Bay,” within 45 days. (The Jerusalem Post)

Authors of the Geneva Accord Initiative launched the plan at a ceremony in Geneva at a conference centre near UN headquarters, presided over by actor Richard Dreyfuss and attended by about 700 people, including many celebrities and former political leaders. About 300 Israelis and Palestinians, including artists, intellectuals and entertainers, flew to Geneva on “peace flights.” Senior figures around the globe called the initiative a ray of hope in one of the most intractable international conflicts. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken far too great a toll already. Both peoples have paid dearly in lives and livelihood in a war which both are losing,” declared a statement signed by 58 former presidents, prime ministers and UN officials. Hailed at the two-hour ceremony by former President Jimmy Carter as offering an end to bloodshed, the plan also won messages of support from King Hassan II of Morocco, Prime Minister Blair, President Mubarak and former President Clinton. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey dubbed it “a little light in the darkness.” Mr. Carter said: “It’s unlikely that we shall ever see a more promising foundation for peace. The only alternative to this initiative is sustained and permanent violence.” (AFP, Reuters)

Some 1,500 people demonstrated against the initiative in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip in a protest organized by Hamas. In Gaza City, some 2,000 people also gathered in a meeting hall to take part in what was called “a national conference for the defence of the right of return for refugees and against the dangers of the Geneva Initiative.” “This initiative is a gratuitous concession to Israel and is dividing the Palestinian people,” senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammed Al-Hindi told AFP on the sidelines of the gathering. Top Hamas figure Ismail Haniyah also denounced the document “for renouncing the rights of the Palestinian people.” Around 300 people also gathered in the centre of Ramallah to denounce the project, accusing its promoters of “liquidating the Palestinian cause.” “This protest is our response to those who have awarded themselves the right to represent the Palestinian people,” said Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior figure in Fatah. In Jenin, the local branch of Fatah issued a statement in which it threatened to “publicly execute” the backers of the document if they put their signature to it, stressing: “The right of return is a sacred right and we will not allow anyone to renounce it.” In Nablus, around 400 people took part in a meeting at Al-Najah University campus in protest at the plan. (AFP)

“If ever neutrality was a value, it was expressed now,” said Abraham Burg, former Knesset speaker and a senior Labour Party politician. “The fact that there are countries in the world that are unbiased and really committed to the well-being of all sides and ready to play honest brokers has played a crucial role here,” he added on the sidelines of the launch ceremony. “If the Nobel Peace Prize can be given to a State, this should be the one.” (AFP)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa called the Geneva Initiative “an effort that is not negative,” saying: “This document is the [result] of a popular and unofficial effort. The important thing is to [implement] the official documents that have already been signed and that Israel must commit to implementing.” (AFP)

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, speaking on CNN Monday, called the Geneva Initiative “a delusion” and said it was “rewarding terror, it will not save lives, it will lead to more deaths.” (The Jerusalem Post)

“If I could do something for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” artist Emily Jacir asked Palestinian refugees barred by exile from fulfilling their wishes themselves. Ms. Jacir, a 33-year-old of Palestinian origin who lives in New York and Ramallah, used her US passport to cross borders impassable to others, and documented the quests in photographs. The result, 30 photographs on display at Provisions Library in Washington, D.C., recorded a visa denied, a family separated, a bill paid, a historic district obliterated, a simple visit. Texts in Arabic and English recorded each request and its outcome (some of the requests proved impossible to fulfil). The exhibit, entitled “Where We Come From,” was to travel to Linz, Austria, later in the month, to Venice in March 2004, and to Ramallah and Amman in April 2004. (AFP, www.activistarts.org)

Construction started at a new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, “Nof Zahav” (“Golden View”). (Palestine Media Centre)

2

An armed Palestinian was killed during an early-morning incursion by Israeli troops into Jenin and the nearby refugee camp. Two other Palestinians were wounded. Palestinian security service officials identified the man as Amjad Sadi, 28, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. According to Israeli sources quoted by Reuters,IDF soldiers surrounded the house and demanded that the militant inside surrender, as they exchanged fire with gunmen, then killed the man when he tried to escape. Palestinian security sources also said the IDF had demolished two houses in the village of Silat al-Harithiya, near Jenin, belonging to members of the Islamic Jihad. According to Palestinian sources, one of the two, Saleh Jaradat, who was held responsible by Israel for a series of attacks, had been killed by the IDF in June 2003, while the second man, Iyad Jaradat, was currently in Israeli detention. Israel said one of them had orchestrated the suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa on 4 October 2003, in which 22 Israelis were killed. The other had allegedly sent gunmen to attack an Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (AFP, Palestine Media Centre, Reuters)

Eleven Palestinian factions, excluding Hamas and Islamic Jihad, began informal talks in Cairo ahead of the official opening of the meeting on 4 December. (Reuters)

The Jerusalem District Court convicted two Israeli settlers of stealing explosives from the IDF that security officials had suspected were to be used in an attack on Palestinians, their lawyer said. The two had been arrested in July 2003 while driving to East Jerusalem in a car with 40 kg of explosives. The lawyer, Naftali Wertzberger, told Reuters that there had been suspicions during the investigation that the men had planned to carry out an attack, but that they had not been charged with plotting a bombing. “They were convicted of illegal possession of eight bricks of explosives,” he said. Sentencing would be held at a later date. One of those convicted, Yitzhak Pas, was the father of a 10-month-old girl shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in Hebron in 2001, the other his brother-in-law Matityahu Shvu. Both were from the “Ma’on” settlement, south of Hebron. (The Jerusalem Post, Reuters)

Israel's National Infrastructures Minister Joseph I. Paritzky and the Palestinian Authority President of the Energy and Natural Resources Authority Azzam Shawwa signed an energy accord sponsored under Italy’s European Union Presidency. The Declaration of Rome would allow the two States to share electrical networks and paved the way for the creation of a common energy authority. Projects aimed at exploring the use of renewable energy sources and the construction of new power stations would also be shared, said Italian Production Minister Antonio Marzano, who was chairing the meeting. European Commission Vice-President and EU Transport and Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini also attended the signing ceremony in Rome. “This accord represents an important step towards peace, because it provides the foundations for a constant and enduring exchange between the two parties,” Mr. Marzano said, adding that the accord showed that “facts speak louder than words” in the Middle East. (DPA, www.ueitalia2003.it)

The Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti released a statement saying the 44-year-old Fatah leader was suffering from back, throat and stomach problems as a result of being held in “cramped, humid and isolated conditions” and “the prison administration has refused to authorize a doctor to examine and treat him despite repeated demands.” The association said that Mr. Barghouti had been kept in solitary confinement for the past 11 months and forbidden from receiving visitors since his arrest in April 2002. There was no immediate response from the Israeli prison service. (AFP)

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg said the chief architects of the Geneva Initiative, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, were likely to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington later in the week. Ha’aretzreported that the meeting was expected to take place on 5 December. “We would expect Administration officials to meet with them,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in the regular briefing the day before, adding: “We’ll see if that could involve the Secretary. It might.” Israel’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert said: “I don’t think that [Mr. Powell] is being useful to the process. This is a wrong step by a senior member of the American administration.” Messrs. Beilin and Rabbo said in a commentary published by The International Herald Tribune:“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s praise for this accord was gratifying, but more American voices are needed to ensure that progress continues.” They acknowledged that Israelis and Palestinians had held rallies to protest the initiative. “Yet in spite of this opposition, we are pleased that the accord seems to be having a positive impact on the negotiating environment,” they wrote. (AFP, Ha’aretz,The Jerusalem Post, www.iht.com)

Foreign ministers from the European Union and 12 Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and the PA, began to arrive in Naples for two days of talks on boosting trade and political ties. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA))

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli troops after throwing a firebomb at a passing car near Ramallah, Palestinian medical sources and the IDF said. The victim was identified as Mohammed Ahmad Zahran, 18, from the nearby village of Deir Abu Mashal. The bomb did not hit the car. Two other Palestinians were injured in the incident, on a road just outside Abud village, some 10 km north-west of Ramallah, close to the “Halmish” settlement, the medical sources said, adding that one was in critical condition, while the second had fled the scene. (AFP)

Hamas issued a statement in which it vowed to “intensify the attacks against all Zionist targets and interests” in response to the events in Ramallah during which its three members and a nine-year-old boy had been killed. (AFP)

The World Bank was granting the Palestinian Authority’s Finance Ministry US$15 million to improve emergency education, health and social services in the West Bank and Gaza. “The grant will finance goods and operating expenditures such as water, electricity, rent, which are essential to deliver education, health and social welfare programmes, as well as items to keep key economic management ministries functioning,” the bank said in a statement on 2 December. The grant follows a $25 million transfer made at the end of 2002 for the same emergency services project in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (Reuters)

A group of 32 United States religious leaders urged President Bush to commit himself more actively to seeking a peaceful solution in the Middle East. “The Road Map to peace in the Middle East offers the best chance of peace in the region, and without direct US engagement, peace is severely at risk. There is a moral imperative for the President to exercise determined and effective leadership to advance peace among Israel, the Palestinians and Arab States,” said the statement by the National Interreligious Leadership Delegation in Support of the Road Map to Peace in the Middle East, stressing: “The current US passivity risks further dangerous escalation of the conflict, undermines the global campaign against terrorism and threatens US national security interests in the region and around the world.” The group includes Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, as well as various evangelical Christians, rabbis and Muslim clerics. (AFP)

3

Dozens of Palestinian protesters and Israeli peace activists scuffled with police in East Jerusalem after bulldozers broke ground on a new settlement called “Nof Zahav" ("Golden View"). Plans called for construction of 550 housing units next to the Palestinian village of Jebel Mukabber. The Jerusalem Municipality said the project was a private venture on privately owned land located between what they called “the Jewish neighbourhood of Armon HaNatsiv (Government House) and Jebel Mukabber," and so far permits had been issued only for building roads. Police used tear gas and dragged away protesters, some holding olive branches, who tried to block bulldozers with their bodies. At least one man was taken away in handcuffs and another lay writhing on the ground until paramedics carried him off on a stretcher. Some onlookers said he had been beaten by police, others said he had been struck by the bulldozer. A Palestinian protester was slightly hurt, a police spokesman said. After intervention by a legislator, MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), police backed off, the bulldozer moved to another site and the demonstrators went away. “Unfortunately the Government of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem are continuing to build settlements, instead of freezing settlement activity as required by the Road Map,” Mr. Cohen said at the hillside plot. “They are coming with bulldozers instead of negotiations. Is this bringing peace? It’s only bringing conflict.” A spokesman for Peace Now said the organization opposed construction of “a Jewish neighbourhood in the heart of an Arab neighbourhood,” as it would complicate future peace efforts with the Palestinians. (AP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

An IDF said in a statement that it had arrested 30 Palestinians in the West Bank, among them 17 Islamic Jihad members in and around Jenin. (AFP, www.idf.il)

The IDF removed the Surda checkpoint from a main road near Ramallah, and roadblocks east of Halhoul, enabling traffic to flow between Bethlehem and Hebron. The army said the action was part of a programme to ease restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. Troops also removed a container and a bus in the West Bank which had appeared on a property list of six settlers’ outposts the Israeli Government had ordered the IDF to dismantle. (AFP, AP, DPA)

The two-day Sixth Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Foreign Ministers concluded its work in Naples. The Presidency Conclusions adopted at the closing of the Conference included a statement on the Middle East peace process. (europa.eu.int)

The Sixth Euro-Mediterranean Conference urged Israel to facilitate aid transfers to Palestinians, saying lack of cooperation by the Israeli authorities was making European Union assistance more costly. “European humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people is 20 per cent more expensive because Israel is not cooperating,” said Diego Ojeda, spokesman for EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, adding that costs were high because of Israel’s restrictions on the movement of aid personnel and food containers as well as other restrictions. Mr. Patten had asked Foreign Minister Shalom to start talks with the EU on reducing such barriers. The Draft conclusions drawn up by the Italian EU Presidency at the Euro-Mediterranean meeting said “civil society” peace initiatives – such as the Geneva Accord – contributed “to the effort to promote rapprochement, confidence-building and the search for lasting peace.” EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said the Geneva Initiative was an “additional element to move the peace process forward.” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, which held the EU Presidency, told a news conference that Israel’s “fundamental” security needs were obvious, and that “the route of the wall must not invade Palestinian territory,” adding: “We have repeated that frankly and many times to our Israeli friends.” (AFP, DPA)

