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Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the

Question of Palestine

Monthly media monitoring review

March 2004


1

Several Israeli tanks and a bulldozer entered the block “J” area of the Rafah refugee camp in the morning and opened fire. Several hours earlier, Israeli troops had moved into the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, firing tank shells.(AFP)

Nine Palestinians wanted by the Israeli security services had been arrested in the West Bank overnight, a military spokesman said. Among those arrested were three members of armed groups linked to Fatah as well as two Hamas members. (AFP)

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said in a statement that its militants had fired at least eight mortar shells at the “Morag” settlement near Rafah, adding that “the shells hit several targets in the settlement.” The statement also claimed responsibility for attacking the “Nisanit” settlement in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel Radioconfirmed the two attacks on the settlements, but said that no injuries had been reported. Shortly afterwards, Israeli jets flew over the Gaza Strip, causing panic among the residents, who worried the Israeli planes might hit Palestinian targets in retaliation for the attacks. Israel Radioreported that the IDF had informed the settlers living in the settlements in the Gaza Strip to be careful and hide in underground shelters. (Xinhua)

Saraya Al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, said that its militants had fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF convoy in the south of Gaza. An IDF spokesman said that no injuries had been reported. (Xinhua)

Eight Palestinian prisoners were injured in the morning during clashes with guards at a military prison near Beersheba, Israel, when the guards had entered the facility and ordered all of the 440 prisoners to strip, provoking fierce protests, the head of the Prisoners’ Club said. Some of the injured had been bleeding after being beaten, while others had suffered from tear-gas inhalation, he said, adding that the clashes were continuing. (AFP)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters in Cairo that he was unaware of any talks between Israeli and Egyptian intelligence officials about security control over the so-called "Philadelphia Road", a hundred-metre-wide corridor in southern Gaza. “I don’t think there has been anything of the sort. We were talking about the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. After that, the border between Egypt and Palestine is something for Egypt and Palestine to discuss.” (Reuters)

Tel Aviv District Court ordered the freezing of millions of dollars seized by the IDF from Palestinian banks on 25 February, at the request of relatives of American-Israeli settlers Yaron and Efrat Ungar, who were shot dead by Hamas in 1996 as they left a wedding in the Gaza Strip. A judge in the US state of Rhode Island had ordered Hamas on 28 January to pay $116,409,123 to relatives of the Ungars. Defence Minister Mofaz pledged in a statement that the confiscated sums would go towards “humanitarian actions” for the Palestinian people. The court ruling effectively means that the Government will not be able to distribute the funds for the moment. (AFP)

The barrier being built by Israel around Jerusalem will be completed by the end of the year, Interior Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said after a court order to freeze construction of a 42-km section. Mr. Hanegbi sought to play down the impact of the ruling, saying: “Israel is a State governed by the rule of law and the delay caused by the judicial authorities is minimal. I hope that the Supreme Court rejects the appeals as soon as possible.” (AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met a number of Spanish journalists, writers and artists who are visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territory to express their solidarity with the Palestinian leader. Mr. Arafat told reporters, “we’ve asked for a meeting between Qureia and Sharon, but the other side hasn’t agreed yet, and they keep saying yes and then they change their minds.” He also denounced the Israeli airstrike carried out on 28 February in Gaza City, saying, “Unfortunately, the Israeli crimes are still carried out against Palestinians during days and nights, but Palestinians are steadfast and persistent, and we will keep defending our Islamic and Christian holy sites.” Mr. Arafat described the outcome of the Fatah Revolutionary Council’s meeting he chaired for three consecutive days in Ramallah as “wonderful,” saying the Council would issue its formal statement within the next 48 hours. He also said the Council had formed a committee to prepare for the Sixth General Conference of Fatah, adding that general elections within the movement would also be held within a year. (Xinhua)

Israeli authorities decided to reopen the "Erez" Beit Hanoun border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which had been sealed off since an attack there on 26 February in which an Israeli soldier was killed. More than 200 factory owners in the Erez Industrial Zone had pressured authorities to reopen the area as their production operations suffered. (AFP, DPA)