Foreign Minister Shalom would participate in a Palestinian donors’ conference in Rome on 10 and 11 December, which would bring together European and Arab States and financial institutions, in a similar format to that of the Madrid donors’ conference for Iraq in October 2003, Italian Government sources said. An Israeli official in Italy said Mr. Shalom’s decision to attend the conference was very unusual and he wanted to send a message that aiding the Palestinians was important: “The ultimate goal is to relieve the situation of Palestinians on the ground. He hopes that by participating in the conference he will help obtain strong commitments and achieve better results.” (Reuters)

The General Assembly took action on four draft resolutions considered under the agenda item entitled “Question of Palestine.” The draft on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (A/58/L.23) was adopted as resolution 58/18, with 97 votes in favour, 7 against and 60 abstentions; the draft on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (A/58/L.24) as resolution 58/19 with 98 votes in favour, 6 against and 63 abstentions; the draft on the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information of the Secretariat (A/58/L.25) as resolution 58/20 with 159 votes in favour, 6 against and 6 abstentions; and the draft on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (A/58/L.26/Rev.1) as resolution 58/21 with 160 votes in favour, 6 against and 5 abstentions. The Assembly also took action on the draft resolutions considered under agenda item entitled “The situation in the Middle East.” The draft resolution on Jerusalem (A/58/L.27) was adopted as resolution 58/22 with 155 votes in favour, 8 against and 5 abstentions. (UN press release GA/10213)

Israel’s High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction barring the “Jenin, Jenin” documentary from being screened, Israel Radioreported. The injunction would be in force until the Court could rule on a appeal against an earlier decision to remove the ban on the film. The appeal, by the Attorney-General, the State Attorney’s Office and the parents of 15 soldiers killed in the fighting in Jenin in April 2002, had been filed after the court decided in November to overturn a ban on the film by the Israel Film Board. (DPA)

The principal architects of the Geneva Accord, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, were scheduled to meet US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Washington on 5 December, Israel Army Radioreported. (Ha’aretz)

Thirteen Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were discussing a two-stage ceasefire that, if agreed, would be announced late on 6 or 7 December after talks due to open officially on 4 December. (Reuters)

Israeli military sources announced late on 3 December that troops in the West Bank had apprehended two Islamic Jihad militants, including one who was strapped with an explosives belt. The IDF said he had been on his way to carry out a suicide attack on a school in Israel. “Had the attack we foiled yesterday taken place, it is obvious that Palestinian Authority President Arafat would no longer be in the region, in the Middle East,” Israel’s Interior Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli Public Radiothe next day. (AFP, www.idf.il)

4

Israel invited bids for 98-year leases of 13 plots of land designated for private home construction in the “Ariel” settlement. Peace Now said it viewed the tender as a continuation of the Government's policy of ignoring Israel’s commitments under the Road Map. (IBA, Reuters)

Officials from 13 Palestinian factions (12, according to AFP) began three days of official talks in a secluded camp south of Cairo, aimed at agreeing on a conditional ceasefire with Israel. AFP listed the following factions: Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, PFLP-GC, FIDA (Palestinian Democratic Union), PLF, PPSF (Palestinian Popular Struggle Front), the People’s Party, ALF (Arab Liberation Front) and Al-Saika; Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was not directly represented in the talks. “The talks were delayed in order to give the Americans time to obtain an Israeli OK for a mutual ceasefire,” Bassam Abu Sharif, an adviser to Chairman Arafat, told The Jerusalem Post. “According to my information, Prime Minister Sharon has promised to commit to a mutual agreement.” Mr. Abu Sharif added that the Palestinians had assured the US of their readiness to implement the security measures outlined in the Road Map, provided that Israel committed to the ceasefire. (AFP, The Jerusalem Post, Reuters)

“I imagine we will be able to reduce the intensity of our military activity if the Palestinians manage to reach a truce, provided there are no attacks being prepared which we would have to foil,” Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim told Israel Public Radio. Mr. Boim admitted that the pace of the West Bank settlement outpost evacuations required by the Road Map had slowed down in recent months, saying: “This slowing down was explained by the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not acted on its commitment to fight against terrorism, which made the evacuations more difficult.” Mr. Boim claimed that the IDF had dismantled 43 settlement outposts in a year and pointed out that two of them had been removed on 3 December. Israel Army Radionoted that the operations mentioned by Mr. Boim had inclueded removing an empty storage facility and the abandoned carcass of a bus. (AFP)

The IDF announced that its troops in Hebron had demolished a house belonging to Alaa Ad-Din Fahouri, an Islamic Jihad member who had carried out a shooting attack in Hebron's casbah, killing an IDF soldier on 8 June 2003. (www.idf.il, International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC))

Three Palestinians were arrested in Nablus in the morning, bringing the day's total to seven arrested throughout the West Bank. (IMEMC)

Palestinian militants attacked an IDF outpost near Rafah. The army shelled south Rafah with heavy artillery. (IMEMC)

Two Qassam rockets were fired at the “Gush Katif” settlement block in the Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported. A Qassam rocket fired at the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip landed in open field. According to an IDF statement shots had been fired towards an Israeli vehicle travelling near Beit Illu, north-west of Ramallah. (www.idf.il, IMEMC)

President Bush, commenting on the Geneva Accord Initiative, told reporters after meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan: “We appreciate people discussing peace. We just want to make sure people understand that the principles to peace are clear … I think it’s productive as long as they adhere to the principles I have just outlined. And that is that we must fight off terror, that there must be security, and there must be the emergence of a Palestinian State that is democratic and free.” The same day, former US President Bill Clinton released a statement in support of the Geneva Initiative and a The People’s Voice initiative of former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon and Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh. Secretary of State Powell said he would meet the authors of the Geneva Initiative on 5 December. “I will be meeting with them tomorrow,” Mr. Powell told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP, Ha’aretz)

The Israeli Army deported 12 Palestinians from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip late on 4 December, Israeli Army Radio reported. Prior to the deportation, Israel’s Supreme Court had rejected an appeal filed by the Palestinians. Israeli officials said that eight of the deportees were members of Hamas and four were members of the Islamic Jihad. The 12 Palestinians were said to belong to a group of 18 militants, five of whom already had been sent to the Gaza Strip in the past two weeks. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the practice, stating, “PCHR calls upon the Israeli military to immediate rescind these ‘assigned residence’ orders and halt all other grave breaches of international humanitarian law.” (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz)

5

The Israeli military allowed Palestinian vendors to open their shops at the market in Hebron for the first time in more than a year. The market, overlooked by a heavily guarded Jewish enclave, had been a frequent flashpoint of violence between the 450 settlers and some of the 130,000 Palestinians living in the city. The army said the shops had been shut “to protect the Jewish residents,” but they were being allowed to reopen due to “new intelligence estimates and new security procedures.” The market opened with a new feature: an avenue of green poles topped with metal grillwork, designed to prevent Palestinians and settlers from throwing projectiles at each other. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Yediot Aharonot that Israel might have to withdraw unilaterally behind certain borders to preserve its Jewish majority. He stated that he did not believe it was possible to reach a deal with the Palestinians and said Israel’s borders could be drawn in such a way that 80 per cent of the country’s residents would be Jewish. He also said that Israel had two choices – either to withdraw to the Green Line, or an “inclusive unilateral move … where we define our borders that will in no way be similar to the Green Line.” He also said, “We are getting close to the moment when Israel will have to make a strategic decision.” (AP, DPA)

Ma’ariv reported that Prime Minister Sharon planned unilateral steps if peace efforts with the Palestinians failed. The plan involved the evacuation of settlements in Gaza, the removal of illegal outposts and the possible evacuation of some West Bank settlements. At the same time, Israel would annex some large West Bank settlements, such as “Gush Etzion” or “Ma’ale Adumim” outside Jerusalem. (AP)

At a meeting with former US envoy Dennis Ross, Foreign Minister Shalom said a truce with the Palestinians, currently being discussed among Palestinian factions in Egypt, was a “positive” development but could not be an end in itself. “It must lead to a dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure,” Mr. Olmert said according to Israel Army Radi. (DPA)

Several Palestinian organizations rejected an Egyptian proposal for a year-long truce with Israel. “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP are opposed because they believe that Israel is offering nothing in return and is not intending to,” according to a participant in the talks. The same source said, “These groups are ready to study the possibility of sparing civilians on condition of obtaining guarantees from the Quartet.” “The maximum that Hamas could give this time is an initiative to spare civilians in the conflict,” according to an official close to the group. The Palestinians said a comprehensive ceasefire would require Israel to also stop settlement building, halt construction of the security barrier, and withdraw troops from sectors reoccupied since September 2000. Participants at the talks said they were weighing two proposals: one for a partial ceasefire halting strikes on civilians inside Israel, and the other a broader truce that would require significant concessions by Israel. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

A majority of Israelis opposed the Geneva Accord initiative, according to Ma’ari. Only 27 per cent of Israelis supported the initiative, while 45 per cent opposed it, and 26 per cent had no opinion. (DPA)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Washington with Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the principal drafters of the Geneva Initiative, to discuss the accord. The closed-door meeting also included William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Elliott Abrams, senior National Security Council official. Messrs. Beilin and Abed Rabbo said they were encouraged after talks with Mr. Powell and believed he saw their efforts as complementing the Road Map. (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Thousands of Palestinian opponents of the Geneva Initiative set afire a Swiss flag in Nablus as well as effigies of the project’s chief architects. Some 3,000 protesters gathered in town as part of a rally organized by Hamas which denounced the accord for its de facto renunciation of the right of return of Palestinians expelled in 1948. The American flag was also torched. (AFP)

Three Palestinian teenagers suspected of trying to carry out attacks in the Gaza Strip were shot dead late on 5 December. Two were shot at a crossing point between the eastern Gaza Strip and Israel, an Israeli military spokesman confirmed. Ashrafar al-Haya, 19, and Khalil Sukr, 18, both of Gaza City, were identified as members of Hamas by Palestinian sources. A third teenager was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Rafah, relatives and Palestinian security sources said. Jihad Mussa al-Akhras was sprayed with gunfire by Israeli troops after he approached the fence along the broder between the Gaza Strip and Egyp. (AFP, AP)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Geneva Accord:

(UN press release SG/SM/9060-PAL/1972)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was considering ideas for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the authors of the Geneva Accord Initiative. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Olmert had called Mr. Powell’s move “an incorrect step by a senior representative of the American Administration.” Mr. Powell had said earlier that the Road Map, which called for a Palestinian State in 2005, “remains our plan.” He added, “The Road Map captures the vision that President Bush laid out” in a speech in June 2002. “This is not to say there are not other ideas out there that people have. This is a very difficult issue. So as ideas emerge from whatever source, it seems not inappropriate to listen to the authors and proponents.” On Capitol Hill, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), announced she would introduce a resolution during the coming week to endorse the Road Map. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), had introduced a parallel resolution in the Senate. (AP)

In a press release, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors announced the approval earlier in the week of a US$15 million trust fund grant to the West Bank and Gaza which aimed to sustain the delivery of education, health and social welfare services under the prevailing emergency conditions. The Second Emergency Services Support Project (ESSP) was designed to address an ongoing fiscal emergency and would supplement the PA’s reduced revenues in order to finance non-salary recurrent expenditures in the core social service-delivery ministries of health, education, and social affairs, as well as in other ministries whose running costs could not otherwise be covered. (www.worldbank.org/we)

7

PA Prime Minister Qureia said that the Palestinians wanted a ceasefire agreement with the Israelis only if Israel committed to stop “all forms of aggression against Palestinian people and land.” Speaking at a news conference after meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak, Mr. Qureia said it would be “good” if a ceasefire agreement were to be reached with Israel. “There is no such thing as a free or one-sided ceasefire,” he said. Motassem Hamadeh, member of the DFLP, said the Palestinians involved had agreed on “stopping the targeting of civilians in the land of 1948 provided Israel stops targeting civilians, targeted assassinations and demolition of houses.” The second major point agreed upon was “the necessity of establishing a Palestinian leadership that includes all Palestinian and Islamic factions,” headed by PA President Arafat. (DPA)

Talks between Palestinian organizations, which had been sponsored by Egypt, ended without agreement. The participants however said they would continue their dialogue. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the DFLP rejected a full ceasefire, stating that Israel was offering no concessions in return. Several organizations also refused to give the Palestinian Authority a mandate to negotiate a comprehensive ceasefire, believing it would mean accepting the Road Map. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority had promoted a full, albeit conditional, one-year ceasefire. (AFP, DPA)

8

A 23-year-old Palestinian held by Israel in administrative detention died of a stroke. Bashir Awas, from the Balata refugee camp, had been placed in detention by Israeli authorities in early November for six months. He died at the Afula Hospital, north of Tel Aviv. Under administrative detention, prisoners were detained without trial or accusation for a renewable period of several months. (AFP)

Defence Minister Mofaz told settlers to dismantle eight unauthorized settlement outposts, three of them during the week. Yesha (Settlers’ Council) leader Pinchas Wallerstein said, “This for me is the ripping up of every agreement. It takes the path of direct confrontation.” (AP)

The PA pledged new efforts to reach agreement with militants on a ceasefire with Israel after talks in Cairo broke down. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, senior adviser to PA President Arafat, said, “We are committed to the Road Map, committed to peace and willing and ready to continue these efforts to find a solution. The ceasefire is our aim.” Hamas confirmed that fresh talks were being proposed. (Reuters)

The resumed tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly convened. After listening to statements from 12 speakers, the Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/14, entitled “Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” by a vote of 90 in favour to 8 against, with 74 abstentions. The resolution asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank. In a separate action, the Assembly approved by a vote of 111 in favour and 7 against, with 55 abstentions, a decision (A/ES-10/L.17) to remain seized of the matter. The representative of Kuwait had introduced the draft resolution and decision on behalf of the Group of Arab States. (UN press release GA/10216)

Israel's Justice Minister Yosef Lapid called for a new debate over the route of the separation wall. Mr. Lapid complained that the current route, cutting deep into the West Bank, had led to world criticism of Israel. He indicated that during the coming week he would ask the Cabinet to redraw it, presumably closer to the Green Line. He also said that “the route that was approved is too long, too expensive, not acceptable to the United States and puts the whole world against us.” Mr. Sharon met with Foreign Minister Shalom before the UN vote on a resolution on the barrier and agreed to cooperate with the ICJ should the case go forward. Mr. Sharon’s adviser Ra’anan Gissin said, “We’ll discuss it and present our case in the Court. It will be a discussion of the right of Israel to exist, because the fence is meant to protect our existence.” (AP, The Guardian)

9

United States Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said the US “had no argument” with Israel’s construction of a security barrier, but objected to its current route. He told Israel Radio that the closer the fence was to the Green Line, the less Israel “will hear from Washington” about it. Mr. Kurtzer said the US Government had begun expressing its opinions on the barrier “when we noticed that perhaps decisions other than security, or considerations other than security, were going into the route of the fence.” (DPA)

Speaking before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Prime Minister Sharon said he would stick to the Road Map, but was working on an alternative plan that would be activated if it was proven that the Palestinians had failed to fulfil their part of the deal. He said, “Communities may be moved to improve our security situation.” He refused to make a commitment that such a move would be brought before the Knesset. He also said that the steps would be designed to reduce the number of Israeli troops in the West Bank. “We have to make it easier to try to deploy smaller forces,” creating a “need to make some changes in the deployment of military forces and also the deployment of some of the Jewish communities in the area.” He also informed the Knesset panel that he had instructed the security establishment to further ease restrictions on the Palestinian population, and that he was scheduled to meet with PA Prime Minister Qureia. Meretz MK Yossi Sarid told Mr. Sharon, “I don’t believe a word you say. You have no substantial plan. Why are you talking about easing restrictions on Palestinians … when you have burdened them with this terrible fence, which is a crime.” (The Guardian, Ha’aretz)

Pinchas Wallerstein of the Yesha Council warned the Israeli Government it would have a war on its hands if it tried to implement a decision to remove eight outposts in the West Bank. Mr. Wallerstein said: “The decision to dismantle the inhabited settlements is unacceptable. We will end up with direct confrontation - and if need be there will be a war.” Residents of the hilltop caravans deep in the Occupied Palestinian Territory expressed doubt that they would be forced to quit. (AFP)

Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said Hamas had left the door open to more talks, insisting that the ball was in the court of the Israelis and the PA. “We have not closed the door to dialogue and to talks” with PA President Arafat. The Hamas leadership said it had learned its lesson from the breakdown of the previous truce announced on 29 June that had collapsed seven weeks later with Israel's assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab and a massive suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Abdallah al-Hurani, former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Hamas was looking for international guarantees that Israel would stop its “aggressions” before making any move towards a ceasefire. “They want guarantees from the Americans, from the international community, that the Israeli commitments will be implemented,” he added. (Middle East Online)

Israeli troops shot and killed Faris Ibrahim Mohammed, 16, at the Qalandia refugee camp, Jerusalem, hospital sources said. Mr. Mohammed was struck with a bullet in the head when troops opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones at them near the Qalandia roadblock. (AFP, AP)

Israeli troops shot and wounded two Palestinians during an incursion into Rafah, according to Palestinian security sources. The two, in their 20s, sustained non-life-threatening wounds when Israeli soldiers opened fire during an army operation involving around 20 tanks and jeeps and one bulldozer. According to a military spokesman, the incursion had been a routine operation along the border with Egypt aimed at discovering tunnels used by militants to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and had not thrust deep into Rafah. (AFP)

Nafez Azzam, a member of the Islamic Jihad leadership, told AFPthat his organization might accept a temporary deal for the creation of a Palestinian State just on territories occupied by Israel in June 1967. “We think that Palestine is our homeland and that the Israelis occupied it by force. We can accept a Palestinian State covering all of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem” as a temporary arrangement, he said. Asked about the expiration date of the temporary arrangement, he said, “Nobody knows. We leave this to the next generation.” Mr. Azzam added that a Palestinian State on 1967 territory should enjoy “complete sovereignty,” without the presence of Jewish settlers. He also said that such a Palestinian State “will not recognize Israel because it has been established on our land. The presence of Israel on my land is not legitimate.” (AFP)

The Knesset Budgetary Defence Committee approved financing for the construction of another segment of the separation barrier at US$100 million. The committee released the money to build a new segment of the network of fences, trenches, concrete and barbed wire in the northern West Bank. A spokesman from the opposition Labour Party said the funding had been approved for the section because “its path doesn’t pose any problems because of how close it is to the Green Line.” (AFP)

Yuval Steinitz, member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said most Likud party members recognized the need to compromise on their dream of a Greater Israel encompassing the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “We came here to establish a Jewish State, and have no intention of sacrificing the Jewish State for the sake of Greater Israel. I believe that this view is acceptable to most members of the Likud.” (AFP)

10

Palestinian Authority Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat protested remarks by Prime Minister Sharon that Israel would carry out unilateral moves in the Occupied Palestinian Territory should the Road Map fail. “Unilateralism means dictation, not negotiations. We urge the Israeli Government to abandon policies of unilateralism and adopt bilateralism. If the Israelis want a Palestinian partner, it means abandoning all unilateral steps, unilateral thinking and unilateral approaches.” A senior US official cautioned that any unilateral attempt to impose a final agreement would not succeed. “We don’t consider that to be a viable solution. We don’t consider that to be a solution that would add to the security and safety of Israel. We continue to believe the parties need to work on the Road Map [and reach] their agreements that way.” US Middle East envoy David Sutterfield was expected to arrive in Israel for separate talks with Israeli and PA leaders and would ask to hear details of Prime Minister Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (Ha’aretz, DPA)

Israel had frozen plans to extend its separation barrier to the Jordan Valley, Knesset sources said. Israeli army officials said during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that no construction work would be undertaken at the current stage for “legal reasons.” MK Avshalom Vilan told AFP,“The officers said that, according to Justice Ministry experts, the barrier in this sector did not qualify as a ‘security fence’ aimed at protecting Israeli villages, since it cuts through Palestinian villages.” Deputy Defence Minister Ze’ev Boim also confirmed that there were no plans currently to start building a barrier in the Jordan Valley. (AFP)

Settlers evacuated an unoccupied outpost near the settlement of “Na’aleh.” It was the fifth on the list of six unoccupied outposts that the Israel Defense Forces Central Command had received orders to dismantle. The Central Command was preparing to dismantle another outpost by the weekend. It had not yet received orders to dismantle occupied outposts. The first occupied outpost slated for dismantling was “Mitzpe Yitzhar.” (Ha’aretz)

On the security barrier, Pope John Paul II said, “The construction of a wall between the Israeli and Palestinian people is seen by many as a new obstacle on the road towards peaceful cohabitation. In reality, the Holy Land doesn’t need walls, but bridges.” (Ha’aretz)

Egyptian President Mubarak met with Israel's Foreign Minister Shalom in Geneva for talks on the Road Map. Mr. Mubarak promised to continue his efforts to revive the Middle East peace talks. An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said the talks “signify a warming of relations between Israel and Egypt.” Mr. Shalom said he was encouraged by Mr. Mubarak’s willingness to take on a decisive role in attempts to resume dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

A two-day donors’ meeting, hosted by Italy, current holder of the EU Presidency, opened in Rome. The aim of the meeting was to assess the state of the Palestinian economy, stop economic disaster and tackle the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told delegates that the meeting aimed to “fuel trust and confidence between the parties. Terrorism can never have any justification and does not serve the Palestinian interests.” The World Bank offered to head a trust fund to guarantee the transparent use of aid to the Palestinians. Bank President James Wolfensohn said, “If it is the wish of this group that there be a transparent and single trust fund … we in the Bank are prepared, alone or with partners, to lead such a trust fund and add whatever confidence that comes from having the World Bank present in the operation.” An Italian official said the object of the meeting was more to assess the situation and listen to all sides than to make binding pledges. However, the PA would be looking for a “clear commitment” to cover US$1.2 billion of its $1.7 billion budget for 2004, according to a delegate at the meeting. Headed by Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, the PA delegation also urgee participants to ask Israel to lift restrictions on goods and materials in Israeli harbours and ports. (AFP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath held talks in Rome. Both said they were working to arrange a meeting between their prime ministers soon. Mr. Shalom said they were prepared to have a meeting between the two prime ministers but would not accept “preconditions.” Mr. Sha’ath said the Palestinian side was ready to have a meeting "as soon as possible” and needed to prepare the proper agenda. (Ha’aretz)

The IDF destroyed an allegedly abandoned building covering the entrance to a large tunnel discovered a day earlier. Palestinians said the soldiers had blown up a three-storey building where 30 people lived. (Ha’aretz)

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom in Paris at a conference on French-Israeli trade. Mr. de Villepin said he was uncertain whether the separation barrier fulfilled its defensive purposes and added it was possibly detrimental to Israel’s security, because it nourished Palestinian hatred. (Ha’aretz)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said Israel must give proof of its commitment to peace and ruled out the return of Egypt’s ambassador to Israel in the near future. He added that the return of the ambassador “should be preceded by Israeli positions in favour of peace.” (AFP)

The Palestinian Legislative Council rejected a proposal condemning the Geneva Initiative and voted against its official endorsement. It also rejected a bill that would have banned MPs from engaging in unofficial peace initiatives. Qaddura Fares, a PA Minister of State, hailed the vote as “a message for the Palestinian people to broaden the dialogue.” (AFP)

World Bank President James Wolfensohn proposed to the donors’ meeting in Rome the establishment of US$650 million trust fund to enable the PA to withstand the looming financial crisis during the coming year. Mr. Wolfensohn would visit donor countries to drum up contributions. PA Finance Minister Fayyad was requesting foreign aid of US$1.2 billion for 2004. Diplomats said failure to fill the budget gap might force the PA to trim salaries and that could lead to its collapse. (The Financial Times)

11

During an IDF raid on the Rafah refugee camp, backed by helicopters, in the Gaza Strip during the early morning hours, six Palestinians were killed and at least 18 were injured in clashes with Israeli forces. Among the dead were five civilians, including a medic, and one gunman. At least five of the injured were children, with one of them, aged 12, in critical condition. During the operation, the IDF arrested Islamic Jihad member Haled Ka’adi, who was said to be involved in arms smuggling. The IDF also demolished three houses in the area, including Mr. Ka’adi’s. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat condemned the raid, saying, “The Israeli policy of settlement expansion, building the wall, assassination and all the unilateral steps lead to one thing: enlarging the circle of violence.” (AP, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online, Reuters, www.idf.il)