The Jerusalem Postreported that Israel was trying to derail a new EU initiative to supplement the Road Map, feeling the plan called on Palestinians to do less than they were called on to do under the Road Map: it did not call on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, nor to unify security services. The new plan did away with security cooperation between the two sides, and called instead only for security “coordination” between the sides, taking into consideration the huge gap of trust between the parties. It did not call on the international community to take specific action against terrorist funding, nor did it call for Israel to stop military actions that damage confidence, such as deportations and house demolitions. (The Jerusalem Post)

After a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, Foreign Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland, holding the current EU Presidency, said Prime Minister Sharon should meet promptly with Prime Minister Qureia. In a session with reporters, Mr. Cowen said the Europeans had not changed their position on President Arafat, and recognized him as the rightful leader of the Palestinian people, adding: “Obviously, we don’t have a completely agreed position between the United States and the European Union in respect of that particular aspect of the matter.” About the meeting, Mr. Powell said that they had had a useful discussion on President Bush’s drive for democratic change among Arab Governments, called the “Greater Middle East Initiative.” (AP)

Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weissglas, National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, Amb. Dan Ayalon, military secretary Yoav Gallant and diplomatic adviser Shalom Tourgeman spent five hours in meetings with high-level US officials discussing Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan. Mr. Sharon was seeking a written commitment from the US that if Israel withdrew from Gaza and some isolated West Bank settlements and moved the separation barrier closer to the Green Line, Washington in exchange would not require it to conduct any negotiations with the Palestinians until there was a change in its leadership, and would also not object to Israel’s construction in the settlement blocks of “Ariel,” “Gush Etzion,” and “Ma’aleh Adumim,” which it planned to annex in the future. Washington had earlier said Israel would coordinate its withdrawal from any Palestinian areas with the Paletinian Authority. (Ha’aretz)

Lawmakers from the Arab countries, except Iraq and Libya, started a two-day meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union in Damascus to discuss the situation in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as well as the creation of a unified Arab parliament. (AFP)

At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, Saudi Arabia proposed that Arab Governments consider endorsing the Geneva Accord Initiative. At the meeting, the Saudis circulated a document entitled “The Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict” that revived the Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the League of Arab States at its Beirut summit in 2002. The four-page Arab League document acknowledged drawing on unofficial initiatives to resolve the Middle East crisis, a reference that a senior Arab diplomat confirmed was to the Geneva Accord. The document did not spell out how to settle the stickiest issues, but would signal Arab flexibility to the Israelis on positions regarding Jerusalem and refugees. If approved by Arab leaders at their meeting on 29-30 March in Tunis, the draft resolution would essentially back the Geneva Initiative. The meeting also considered the US’ “Greater Middle East Initiative,” which called for democracy and educational reforms, sparking a mixed response. Egypt's President Mubarak “forcefully denounced” ready-to-use recipes from abroad, while calling instead for gradual reform. A proposed draft resolution stated that “in order to create a climate favourable to the success of the reform process … it is vital to … settle the Palestinian question by ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian State.” (Albawaba.com, AP, The Jordan Times, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online)

2

In Yatta, south of Hebron, IDF troops shot and killed a former Palestinian policeman identified as Muhammad Abu Rajab. According to Palestinian sources, the soldiers had stormed into the village, surrounded Mr. Abu Rajab's house and then killed him. The soldiers started to demolish parts of the building, but later admitted that Mr. Abu Rajab had not been the “target” of their operation. (Albawaba.com)

A Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near Hebron. (AFP)

Gunmen killed Khalil Al-Zaben, 59, an adviser to PA President Arafat, in a street ambush in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Arafat denounced the killing as a “dirty assassination” and convened his Cabinet and National Security Council to discuss the incident. Mr. Al-Zaben was the publisher of Al-Nashra,a weekly magazine devoted to Palestinian affairs and human rights. There was no claim of responsibility and security officials said they had so suspects. Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat said, “This chaos will not be tolerated. I believe the Palestinian Government and security forces must take all action to end this chaos. It is really undermining the Palestinian struggle to establish an independent state.” (AP, The Guardian, Ha’aretz)

During a cabinet meeting, PA President Arafat had approved a key reform measure, paving the way for renewed foreign aid to the PA, Prime Minister Qureia announced. Under the old method, cash was sent to commanders who distributed it to security forces. PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad had proposed to transfer the salaries directly to personal bank accounts of members of the security forces. Mr. Qureia said, “Arafat approved paying all the security men through the banks.” (Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Sharon was reportedly proposing a total withdrawal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, according to an Israeli source. There were four options: to keep some settlements in the north of Gaza; to evacuate all the Gaza settlements but to keep a 100-metre strip of land along the border between Israel and Gaza at Rafah; to pull out the settlers, but leave the IDF in place; or to pull out all Israeli civilians and military. The source said for Mr. Sharon the fourth option was the most likely, even though this would still need the approval of the Cabinet. (The Guardian)