In overnight raids in the West Bank, IDF troops arrested 11 Palestinians, including one woman. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Speaking to AP,Deputy Prime Minister Olmert said Israel would have to dismantle “a considerable amount of settlements” under a diplomatic plan for the unilateral withdrawal from some areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He said he would soon reveal precise details of the plans for an Israeli pullback from some areas and the annexation of others. However, Mr. Olmert said Israel would not pull back to its borders of June 1967 or relinquish all of East Jerusalem. “This will not be identical to the 1967 borders. Definitely not. It will include on the Israeli side the united city of Jerusalem. But it will be a lot different from the reality that exists today,” he added. He also said, “If you ask me if the general direction of the Prime Minister is similar to mine, the answer is yes. I believe so, I know so.” (AP, Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Qureia warned Israel against taking unilateral steps, such as seizing parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “It would be a terrible mistake to try to impose a solution on us by force. The conflict will continue, the fire will burn, the terror will grow, no one will benefit from this.” He added, “If you want a fence, go ahead. Build it on the Green Line. In this instance, we are prepared to contribute to the building costs. But to come and expropriate our land, to build the fence on Palestinian land, put us in cramped cages and then run away? We will never agree to this.” (AP)

The Yesha Council convened in the Gaza Strip settlement of “Neveh Dekalim” for an emergency meeting to discuss the latest statements by Prime Minister Sharon and Deputy Prime Minister Olmert on unilateral withdrawals and the relocation of settlements. Council Chairman Benzi Lieberman told Israel Radiothat several Likud ministers supported the Council’s plan to fight Prime Minister Sharon’s plan, which included possible unilateral withdrawals. (AP, Ha’aretz)

At the [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee] donors' meeting in Rome, US State Department official David Satterfield criticized Israel's inaction in promoting peace talks, accusing the Government of doing “too little for far too long to translate its repeatedly stated commitment to facilitate Palestinian reform into reality.” “Continuing Israeli restrictions on movement, and the consistent failure to issue permits to Palestinians identified as critical to the success of the reform effort, significantly hamper the Palestinian reform agenda,” he said. Mr. Satterfield was expected in Jerusalem for a series of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. (Ha’aretz)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Sari Nusseibeh to discuss the Ayalon-Nusseibeh peace plan. The plan would establish a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza roughly along the 1967 borders. Mr. Ayalon was unable to attend the meeting because the time had been unexpectedly brought forward. Mr. Powell said he would remain open to suggestions for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Ha’aretz)

12

Seven Israelis were wounded, two of them seriously, when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on their vehicle near Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. The Israelis, members of the Bratslav Hassid sect, had defied military orders by bypassing IDF roadblocks to pray at the tomb, which was in the Palestinian-controlled area. The Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades each claimed responsibility for the attack. (Ha’aretz)

More than 20,000 supporters of Hamas gathered in the Jabalya refugee camp where the group had been founded on 14 December 1987, at the beginning of the first intifada, which lasted until 1993. The gathering marked the organization’s 16th anniversary. (AFP)

Eli Sheked, Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, said Israel had stopped its policy of “targeted killings” of wanted militants and leaders and was instead launching raids to stop suicide bombers before they left Palestinian towns. “We have had various stages in the fight against terror … Part of the fight against terror was targeted killing,” he said. “The amount of success can be debated. Sometimes we had tragedies when innocent people were killed, hurt. We always apologize for that. But there is another stage. And we’re in the middle of this stage. This is where we have declined to use targeted killings and to concentrate on what we call the ticking bombs,” he added. Now the Israeli armed forces were targeting “ticking bombs,” the suicide bombers, before they entered Israeli towns and blew themselves up. He explained that the Israeli military, when it obtained intelligence on a “ticking bomb,” tried to locate the bomber and launch incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to stop the bombers before they left for Israel. “Our operations now are not targeted at the leaders. No helicopters. No airplanes. No bombs,” according to Mr. Sheked. (AFP)

A majority of Israelis favoured a unilateral pullout by the Israeli army from the bulk of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, according to a survey published in Yediot Aharono. Some 55 per cent of those questioned backed proposals by Deputy Prime Minister Olmert for a partial withdrawal from Palestinian areas and some of East Jerusalem. Some 62 per cent said Israel must dismantle a majority of Jewish settlements in line with a formal peace agreement, while 58 per cent favoured an immediate pullout from the “Netzarim” settlement in the Gaza Strip. A total of 54 per cent were in favour of a new coalition made up of Likud, Labour and Shinui. Only 27 per cent wanted the current Likud-led coalition to remain in power. (DPA)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” (UN News Centre)

Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the Geneva Accord Initiative was already a success because it had stirred debate. “The path is original, the debate is taking place and things are moving,” she said after meeting with PA Minister for Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha’ath. Mr. Sha’ath said, “It’s a platform … these are suggestions and efforts to recreate an environment that is propitious for peace.” Both officials also discussed Switzerland’s humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, which had reached SwF28 million in 2003, according to the Swiss Foreign Ministry. (AFP)

UNRWA appealed to representatives of the international donor community in Jerusalem for US$193 million in emergency relief for Palestine refugees. Peter Hansen, the UNRWA Commissioner General, said, “I urge donors to assist UNRWA in caring for the thousands who have lost their jobs or their homes. UNRWA needs this funding if it is to repair some of the damage done to the minds and emotions for the children it cares for, or to simply provide food for the hungry. In such dark and desperate times it falls upon the international community to keep some hope alive.” Only 45 per cent of the expected donations had been received since the last plea for contributions in the second half of 2003, according to UNRWA spokesperson Matthias Burchard. He also said that food rations for Palestinian refugees had been halved. Other programmes had been either shortened or stopped. Two days earlier, staff and friends of UNRWA in Damascus had held a benefit lunch and raised over $3,300 for the Agency’s Emergency Appeal. (DPA, UNRWA press release No. 10)

The European Council, in Presidency Conclusions issued at its meeting in Brussels expressed firm commitment to the “clear objective of two States, Israel and a viable and democratic Palestinian State … as laid out in the Road Map drawn up by the Quartet.” It also welcomed initiatives from civil society on both sides, including the Geneva Initiative. It urged the Israeli Government “to reverse its settlement policy and to dismantle settlements built after March 2001. This policy, together with the departure of the so-called security fence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem from the Green Line, could prejudge future negotiations and make the two-State solution physically impossible to implement.” (AFP, www. ue.eu.int)

US President George W. Bush warned Israel against taking actions that could hinder the creation of an independent Palestinian State, which he called the key to Middle East peace. “Israel must be mindful … that they don’t make decisions that make it hard to create a Palestinian State,” he told reporters during a public appearance at the White House. He said, “Step one is for all parties to fight off terror, to stop the few from destroying the hopes of the many. Step two is for the Palestinians to find leadership that is willing to reject the tired, old policy of the past and lead the Palestinian people to, not only a democratic State, but a peaceful solution of differences.” (AFP)

13

Israeli soldiers opened fire at a Palestinian taxi at a roadblock in the West Bank, killing a woman passenger. An Israeli military source said soldiers had fired at the vehicle, hitting the woman, after it had broken through the roadblock near the city of Nablus and its driver had ignored warning shots from troops who chased the vehicle for about a kilometre. Palestinian sources said Mrs. Kamleh-al-Shooli, 20, and another seven passengers from the village of Asira al-Shamaleya had been on their way to Ramallah before sunrise to avoid early Israeli patrols. A military source said, “The incident is under investigation by field commanders.” (Reuters)

A Palestinian student was shot dead by Israeli troops near his university in Nablus, security sources said. (AFP)

Several thousand Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City demanding the release of prisoners held by Israel and a halt to construction of the Israeli barrier in the West Bank. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades organized the demonstration, which went through the streets of Gaza Strip before heading towards the PLC building. Demonstrators, waving pictures of PA President Arafat and banners supporting the right of return for refugees, demanded “intensification of the resistance and of operations” against Israel. (AFP)

14

Israeli soldiers shot dead an armed Palestinian in Ramallah early in the morning. Israel Radioidentified the man as a member of the Islamic Jihad, saying he had been shot after he was spotted exiting a cave near Na’amah village, close to Ramallah. According to the report, he had been carrying an M-16 semi-automatic assault rifle with spare magazines. The troops also arrested two others who had been spotted near the cave. (AFP, DPA)

Israel's Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni told IDF Radio,“The whole unilateral process should be coordinated with the Americans.” He acknowledged that the US Administration “does not want to be confronted with a situation where overnight Israel takes unilateral measures which will go against the Road Map.” (AFP)

US Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), joined members of a US-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee as they left for a week-long trip to Israel. Senator Collins, along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), were scheduled to hold meetings with, among others, Prime Minister Sharon, as well as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Qureia. “It is important that we, as political leaders in the US, understand the complexities of the volatile relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people so that we may best provide our assistance and guidance in the peace effort,” Senator Collins said. (Data Times)

15

IDF troops shot dead two unarmed Palestinians after they approached the security barrier between the Gaza Strip and the Negev Desert in Israel. Soldiers arrested a third Palestinian who was allegedly trying to enter Israel, and were searching for three others who had crossed into Israel, army sources said. It was possible the group wanted to enter Israel to find work, the army said, although it had not ruled out the possibility that the group was planning to carry out attacks. (Ha’aretz)

IDF troops backed by about two dozen tanks raided the Khan Yunis refugee camp, demolishing a number of buildings said to have been used as fighting platforms for mortar attacks on neighbouring settlements. Governor of Khan Yunis Hossni Zurub said the IDF had raided the western neighbourhood of the camp with 15 tanks and 5 bulldozers, turning 12 houses into rubble. (AP, Ha’aretz)

IDF soldiers and settlers clashed as troops evacuated the “Havat Shaked” outpost, adjacent to the “Yitzhar” settlement, south of Nablus. Police said they had arrested three of about 20 settlers who tried to block soldiers from removing the outpost. A Yesha Council spokesperson said, “If they evict us today, we will be back tomorrow.” (Ha’aretz)

Meretz MK Yossi Sarid accused Defence Minister Mofaz of lying to the Government when he claimed that 43 illegal outposts had been removed over the past few months. “It is a real shame that the defence establishment frequently resorts to lies,” Mr. Sarid said, adding that in reality, not one outpost had been removed and their numbers had actually been growing. (Ha’aretz)

David Satterfield, US State Department official, oversaw a meeting in Jerusalem between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. US and Palestinian representatives said the official reason for the talks was to find ways to ease a Palestinian economic crisis. But Israeli sources said they could also pave the way for a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and PA Prime Minister Qureia. “Whatever they end up discussing, the good thing is that the two sides are talking,” a foreign diplomat commented. He cautioned, however, that expectations for significant progress were low. (AP, Reuters)

US envoy David Satterfield held a joint meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said that during the meeting Ambassador Satterfield had underscored the immediate security steps the Palestinians must take to end terror and violence, and made clear that both sides have obligations and responsibilities. They discussed permits, they discussed checkpoints, closures, movement in general for Palestinians, as well as the ideas that the Israelis have.” But he made it clear that they had not discussed a possible meeting between the Israeli and PA prime ministers. Also attending were representatives of major donor organizations to discuss ways to improve the lives of Palestinians. (AFP)

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz criticized Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over his proposal for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “It can’t be that everybody announces his own personal diplomatic plan. Every diplomatic initiative demands a serious government debate,” Mr. Mofaz said. (Ha’aretz)

Egyptian mediators planned a new round of talks with Palestinian militants for 16 December. The two-day talks, to be held in Gaza City, would involve Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other factions. An Egyptian official said, “We have not given up. We will continue to work to reach a comprehensive ceasefire.” (Reuters)

16

IDF troops shot Noor-Eddine Emran, a 15-year-old Palestinian, in the head, critically wounding him, in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, according to hospital officials. Soldiers opened fire when a group of youths began throwing rocks at them. Four other youths, including Noor-Eddine’s brother, were lightly wounded. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli security forces in Nablus arrested four Palestinians suspected of terrorist activities, while two members of the Islamic Jihad were arrested near Ramallah. (Ha’aretz)

Egyptian mediators returned to the Gaza Strip for a new round of talks with Palestinian groups. Israel ruled out a cardinal demand from the groups that it must guarantee any ceasefire. Israeli Defence Minister Mofaz said, “We are not willing to be party to a truce between the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist groups.” Two Major-Generals heading the Egyptian delegation conveyed to the groups a US message in support of a ceasefire through Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who had just returned from talks in Washington. (Reuters)

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, on the Egyptian leg of a three-day tour of the Middle East, urged the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to resume their dialogue and revive the Road Map. He praised recent Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire. During a news conference in Cairo following his meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa, he defended Germany’s decision to abstain from voting in the UN on the resolution about referring to the ICJ the question of the Israeli security barrier. “Our position is very clear on this issue. We do not think it is politically wise to report to [have recourse] to the ICJ at this stage because there is a possibility it will lead to reverse results,” said Mr. Fischer. (DPA)

The United Nations Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opened at Beijing. Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific Kim Hak-Su delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary-General at the opening meeting. (UN News Centre, press release GA/PAL/939)

UNHCR called for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials to solve the plight of 427 Palestinian refugees from Iraq stranded at the Jordanian border. They were among the 500 refugees who had fled the war in Iraq and had been living at the Ruweished camp in northeastern Jordan. “We would like to meet Palestinian and Israeli officials to arrange for these people to re-enter the Palestinian territories. We would also welcome initiatives from other countries in the region that would like to be part of the solution to this humanitarian problem and offer sanctuary to some of the Palestinians," an Agency official stated. Actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie toured the camp during a private trip to Jordan and urged the Jordanian Government “to continue its long-standing generosity towards refugees.” (AFP, www.unhcr.org)

The Israeli High Court of Justice told the State of Israel to respond to complaints filed by residents of an East Jerusalem village and explain why it was building the separation barrier to its east, Israel Radioreported. Sixty residents of the village Al-Khas had asked the State to construct the barrier to their west so that the Palestinian village would not be under Israeli sovereignty. The High Court was due also to discuss a petition filed a month earlier by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfarad in the name of the HaMoked Center for the Defence of the Individual, which had requested that the barrier not be built east of the Green Line. “Defending the residents of the State of Israel is not a pretext for expropriating land, building walls, paving roads, uprooting orchards,” said the petition, which focused on Palestinians caught between the barrier and the Green Line. (Ha’aretz)

A survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that the majority of Palestinian young people opposed suicide bombings and supported a negotiated solution to the conflict with Israel. The survey of Palestinians aged 10 to 24 found that 57.8 per cent of young people were in favour of resuming peace talks with Israel. The PCBS poll queried 5,600 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and had a margin of error of 3 per cent. (Reuters)

An elderly Palestinian civilian suffered serious head injuries due to “violent beating” by Israeli troops manning a checkpoint in Tulkarm, Palestinian sources said. The 67-year-old Jabr Mar’ei, from the town of Zeita, was severely beaten by troops who had been guarding the separation barrier near the town. The beating led to severe bleeding in Mr. Mar’ei’s brain, according to hospital sources. (Albawaba.com)

Fifty Israeli armoured vehicles, including tanks, backed by two helicopter gunships, raided the Balata refugee camp. Israeli troops seized four multi-storey buildings on the outskirts of the camp and proceeded to carry out a house-to-house search with sniffer dogs. The army said it had been a routine operation to arrest Palestinian activists. (Albawaba.com)

Israel barred PA President Arafat from Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem for the third straight year. Mr. Arafat had told a Christian delegation at the muqataa that he hoped to participate in the Christmas festivities this year in Bethlehem. “I haven’t missed it, except since being besieged in this building,” he said. The PA had requested that Mr. Arafat be allowed to make the 12-mile trip from Ramallah to Bethlehem. But Israel’s policy was that “Arafat stays where he is,” an Israeli official said. Saeb Erakat, PA Negotiations Affairs Minister, called Israel’s decision “unfortunate.” (The Guardian)

Israel was expected to dismantle the “Migron” outpost, home to some 45 settler families, near Ramallah in the coming days. Opponents of the withdrawal flocked to “Migron” to support the settlers, and hundreds more were expected this week. The Rabbinical Council representing the West Bank and Gaza Strip issued a public statement saying the Government must not evacuate settlements and outposts. The ruling, which came ahead of the anticipated evacuation of the “Migron” outpost, was not legally binding, but was likely to be respected by many Orthodox Jews. “Migron” was the largest of the outposts, according to Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesperson for the Yesha Council. “It began like all the outposts: an antenna with a guard. Later, the guard brought his friends,” he said. “Migron” was located in the Judean desert, about 20 minutes from the Jerusalem settlement of “Pisgat Ze’ev.” (AP, Ha’aretz)

17

A 17-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire in the refugee camp in Rafah. Medics identified the teenager as Mustafa Al-Hams, saying that he had been fatally hit in the head when Israeli troops opened fire towards the camp following an explosion that damaged a nearby military position on the Israeli-controlled Gaza-Egypt border. (AFP, Albawaba.com, Ha’aretz)

Israeli soldiers arrested four Palestinians in Bani Naim, west of Hebron, and three in Qabatiyah, south of Jenin. In addition, soldiers arrested a Fatah member in Asira Ash-Shamaliya, north of Nablus, and another one in Nablus. (Ha’aretz, www.idf.il)

A senior Israeli military official, in remarks made to The Jerusalem Post, said it was counterproductive for the army to maintain a blanket blockade of Palestinian areas in the West Bank. The official, who was not named, called for easing restrictions on those Palestinian cities where the security threat was low while keeping a tight lid on those where the risk of militant attacks was higher. The official said, “The serious situation the Palestinian people are confronted with does not work in our favour.” (Reuters, The Jerusalem Post)

After a second day of talks in Gaza with Egyptian mediators, Palestinian factions refused proposals to halt all attacks against Israelis as part of a ceasefire. Palestinian officials said the Egyptians had pledges from the US that it would pressure Israel to pull back from Palestinian cities in return for a complete ceasefire. Senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammed Al-Hindi said the organization was opposed to the proposals. “The position of Islamic Jihad is clear and it has remained unchanged,” adding that US pledges were “not accepted by Islamic Jihad.” Dr. Al-Hindi said his organization would not believe US promises as long as the situation on the ground did not change. A spokesperson for Hamas said, “We made clear to the Egyptian delegation what our position is. As long as the occupation continues, we will not end our resistance.” He added that attacks against civilians in Israel could only be stopped when Israeli troops halted assaults on Palestinian civilians. (Albawaba.com, DPA, Reuters)

The trial of PLC member Husam Khader opened at an Israeli military court in the West Bank, judicial sources and his family told AFP. Mr. Khader, 42, a member of Fatah, had been arrested by Israeli troops in the Nablus refugee camp in March 2003 [See PLC statement dated 17 March 2003]. He was charged with belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for which he had allegedly recruited militants to carry out anti-Israeli attacks. Mr. Khader claimed that he had been jailed for his “political opinions.” His family said Mr. Khader had undergone “inhuman treatment” while in jail, including “torture and solitary confinement.” (AFP, www.pal-plc.org)

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met separately with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers to discuss ways of reviving the peace process. “We talked about how to move forward and restart the peace process and bring terror and violence to an end,” he told reporters after talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Qureia in Ramallah. He added that a meeting between Mr. Qureia and Prime Minister Sharon would be “an important step.” Mr. Fischer also questioned the legitimacy of the separation barrier being built by Israel. He said, “Nobody in Europe or the international community contests Israel’s right to guarantee the security of its citizens and to stop terrorism forever. The present course of the fence is, however, barely understandable from a security point of view. It is precisely this fact that attracts very serious criticism.” (AFP, DPA)

The Israeli Government has allocated funds (approximately US$160 million) to extend the separation barrier, according to Finance Minister Netanyahu. “This week, we allocated an additional 700 million shekels to build the security fence from the ‘Elkana’ implantation and around Jerusalem,” he said. He added that it was essential for Israel “to complete the construction as soon as possible” for security reasons, despite international criticism. “The treasury will always release the necessary funds to finance the construction” of the barrier, said Mr. Netanyahu, adding that more than $400 million had been allocated to the project in 2003 alone. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Speaking at the Fourth Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security, Foreign Minister Shalom criticized talk of a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said he was opposed because of political implications, saying it would be a “prize to terrorism” and would only weaken Israel’s ability to negotiate in the future. He added that unilateral measures “will not help us progress and will not raise a sense of commitment in the Palestinians.” Finance Minister Netanyahu told the conference that Israel did not face a demographic threat from the Palestinians, who would be under Palestinian control and would enjoy “self-determination” in the future, but rather faced a threat from the Israeli Arab population. He believed that it was of the utmost importance to maintain the Jewish majority in the country and for this the economy must be improved to encourage more Jews to immigrate from the diaspora and improve the education of “Jew and Arab, boy and girl, man and woman.” He warned that should the Israeli Arab population grow to 35-40 per cent of the population, Israel would become a bi-national country. Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh said Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks were “lowly, ugly racism.” (Ha’aretz)

At the 75th plenary meeting of the Fifty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly, the representative of Malaysia introduced a draft resolution entitled “Representation of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem (A/58/L.48). The text would have the Assembly affirm that the observer delegation of Palestine to the General Assembly represented the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem, and that the credentials of the delegation of Israel did not cover the territory. Malaysia recognized the need to continue with informal consultations and did not insist that the Assembly take action on the same day. The co-sponsors of the draft resolution intended to revisit the issue in the immediate future, during the Assembly’s current session. The Assembly subsequently deferred consideration of the text. (UN press release GA/10221)

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Israeli soldiers killed four suspected Palestinian militants during gun battles in Nablus. An Israeli force entered the Old City of Nablus before dawn to arrest a wanted militant and shot dead one Palestinian as they spotted him placing what the army said was an explosive device. Three armed militants were later killed in an exchange of fire elsewhere in the Casbah. Palestinian medical sources identified the first one killed as Aladin Da’awiyeh, 25, a bakery worker on his way to his workplace when soldiers opened fire at him. The three others were identified as Jebril Awad, 27, from Orta village, Fadi Hanini, 25, from Beit Dajan, and Majdi Fakhri, 25, from Beit Furik. They were believed to be members of the PFLP. Two Palestinians were also moderately injured in the operation, according to officials of the Rafidiyeh Hospital. Troops left the Casbah later in the day but kept a tight siege around the Balata refugee camp. (Albawaba.com, DPA, The Guardian, Ha’aretz )

In a speech to the Fourth Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security, Prime Minister Sharon vowed Israel would start its own separation moves or “disengagement plan,” pulling back from some territory and moving some settlements. “If within a number of months the Palestinians continue not carrying out their part of the Road Map, then Israel will initiate a unilateral security measure.” He warned that Palestinians would end up with less land if Israel went its own way than if they followed the Road Map. “This reduction of friction will require the extremely difficult step of changing the deployment of some of the settlements,” he said, without naming them. Israel would also speed up the construction of the separation barrier and make it part of a makeshift border with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Qureia said he was “disappointed” that Mr. Sharon was “threatening” the Palestinians, adding that if Mr. Sharon would negotiate with the Palestinians, peace could come “sooner than expected.” PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat said, “With this unilateral approach, they may make peace with Israelis and Israelis; they’ll not make peace with Palestinians.” White House spokesperson Scott McClellan expressed concern, saying, “The US believes a settlement must be negotiated and we would oppose any unilateral Israeli effort to impose a settlement.” Israeli MK leader Shimon Peres said, “I am profoundly disappointed. Instead of a decision, we were handed another delay, and a delay that is not necessarily in our favour.” (BBC News, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

On Mr. Sharon’s speech, Yesha Council leader Pinchas Wallerstein complained about the possible moving of settlements and warned that disengagement would create the “imposition of a siege of the Jewish settlements” inside the barrier. (Ha’aretz)

China’s fundamental stance on the Middle East issue was to promote peace and dialogue to achieve comprehensive peace in the region, according to Chinese President Hu Jintao. At a meeting with visiting Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Mr. Hu urged Israel to reopen dialogue with the PA to revive the Road Map. Mr. Katsav urged Beijing to play a greater role, State television reported. Mr. Hu said, “The Middle East question has gone on for over half a century and has brought deep calamity to the people of the Middle East, including Israel. Violence and conflict will not resolve the problem; dialogue and cooperation are the only way to resolve the issue.” He added, “The Road Map to peace is an historical opportunity for Israel and Palestine.” Mr. Katsav said the acceptance of the Road Map was an important decision for the Israeli Government and it would do its best to maintain dialogue with Palestinian leaders to expect an imminent end to the bloody conflict. (AFP, Xinhua)

Jordan’s King Abdullah urged the US to intervene to remove obstacles “impeding implementation” of the Road Map. “During a meeting with a visiting Congressional delegation, the Monarch stressed the need for the United States and the world community to step in to back the peace process and remove obstacles impeding implementation of the Road Map,” a Royal Court statement said. “The King underscored the importance of Israel taking practical steps, including cessation of assassinations [of Palestinians], stopping the building of the separation wall and settlement activity so as to enable Prime Minister Qureia to come up with a radical remedy of the security file.” (DPA, www.mfa.gov.jo)

Secretary-General of Israel’s Labour Party Ofer Pines said that dismantling the main settlements in the Gaza Strip would be in the interest of both Palestinians and Israelis. Mr. Pines said, after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, that if the Road Map failed, it would be possible to consider “unilateral measures, especially in Gaza.” Both sides agreed that the evacuation of the main settlements in the Gaza Strip would be “in the interest of everyone,” Mr. Pines said. (AFP)