At a press conference in London with Foreign Minister Shalom, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said his Government welcomed the end to occupation in principle, adding that “the conditions in which that takes place, the security conditions and political conditions," were crucial and that "any settlers transferred from Gaza should be resettled within the main part of Israel, and not within the West Bank.” Mr. Shalom said his Government did not “seek to act unilaterally" and that he had given assurances that they would co-ordinate [...] actions to the maximum degree possible, with all relevant parties in a manner consistent with the Road Map.” Mr. Straw noted that no final judgement could be made on Prime Minister Sharon’s proposals until their details were clearer, noting that they have yet to be agreed by the Israeli Cabinet and Knesset. (www.fco.gov.uk)

Israel's State Prosecution told the High Court of Justice that settlers would have until 4 March to leave six West Bank outposts, after which they would be evacuated by force. The Prosecution said Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz intended to give individuals in those outposts a few days to leave. The outposts, called “Hazon David,” “Tal Binyamin,” “Bat Ayin West,” “Ginot Aryeh,” “Havat Shaked” and “Havat Maon,” were to be vacated within 48 hours. (Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

A report by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics stated that there had been a 35 per cent increase in the number of new building starts in the settlements in 2003. (Ha’aretz)

Palestinians celebrated the opening of their new million-dollar Parliament building in Ramallah, bemoaning the absence of President Arafat and deputies jailed by Israel. Most of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s 88 deputies attended the inauguration ceremony. Aside from Mr. Arafat, Messrs. Marwan Barghouti and Hossam Khader were absent, detained by Israel on terrorism charges. The Palestinian Authority paid $600,000 of the overall cost of the building, with the rest funded by Japan. The 3,000 m2 building in the centre of Ramallah would house the Parliament’s administration. The inaugural meeting in the new headquarters was expected to take place the following week. (Middle East Online)

The IDF announced that it was stepping up its battle against Palestinian militants. “In the light of the intensification of the activities of the terrorist organizations over the last few weeks, we will intensify our anti-terror operations,” IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe Ya’alon told Army Radio.“In this kind of situation, attack is the best form of defence.” Army Radioalso reported that the IDF senior officers had been ordered to “eliminate as many terrorists as possible” ahead of the proposed pullout from the Gaza Strip under Prime Minister Sharon’s plan. (AFP)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen said that “moving out of Gaza is completely consistent with what the Quartet has called for but in practical terms, the move cannot be done unilaterally." He denounced Israeli allegations that humanitarian funds were being siphoned off for other purposes by the PA. If donors were not spending one billion dollars a year to finance Palestinian health and education, “Israel would have to do it as an occupying Power. This is a deluxe occupation for Israel,” stated Mr. Rød-Larsen. (AFP)

Russia’s special envoy for the Middle East, Alexander Kalugin, said that Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza pullout was "good for the resumption of the peace process, but [those] steps must be taken in coordination with the Palestinians.” (AFP)

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair met Foreign Minister Shalom. They discussed the British plan for restarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The plan included reforms in the Palestinian Authority, especially in defence, in order to stop terror. Mr. Blair presented Mr. Shalom with a draft security plan, formulated by the British Government after secret talks with heads of the Palestinian security branches. The security plan envisages the redeployment of Israeli troops and the partition of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into small autonomous security areas, which would enjoy full independence. Each such area would have a commander, who would take responsibility over the area evacuated by the IDF. (Ma’ariv)

3

Israeli helicopters fired two missiles at a car driving through the Gaza Strip on a coastal road near the “Netzarim” settlement, killing three Palestinians, including two Hamas members. The air strike destroyed the car. Palestinian sources identified two of the dead as Ibrahim Udiri and Haytem Hassan. The third man was believed to be a relative of Mr. Udiri, whose affiliation was unknown. The IDF said in a statement that the air force had targeted a car carrying “senior Hamas militants” who had planned attacks against civilians in the past and were planning more. (AP, The Guardian, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Middle East Online)