19

Israeli forces arrested two Palestinians in the Beituniya area of the West Bank, south of Ramallah. (Ha’aretz)

Thousands of supporters of Hamas took to the streets in Gaza City to mark the organization’s 16th anniversary. Waving Hamas’ green flags and other Palestinian flags, the marchers converged from Gaza City’s various neighbourhoods to the city’s main arteries, just after midday prayer. The march was called “Hamas’ volcano.” A Hamas official said that Prime Minister Sharon’s proposal of unilateral disengagement was “worthless,” adding that Hamas would continue its armed struggle. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

France warned Prime Minister Sharon against taking unilateral steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It is through dialogue and negotiation that we will arrive at a definite resolution, based on international law, of the conflict,” according to French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cecile Pozzo di Borgo. She went on to say that France urged both Israelis and Palestinians rapidly to apply the Road Map. (DPA)

Russia criticized possible unilateral security measures announced by Prime Minister Sharon. Unilateral steps “cannot bring positive results,” according to Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov in Moscow, stressing that the Road Map remained the only viable course. (DPA)

White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, “We are very pleased with the overall speech of Prime Minister Sharon. He reiterated and reaffirmed his strong support for the Road Map and the commitments he made in Aqaba.” Mr. McClellan noted that Mr. Sharon had made “some important pledges” about immediate Israeli actions that included eliminating unauthorized outposts on the West Bank and improving Palestinian life by reducing curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints and closures. He added, “We are working hard with the parties to move forward to make progress on the Road Map.” He also said the White House had urged the prime ministers from both sides “to meet soon.” (AFP, Ha’aretz)

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said there was no “unilateral solution” to the Middle East conflict. “There is no unilateral solution ... Any statements pointing in that direction will certainly not help to move the process forward,” Mr. Solana said. He further stated: “I welcome Prime Minister Sharon’s acknowledgement that a full and genuine implementation of the Road Map is the best way to achieve true peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This important statement fully coincides with the EU’s well-known position on this issue. But what is urgently required is that courageous and bold steps be taken in parallel by both sides for the effective implementation of the Road Map.” Mr. Solana also said the Quartet would hold a meeting in January 2004, with the date and venue still unspecified, to attempt to advance the Road Map. “Events have taken place in the Middle East. We think there is a need for contact between the two sides as soon as possible,” he said. He added that negotiations for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians were still under way and there was a possibility that they could reach a “result.” (AFP, DPA, www.Europa-eu-un.org)

Channel One reported that Prime Minister Sharon was willing to declare early elections in order to obtain a mandate for the “disengagement plan” if right-wing parties in his Government resigned, although he would prefer the current Government to remain intact. (Ha’aretz)

In a press release, the International Court of Justice (often called "the World Court") announced that it would hold hearings in February 2004 on the legal consequences of the building of the separation barrier by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It set a deadline of January 2004 for submitting arguments and would begin hearings on 23 February 2004. The ICJ also said the United Nations or any of its Member States might submit written arguments by 30 January. Member States wishing to present oral arguments must inform the court by 13 February. Palestine would be permitted to state its case by virtue of its status as a UN observer and co-sponsor of the resolution requesting the Court’s intervention. Although it gave no estimate of how long the proceedings might last, it said that it was taking “all necessary steps to accelerate the procedure.” (Ha’aretz, ICJ press release 2003/44, Reuters)

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Israeli troops had wounded six Palestinians, firing rubber bullets on demonstrators at the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, a Palestinian security source said. The incident took place when Israeli soldiers opened fire to disperse demonstrators who were throwing stones at them. The soldiers had arrived in the camp with a dozen jeeps and two tanks and proceeded to make arrests. (AFP)

Several hundred Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated against the expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, symbolically planting olive trees there. The demonstrators, responding to a joint call by Israel’s Peace Now and the Arab-Jewish Ta’ayush movements, carried banners reading “No to apartheid,” “No to settlement” and “Construction in the settlements is destructive.” Among those participating were MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), as well as a Greek Orthodox priest. They were protesting against the “Nof Zahav” building project coverning 10 hectares (25 acres). Half of the terrain had been bought from Palestinians and the remainder of the land had been confiscated. (AFP)

21

Israeli troops arrested a top Hamas official, Adnan Asfour, and killed a six-year-old boy as they continued a “search and arrest” operation in the West Bank. Palestinian medical sources said the young boy, identified as Mohammad al-Araj, had been shot after troops entered the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, sparking confrontations with local residents. The boy died instantly after being hit in the chest, according to the medical sources. Mr. Asfour, 38, had been arrested by the Israelis several times before September 2000. He had also been detained for two years by the PA. Hamas reacted to the arrest by saying that Mr. Asfour was a member of the movement’s political wing and was not connected to Izz-al-Din al-Qassam, the military arm of Hamas. (DPA, Reuters)

Palestinian medics said 15-year-old Nurredin Hamran had died of wounds he sustained when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head with a rubber bullet during stone-throwing clashes that had erupted in the Balata refugee camp on 16 November. (AFP, Reuters)

Israeli troops demolished two buildings in Rafah, near the Egyptian border. Israel Army Radioquoted military officials as saying the buildings had been used as starting points for a tunnel Palestinians reportedly dug to a nearby army outpost they tried to blow up the week before. (DPA)

Israeli reservists in an elite commando unit issued a statement indicating that they refused to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The contents of the statement, written by 13 reserve officers and soldiers of the Sayaret Matkal Unit of the IDF, were broadcast on Israeli television. Directed to Prime Minister Sharon and Chief of Staff General Moshe Yaalon, the signatories said: “We will not assist in depriving millions of Palestinians of their human rights, we will not serve as a protective wall to the settlement campaign, and will ignore our destiny as fighters of the Israel Defense Forces no more.” A reaction letter was circulated among all reserve soldiers, warning them to refrain from joining the refusal campaign. (DPA)

The leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council member States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) opened their annual summit in Kuwait City. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who opened the meeting on behalf of the ailing Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, criticized the Israeli “oppressive measures” against the Palestinian people, saying they constituted “a threat to the security and stability of the whole area” and aborted efforts for a just peace. (AFP)

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Nine Palestinians were wounded as Israeli troops carried out two incursions into the northern West Bank to arrest Palestinian militants. Troops arrested a senior member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, according to Palestinian medical sources. Aisa Abu Said, 30, a local leader of the group, had been wanted by Israel since September 2000. Troops surrounded his house and arrested Mr. Said, amidst heavy exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen. Four civilians were wounded during the raid, which saw 20 jeeps and tanks backed up by two assault helicopters moving into the town in the late morning. One of the injured was in serious condition. Further south, clashes erupted in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, with locals throwing stones at an army patrol, medical and security sources said. The soldiers opened fire, injuring five people moderately. One of them was injured by live gunfire, while the rest sustained rubber-bullet wounds. (AFP)

Fifteen Palestinians, including six members of Hamas, had been arrested in and around Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Israeli military sources said. (AFP)

Two Israelis were killed and another moderately wounded in separate attacks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A grenade was fired at two Israelis at the Gush Katif junction, killing one of them. The second Israeli was critically wounded and died a short time later. The new Ynetonline site quoted a senior official of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as saying his organization had carried out the attack. Palestinians and soldiers had opened fire in the area, resulting in the wounding of four Palestinians. Later in the evening, a border police officer suffered slight wounds to his shoulder in a shooting attack near Hebron. No group claimed responsibility. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

In a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in Jerusalem, Mr. Sharon allegedly said he remained committed to the Road Map and would respond in kind if Palestinian factions declared a ceasefire. Mr. Maher said, “I have heard a commitment by Israeli officials to the Road Map, according to which steps have to be taken in parallel by both sides. I told the Prime Minister that both parties have engagements to fill in a parallel manner in the Road Map, and he did not disagree.” Mr. Sharon hailed Mr. Maher’s visit as an opportunity to strengthen ties with Egypt. “I am certain that the links between Israel and Egypt, the biggest and most important country in the Middle East, are going to be strengthened,” Mr. Sharon said after talks that lasted an hour. Mr. Sharon also said that Israel would not sign a ceasefire with the Palestinian organizations, but would hold its fire if there were a ceasefire. (AFP, DPA)

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher needed medical treatment after being heckled and shoved by Palestinians while visiting the Al-Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. One report said Mr. Maher was complaining of shortness of breath after his bodyguards had hustled him out of the Al-Haram al-Sharif compound. He was lightly injured and received first aid on the spot before being taken to the Hadassah University Hospital in West Jerusalem for further tests, although his condition was described as “good.” He had been intending to pray at the mosque when dozens of Palestinians, who Israeli Police said belonged to the Islamic Liberation faction, began throwing shoes at him. The PA condemned the incident, with Prime Minister Qureia calling the perpetrators “hoodlums.” Mr. Maher said his assault by Palestinian youths during a visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif earlier in the day would not affect Egypt’s involvement in the peace process. Israel Radioreported Mr. Maher as saying that the attack would simply spur Egypt to forge an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Office of President Mubarak issued a statement denouncing the “irresponsible” attack, pledging it “will not derail Egypt’s efforts to achieve a resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli talks, with the effective participation of other peace-loving partners.” (DPA, Ha’aretz)

Around 3,000 Palestinians took part in a rally in Hebron to mark the 16th anniversary of the founding of Hamas. (AFP)

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah criticized Israel’s separation barrier, insisting that walls brought no security but hatred. Speaking at the annual Christmas press conference from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem’s Old City, Patriarch Sabbah condemned Israeli military measures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and urged leaders from both sides to return to the negotiating table. He said the barrier was an “imposed separation between the two peoples” and was therefore a call for the sides to continue as enemies and to increase the antagonism which existed between them. “The wall separates the two peoples. The wall prevents normal life not only for those involved in the violence but for the entire population and makes it impossible to have a normal life,” he added. Meanwhile, Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser had announced that Christmas celebrations in the city this year would be limited to minor decorations and activities because of Israeli military restrictions. (DPA, Reuters)

The number of Palestinian women giving birth in a hospital had dropped by around 50 per cent since the start of the intifada as a result of Israeli army roadblocks, a report by human rights groups said. “The sweeping restrictions on Palestinian movement within the West Bank have severely impaired their access to medical treatment,” a joint report by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel and B’Tselem found. The rights groups said that while international law stated that medical personnel must not be unnecessarily delayed unless they were taking part in military activity, they had received 185 complaints of delays of ambulances that lasted more than 30 minutes in regular cases and more than 15 minutes in emergencies. “According to figures of the Palestinian Red Crescent, ambulances are able to reach the place where the sick or wounded are located only 30 per cent of the time,” the report said. “In 70 per cent of the cases, the sick or wounded must get to a location accessible to the ambulance on their own.” In a statement, the Israeli army said that security checks of ambulances were necessary as a result of abuses by “terrorist organizations.” “Since September 2000, the security forces had been witnessing the cynical use by terror organizations of the Palestinian medical resources in general and of ambulances in particular, assuming they are ‘immune’ to security checks at checkpoints,” it said. (AFP)

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Israeli troops and tanks entered the Rafah refugee camp overnight, killing at least eight Palestinians. Hospital sources identified five of the Palestinians killed in the raid as Khalil Al-Qasas, 50, Ali Al-Najar, 22, Ibrahim Al-Najar, 24, Khamis Al-Rai, 21, and Ahmad Al-Najar, 32. Two others were killed when a tank shell fell on a crowd of Palestinians. The victims were identified as Ala’ Ata Bahloul, 23, and Wiam Rizeq Mousa, 26. Eyewitnesses said hundreds of civilians had been forced to flee their houses as Israeli tanks fired at the neighbourhoods, using shells and missiles. Medical sources confirmed that at least 30 civilians had been wounded, many of them critically. An army spokesperson said the raid on Rafah had not been in response to the killing the previous night of the two Israeli officers near the “Kissufim” crossing in the central Gaza Strip, but was “part of a continuous fight” to destroy tunnels used to smuggle arms from Egypt. Palestinians said about 20 tanks had entered the refugee camp overnight, drawing fire from militants. More tanks, firing machine guns, had moved in during the day. (Albawaba.com, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online, Reuters, www.idf.il)

Israeli bulldozers demolished a number of houses in the Rafah camp, witnesses said. The demolitions resulted in massive damage to the civilian infrastructure of the camp and Israeli forces had imposed a curfew on the entire area. In the central Gaza Strip, Israeli forces moved into the Abu Sha’ar area in Wadi al-Salqa village, east of Deir al-Balah. They destroyed four Palestinian homes in the two villages, leaving 13 Palestinian civilians homeless. The houses belonged to the Al-Sumairi, Al-Zar and Eslaisel families. Israeli forces also razed 12 dunums of agricultural land planted with olives. (Albawaba.com)

The following is a statement issued by the Spokesman for the Secretary General:

(UN press release SG/SM/9094-PAL/1973)

In a series of arrests over the past week, IDF security forces and Shin Bet had arrested 22 Palestinians believed to be involved in a Ramallah-area Hamas cell that reportedly had planned to ambush soldiers patrolling near the city. However, the man believed to be the cell leader had not yet been arrested. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli officials announced that travel restrictions would be eased for worshippers and tourists wishing to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, although existing checkpoints would stay in place. “Christmas will be celebrated in Bethlehem with the maximum attendance of worshippers, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jonathan Peled. Col. Uzi Moskowitz of the Central Command’s operations office said, “None of Bethlehem’s three checkpoints will be lifted,” although he insisted there were “guidelines to enable the festivities to take place in the most proper manner.” One checkpoint in Ramallah had been lifted and controls at the checkpoint in Jericho area would be eased. Another security official said, “All people who wish to enter Bethlehem can do so, barring current and updated security information.” Patriarch Michel Sabbah said Israel was showing “very good will” in encouraging the Christmas festivities. But Bethlehem Governor Zohar Manasra said restrictions had not been eased. “That’s what they declared, but on the ground there are really no changes,” he said. (The Guardian, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online)

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Israeli troops moved into the Tulkarm refugee camp, leading to an intense gunfight. IDF soldiers also conducted searches in the village of Ja’abah, north of Nablus, firing at and hitting one Palestinian. A wanted PFLP member was arrested overnight in Nablus. (Ha’aretz, www.idf.il)

A 24-year-old Palestinian man died of wounds sustained in the IDF raid in Rafah the previous day, bringing the death toll of the raid to nine. The IDF troops withdrew from Rafah on 24 December. (Ha’aretz)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia had cancelled a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon’s Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas and his PA counterpart Hassan Abu Libdeh, according to a Palestinian official. “The meeting has been put off in protest at Israel’s killing of Palestinians in Rafah,” a Palestinian official source told Reuters.PA Minister for Negotiations Affairs Saeb Erakat said, “At a time when we are trying to get the peace process back on track, at a time when we are trying to prepare a meeting between the two prime ministers, eight Palestinians are killed in Rafah.” Mr. Erakat, meeting with Labour MK Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, also renewed the Palestinian call for international monitors to help stop the violence. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Thousands of people gathered in Manger Square to watch the traditional pre-Mass procession of clergymen led by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah. But almost all the spectators were locals, souvenir sellers, rather than the foreign pilgrims who had once flocked to Bethlehem. Some 50 Palestinians held a sit-down protest to demand the return of relatives who had been expelled abroad in the May 2002 deal that had ended an Israeli siege of Palestinians hiding inside the Church of the Nativity. (Reuters)

25

Five Palestinians were killed in an IDF missile strike in Gaza City. The target of the assassination, Maqled Hamid, head of the Islamic Jihad military wing, was among the victims. The other Palestinians killed in the attack included two Islamic Jihad members and two civilians, one of them 16 years old. Israeli helicopter gunships had fired at least two missiles in Gaza’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, striking the Subaru car in which Mr. Hamid was driving with two other men, believed to be bodyguards. The car exploded and the three were killed. Ashraf Rawan, 16, and Wa’al Waqran, 25, who had been standing near the car, were also killed. At least 15 other civilians were injured, one of them critically. An IDF spokesman described Mr. Hamid as a “ticking bomb.” Palestinian witnesses said the Israelis had apparently used a different kind of ordnance than in previous attacks, since the bodies had not burned in the explosion and there was not much shrapnel. (Albawaba.com, The Guardian, Ha’aretz)

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian near the “Ganei Tal” settlement in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military sources said soldiers had opened fire when the Palestinian tried to crawl towards a military outpost in the area of the settlement. (Albawaba.com)

A suicide bomber approached a bus stop at the Geha junction in Petakh Tikvah on the north-eastern outskirts of Tel Aviv and blew himself up, killing four Israelis. The victims were identified as three soldiers and a 17-year-old girl. At least 13 people were wounded. The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the PFLP military wing, and the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing. The bomber was identified as Said Hanani, 18, from the village of Beit Furik, east of Nablus. (Israeli forces entered Beit Furik the following day and blew up Mr. Hanani’s house.) (AP, The Guardian)

A PA Cabinet statement said: “The Prime Minister and the Government condemn the cycle of violence and counter-violence, the latest episode of which is the murder of five citizens in Gaza by Israeli helicopters and an attack on a bus stop that has left people dead and wounded tonight in Tel Aviv. Regretting the continuation of the cycle of assassinations, liquidations and attacks against civilians on both sides, the Prime Minister calls for a stop to this bloody cycle and the conclusion of a reciprocal ceasefire.” “We condemn the targeting and killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians and we call on the Israeli Government to resume a meaningful dialogue,” declared Saeb Erakat, PA Negotiations Affairs Minister. (AP, The Guardian)

The US called the latest suicide bombing a “wanton act of terror” and said there was an “urgent need” for Palestinians to curb terrorist activities. “The United States strongly condemns the December 25 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Before the attack, US Secretary of State Powell had urged Israel to refrain from unilateral steps that might hinder progress in the Road Map. Mr. Powell said that the Bush Administration was determined to pursue a two-State solution, insisting that “there is no reason” to give up the dream of a Palestinian State. He also said, “We cannot support unilateral action on the part of one or the other party. Sooner or later they will have to find a way to negotiate agreement between the two of them so that two States can arise.” (AFP)

Israeli security forces arrested Qassam Barghouti, 19, the son of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, as he tried to enter the West Bank from Jordan. Relatives said he was returning from Egypt, where he was a university student. (AP)

Israeli officials said the Government had modified the way its separation barrier was being constructed, in a move that could lay out its route sooner than previously planned. Contractors had been ordered to build all the structures simultaneously, not section-by-section, according to senior project officials. The change was aimed at establishing facts on the ground before the issue was to be examined at the International Court of Justice, according to the same sources. (AP)

26

IDF soldiers shot and wounded two people during a demonstration against the separation barrier in the West Bank. An Israeli man sustained light wounds, while a foreign tourist was moderately wounded. The incident occurred close to the Mahase (Mascha) village, near Qalqilya, where around 100 members of the Anarchist Movement against the Wall and the International Solidarity Movement had been protesting against the construction of the barrier. During the protest, troops had used live ammunition. One of the demonstrators, Jonathan Faulk, told Ha’aretz that a group of soldiers had opened fire in his direction. He said there had been no warning before the shots were fired. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

The head of the IDF’s Central Command appointed a panel to investigate the shooting of the two protesters demonstrating against the separation barrier. Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinksy’s appointment of a panel came after Israeli legislators from both the opposition and the ruling coalition had criticized the army’s response to the demonstration. Opposition MK Eitan Cabel (Labour-Meimad) said he wanted to know why the army had used live ammunition against the protesters. Meretz MK Yossi Sarid said the army had broken all barriers by firing at the demonstrators. (DPA)

Defence Minister Mofaz met with army commanders and Shin Bet officials to consider a response to the Tel Aviv suicide bombing. Israel police had been placed on high alert and multiplied security checks, especially on roads connecting the West Bank to eastern Tel Aviv, according to police sources. It was decided that the full closure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would remain in force but the Palestinian towns and cities would not be under curfew, Israel Radio reported. An Israeli official warned that the blast might have pushed Israel closer to adopting the “unilateral measures” announced by Prime Minister Sharon. Mr. Sharon added Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the steering committee for the disengagement plan from the Palestinians. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online)

IDF Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon said Hamas had taken a strategic decision to call off attacks in Israel in response to Israeli attacks on their leaders. “It is no coincidence that a group like Hamas decides to stop attacks within Israel; it comes from the realization that their organization is in danger,” Gen. Yaalon said. “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be with us for many years to come, but I believe we have now passed the peak of the violent struggle,” he added. (AFP, AP, The Guardian, Middle East Online)

The Islamic Jihad issued a statement on the missile strike that had killed two chiefs of the Al-Quds Martyrs Brigades, Maqled Humeid (Hamid) and Nabil Shreihi, saying: “This new crime will not go without punishment and the Al-Quds Battalions will inflict a painful lesson to the enemy as they have done throughout the intifada.” Prime Minister Qureia appealed for calm to uphold efforts to revive the Road Map. (Albawaba.com, Middle East Online, Reuters)

27

Israeli troops killed a 17-year-old Palestinian and wounded at least 17 others in clashes with stone-throwers in the city of Nablus. The victim was fatally shot in the chest while confronting troops, who had stepped up searches. Six of the wounded Palestinians had been shot by live ammunition and 11 by rubber-coated bullets. A military spokesman denied that troops had fired lived ammunition, saying they had responded with rubber bullets and tear gas after coming under a barrage of stones and Molotov cocktails in various areas of Nablus. Israeli Government spokesman Avi Pazner said the Nablus sweep had been made in response to intelligence alerts of imminent attacks. “Israeli will not allow Nablus to become the springboard of Palestinian terrorism against Israel,” he added. (Albawaba.com, Reuters)

28

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher held talks with Russia’s Middle East envoy Alexander Kalugin on ways to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to press release issued by the Petranews agency. (AFP, www.petra.gov.jo)

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice to permit Palestinians to move freely through gates in the separation barrier built between Israel and the West Bank. The purpose of the petition was to allow residents of isolated Palestinian villages to move freely to their agricultural land and water supplies and to reach medical and other services in nearby towns, according to the organization’s lawyer Fatmah Ajou. She said gates in the barrier were typically open only two or three times a day for about 45 minutes and were closed during Israeli holidays. “There are 47 gates affecting about 42,000 residents,” she said. Israeli Ministry of Justice spokesman Jacob Galati said the Ministry had not yet drafted a response, “but we certainly intend to do so.” (AP)

Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Amre Moussa called on all 22 member States to produce documentary evidence against the separation barrier project in order to build a case to take to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). “The written documents have to be presented to the League before the end of January and arguments for the Court case before February 23,” the date set for the opening of the ICJ hearing, according to Palestinian delegate Mohammad Subeih. “The Arabs intend to appoint a top-flight lawyer, either foreign or Arab, to give them proper legal advice and to draw up judicial papers denouncing the construction of this wall,” he added. (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon appointed Major-General Giora Eiland to develop unilateral steps to separate Israel from the Palestinians if the current peace talks failed. (The New York Times)

Prime Minister Sharon and Defence Minister Mofaz signed an order to dismantle four unauthorized West Bank outposts and ordered IDF Central Command Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky to take measures to carry out the order. Residents would have 10 days to appeal the evacuation order. Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said the Government order had been issued to speed up the evacuation of four settlements in the West Bank, but at the same time putting on hold the removal of the “Migron” outpost, which was occupied by some 43 families. “This accelerated procedure is perfectly legal and I hope the settlers won’t make any problems. They are ruining our relations with the Americans, with Europe,” Mr. Lapid told Israel public radio. The order drastically cut down the appeal procedure. The four outposts affected by the order were “Ginot Aryeh,” which housed a handful of families from nearby “Ofra,” north of Ramallah; “Hazon David” near “Kiryat Arba” and east of Hebron; “West Bat Ayin Maarav,” near Bethlehem; and “Havat Shaked” near “Yitzhar,” which consisted of one container. The settler movements had made “Migron” the headquarters of their campaign against the dismantling of settlements. Housing and Construction Minister Efraim Eitam, an advocate of the settlers, said he would support the dismantling of the outposts if they could not be legalized. “If in the end after all the processes are exhausted, it will not be possible to give legal permits to these outposts, then what will not be legal, we will not be able to support,” he said. Mr. Meir Sheetrit, a Likud Minister said, “I think the system is dragging its feet on removing illegal outposts. The State of Israel must remove all the illegal outposts, without any excuse.” (AFP, AP, Reuters)

29

Four Palestinian schoolchildren were wounded by Israeli soldiers in Beit Furik, according to medical sources. Soldiers responded to stone-throwing from two schools by firing rubber-coated bullets and tear gas grenades. The two schools were evacuated after the clashes broke out. (AFP)

Palestinian medical sources said they had not recovered any bodies of three Palestinians reportedly killed on 28 December near the settlement of “Netzarim” in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces had reported that they had shot three Palestinians. Ambulance men sent to the site of the shooting found no trace of the victims. Israeli sources said that it was believed three Palestinians had been killed after their troops returned fire at a group of militants who had fired mortar bombs. Hamas, which had claimed responsibility for the mortar firing, reported no losses of its members. (AFP)

According to the media, Israelis demanded to know why Israeli troops had used lethal means to disperse dozens of unarmed protesters against the separation barrier on 26 December. An Israeli activist had been seriously injured and an American tourist slightly wounded when Israeli troops fired live ammunition at the protesters. A photographer from Yediot Aharonotwho was at the scene of the shooting said the soldiers had refused to call for an ambulance. The IDF said it had begun an internal investigation concerning the incident. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon said protesters had only themselves to blame. “They masqueraded as Arabs, mingled with Palestinians and entered the Palestinian side of the fence illegally.” An editorial in the Yediot Aharonotsaid the soldiers’ behaviour was a symptom of the “bestiality which the continuing occupation and war situation … has created within the army and the Israeli consciousness as a whole. Let’s not kid ourselves … if a Palestinian [had been shot], it probably would not have got even one line in the newspaper.” (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

The closures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip imposed in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of 25 December in Israel had been eased. The IDF said it was lifting all restrictions on workers over the age of 35 with families and 4,000 merchants over 28 years of age with families. Israeli troops withdrew from the centre of Nablus and the adjacent Balata refugee camp. Residents of the Casbah (Old City) went out into the streets and opened their shops as soon as the IDF left. Before withdrawing from Balata, the army demolished a multi-storey building which belonged to the family of Nader Abul-Lail, a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Israeli troops invaded Qalqilya, launching a wide-scale house-to-house search. Two Palestinians, Shaher Said Ja’bdi, 23, and Hesham Abed Alateif Dauod, 22, were arrested. (AFP, Albawaba.com, DPA, Reuters, www.idf.il)

PA Prime Minister Qureia arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for his first visit to the Gulf since he took office. Mr. Qureia was accompanied by Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath and Public Works Minister Abdelrahman Hamad. PA Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mustafa al-Sheikh Dib said, “Mr. Qureia will discuss with Saudi officials the recent deterioration in developments on the Palestinian front and efforts by the PA to apply the Road Map.” He also said, “Mr. Qureia will urge Saudi officials to use their political weight to urge the international community to pressure Israel to end its aggression and resume negotiations.” (AFP)

Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal said he saw Prime Minister Sharon as a pragmatic man who wanted security for his people but was unable to find a partner on the Palestinian side with whom to conduct negotiations. In comments published in La Stampa,Prince Hassan said, “Arafat is at a transitory stage, but, unfortunately, we can see the growing influence of Hamas and Hezbollah among the Palestinians.” He also said, “The Palestinians continue to talk about Palestinian unity. The Palestinian question has never been resolved. From my perspective, Jordan should include all the Palestinians, and Israel, Palestine and Jordan should enjoy the same sort of interdependence as there is in the Benelux countries.” (Ha’aretz)

30

Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian and injured three others when tanks stationed at the “Kfar Darom” settlement in Gaza fired at the nearby town of Khan Yunis, according to Nasser Hospital officials. The victim, a 22-year-old man, was hit in the head by the tank fire, and the three injured were in stable condition. (DPA)

An Israeli helicopter missile attack on a car in Gaza City wounded one of its passengers and some nine bystanders, Palestinian security sources said. There was no immediate information on the identities of the people in the car. Two missiles hit the vehicle, and three of its four passengers escaped injury. (Reuters)

After withdrawing from Nablus several hours earlier, Israeli forces re-entered the city, exchanging gunfire with Palestinian militants and imposing a curfew on the city. The pre-dawn operation involved some 30 jeeps and four tanks, Palestinian security sources said. Casbah residents had been ordered out of their homes as troops conducted their searches from around 4 a.m. An Israeli military source said “threats have not disappeared in Nablus and as a result we are not leaving the area. It is simply a matter of troop movements.” The troops’ entry into the city forced some 40,000 to stay in their homes and to keep school-children at home. One Palestinian was arrested in Nablus, and four near Rafah in the Gaza Strip. (AFP, AP)

The Israeli Government decided to modify two sections of the separation barrier. One section, in the area of Qalqilya, was among the most disputed as it cut the city off from the rest of the West Bank. The Government decided to cut a large opening in the wall on the eastern side. Another section, north of Tulkarm, would be reconstructed so that it no longer incorporated the West Bank village of Baqa Ash-Sharqiya to its west and would instead leave it behind the wall, detached from its Arab-Israeli twin village Baqa Al-Garbiya. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat described the planned changes in the separation barrier as “meaningless.” He also called the Israeli Government’s order to forcibly remove four unauthorized outposts an “exercise in public relations” and condemned Israeli arrests of Palestinians in Nablus and Rafah. Mr. Erakat said, “I think the world is sick and tired of these public relations stunts – Israelis moving a caravan here and a caravan there.” On the arrests, he said, “These military measures will eventually undermine all efforts to revive the peace process and will also create more complications and deterioration.” (DPA, Reuters)

The population of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had grown by 16 per cent since Prime Minister Sharon took office in March 2001, according to Israel’s Interior Ministry. The overall number of settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip now currently stood at 236,000, the Ministry said. The numbers living in several isolated settlements had grown much more rapidly, including the settlements of “Netzarim” and “Kfar Darom,” with a growth of 24 and 52 per cent, respectively. There also had been a significant rise in the number of “ideological” settlements, deep in the heart of Palestinian territory. “Yitzhar” had grown by 15.4 per cent, “Revava” by 11.2 per cent and “Shavei Shomron” by 9.8 per cent – all way above the 5.75 per cent average growth in the West Bank. Meanwhile, PA President Arafat said on Palestinian radio and television, “I ask the Israeli side to stop … this settlement assault that will not provide security for the Israelis, because the road to security is through the recognition of our rights.” (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, IBA, Reuters)

IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said the army was considering changing its rules of engagement as a result of the 26 December incident in which troops had shot two protesters, one of them an Israeli, during a protest against the separation wall. “In the IDF this matter is being examined closely, in a profound and thorough going investigation,” he said. “It’s possible that if we have to change the orders for opening fire, we will do so,” he added. He also said “the presence of Israeli demonstrators beside the fence was a new reality for which soldiers have not been trained.” The Knesset was also scheduled to discuss the incident. (Ha’aretz)

At least 13 Palestinians were reportedly injured in a missile attack, according to hospital sources. The Israel Air Force fired two missiles at a car in the Rimal neighbourhood in Gaza. The car belonged to Jamal Al-Jarah, a leader of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas military wing), who suffered moderate injuries. His brother, Rami, who had been in the car with him, was lightly injured. Military officials confirmed that Israel had returned to a policy of “targeted killing” in the Gaza Strip, but said the assassinations now were targeting people defined as “ticking bombs,” focusing on field operators rather than leaders of Hamas' political wing. Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said Israel would pay a heavy price for the attack. (AFP, AP, Albawaba.com, Ha’aretz)

31

IDF troops shot and wounded at least 11 people, including four Palestinians and two Israelis, during a protest at a construction site of the separation barrier. Albawabareported at least 17 Palestinians injured. [The Palestine Monitor reported 50 Palestinians injured.] Some 500 protesters threw stones at the bulldozers, which had moved into the village of Budrus, north-west of Ramallah, located right on the Green Line, to begin preparing the ground for a new segment of the wall. Security forces said they had responded using “non-lethal means” to disperse the protesters. Some eight people had been arrested, including three Israelis, two Swedes and an American. A Swedish Green Party lawmaker, Gustav Fridolin, 20, was among the demonstrators detained by the police. A foreign protester told Reuters,“I saw six people who were wounded when the army started shooting rubber bullets and tear gas. A Palestinian woman was severely beaten up and bleeding on her head.” (Albawaba.com, Deutsche Welle, Ha’aretz, IBA, Palestinemonitor.org, Reuters)

In a speech to mark the 39th anniversary of the establishment of the Fatah movement, PA President Arafat said Israel was turning its back on peace after it tried to assassinate a top Hamas militant in Gaza and moved ahead with plans to build hundreds of new homes in the occupied Golan Heights. “Our hand is still extended for a peace of the brave, we strongly believe in this peace and this belief will not wane despite the grief and suffering endured by our people.” Mr. Arafat was quoted by the Israel Army Radioas saying that the Israeli Government was doing all it could to undo the Road Map. He charged that the Government was not interested in returning to the negotiating table. He also said that the situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was worse than the apartheid regime in South Africa. Mr. Arafat appealed to the “peace camp,” urging it to take a more active role in internal Israeli affairs. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

IDF troops arrested three Israelis, including two 16-year-olds, in the West Bank settlement of “Havat Gilad,” according to Israel Radio.The three had been suspected of beating up and threatening a Palestinian who was cultivating his olive grove near the settlement. The man was hospitalized for two days after the incident. Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier was arrested in connection with a shooting in the Gaza Strip the previous April that had left British peace activist Tom Hurndall brain-dead. Mr. Hurndall had been hit in the head and critically wounded by sniper fire in the Rafah refugee camp and had been subsequently pronounced clinically dead. He was currently in a London hospital. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

The evacuation order issued by the IDF against four illegal outposts contained a clause stipulating that the settlers themselves would have to bear the cost of the operation if security forces needed to be called in to evacuate them. The order stated that if the settlers refused to obey the order to remove themselves from the outposts, they would be ordered to pay for the entire operation. Meanwhile, inspectors from the IDF's Civil Administration were expected to post evacuation notices on caravans at the “Ginot Aryeh” outpost near “Ofra.” (Ha’aretz)

The number of Palestinians around the world reached 8.7 million in 2003, including 3.7 million in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (2.3 million in the West Bank and 1.4 million in Gaza), according to a survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The inclusion of Israelis of Arab origin would raise the total figure to 9.7 million. Around 2.8 million lived in Jordan, 436,000 in Syria, 415,000 in Lebanon and 62,000 in Egypt. Some 595,000 lived in other Arab countries. The largest diaspora was in the US, with some 236,000 Palestinians. (AFP)

Israel expelled Mustafa Abed, a 40-year-old father of seven from Nablus, who was taken to Gaza by the Israeli military. An Israeli source confirmed the expulsion, saying that Mr. Abed belonged to the Islamic Jihad and had been involved in suicide attacks against Israelis. He would be exiled to Gaza for a period of two years as a “preventive measure.” Mr. Abed was among the 18 West Bank Palestinians slated for expulsion to Gaza for alleged complicity in attacks against Israelis. Five others on the list had been expelled in November 2003. Palestinians officials and international human rights groups had condemned Israel for the measure, saying the expulsions were a violation of international law. (Reuters)

Israeli police in Tel Aviv detained three Palestinians suspected of planning a bomb attack in the city, according to local media reports, which indicated that the three had been detained after a car chase. (DPA)

Saudi Arabia planned to build 950 housing units for Palestinians whose homes had been destroyed by the IDF in Rafah, Palestinian Authority officials said Wednesday after PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's first official visit to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Qureia asked the Saudis to allocate money for the homeless in Rafah after Palestinian protesters accused the PA of ignoring their plight. He had also asked for funds for the unemployed, for a medical centre outside Ramallah, and to boost the PA's budget. Saudi Arabia did not agree to provide for all these causes, but promised to continue paying US$7.7 million a month to help the PA cover its budget deficit and pay the salaries of its employees. "The Saudis agreed to pay $7.7 million for the budget till the next Arab summit in Tunis in March," said Majdi al-Khalidi, an official from the PA Foreign Ministry. "Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country which has paid its pledges," he added. The Arab League pledged the previous March to help the PA pay salaries by supplying some $55 million. The PA's budget for 2003 was $1.4 billion - $650 million was used to pay salaries, while $800 million was used for running costs, Khalidi explained. Non-Arab donor States were reluctant to support the PA budget, fearing corruption and misuse of funds. Instead they preferred to invest in development projects. PA Finance Minister Salaam Fayad had recently travelled to Washington and urged the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to reactivate a Trust Fund for the budget so that donors would feel comfortable giving money to the PA. The money in the fund and its distribution would be managed by the World Bank and the IMF, a Palestinian official said. The World Bank had agreed to renew the fund and would try to convince donors to pledge money for the PA's budget for 2004, which was forecast at about $1.2 billion, the official added. "Our expectation is that the Arabs will pay $400 million of our $650 million budget deficit and that the Europeans and others will pay the rest," he added. (The Jerusalem Post)


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