Israeli troops shot dead a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Tulkarm refugee camp shortly after sunrise. The IDF said the man, armed with an assault rifle, had been approaching troops, who opened fire and killed him. The man was identified as Qaif Ofeh, 19 years of age. A Palestinian doctor said, “Ofeh was shot from very close range to the head. There are also signs of burns from cigarette butts in his face and stomach.” In Ramallah, doctors at a main hospital reported the death of Mohamed Badwan, 21, who had been shot and wounded during protests in Bidou on 26 February. Meanwhile, three Palestinians were moderately injured when Israeli troops opened fire on stone-throwers in the northern West Bank. (AFP, Albawaba.com, AP)

An Israeli female motorist was lightly wounded by a roadside bomb on "Road 60" between Bethlehem and Hebron. A firebomb had been thrown at a Jewish home in the Muslim quarter of East Jerusalem’s Old City, police said. No injuries or damage were reported, and the police apprehended the suspect shortly after the attack, aided by a surveillance camera. (The Jerusalem Post)

The IDF decided that Intisar Ajoury, the first Palestinian woman transferred from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, would be allowed to return home. (Ha’aretz)

PA Prime Minister Qureia said the Palestinian leadership had agreed to unify the Palestinian security services by forming a central headquarters. Speaking after a joint meeting of the Cabinet and the National Security Council headed by President Arafat, Mr. Qureia said the UK would fund the unification of the different Palestinian security services and provide the central headquarters. Mr. Qureia described the step as “important,” saying it would involve “rehabilitating and training the security services.” (Ha’aretz)

PA Minister of Telecommunications and Technology Azzam Al-Ahmad said PA President Arafat would not be able to attend the Arab summit due to take place in Tunis on 28-29 March. Mr. Arafat had been formally invited to participate in the summit. Mr. Al-Ahmad said, “I doubt that President Arafat would be able to participate in the Arab summit because Israel is still determined to impose siege on him.” He also said that the Fatah Revolutionary Council had called on all Arab countries and the Quartet to intervene to allow Mr. Arafat to attend the summit, which would discuss mechanisms in implementing the Arab peace initiatives. (XINHUA)

After a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told the press that Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan “could be a useful move if it is implemented within the framework of the Quartet’s Road Map and in coordination with the Palestinian side, [and that] an early meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Qureia could also be of great importance.” He also said, “You are certainly aware that the EU has adopted a Security Strategy …. The Arab-Israeli conflict should be at the heart of our policies; indeed, the resolution of the conflict is a strategic priority for Europe. Without this, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in the region. Therefore, in parallel to the efforts to reform it is essential to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.” US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, visiting Cairo a day earlier, had said that a democracy plan should not depend on a settlement of the Middle East conflict, whereas his host, Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, said the conflict had created tensions that had complicated the process of reform. (Ha’aretz, http:ue.eu.int/pressdata)

Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weissglas and National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland returned to Israel after talks with senior Bush Administration officials. Diplomatic sources indicated that they had so far failed to convince the US to back the “disengagement plan”, which would see Israel evacuate most of the settlements in Gaza and strengthen control of others in the West Bank. US officials “were not convinced” and demanded more details about the plan, including the numbers of settlements to be dismantled, as well as the timetable. (AFP)

4

At least 20 Israeli armoured vehicles entered Rafah refugee camp before dawn, in what the IDF said was an operation aimed at uncovering tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. The operation prompted heavy firefights in which two Palestinians had been killed. One was Mohammed Othman, 14-year-old schoolboy, who, according to AFP,had been fatally wounded in the stomach in the school courtyard, while four of his classmates had also been wounded. The other was Awni Kulab, a field commander of a Popular Resistance Committee, who had earlier been thought to have died as the result of the premature explosion of a bomb he was preparing. Medical officials said at least 14 Palestinians had been injured in exchanges of fire, three of them seriously. Residents said the Israeli soldiers had raided several houses in the area near the border, and bulldozers had demolished six houses and partially destroyed eight others. An IDF spokeswoman told Deutsche Presse-Agenturthat the Palestinians had confronted the Israeli force with heavy gunfire and explosive devices. IDF troops reportedly damaged water and electricity infrastructure in Rafah during the raid. According to IMEMC,the IDF also entered Nablus, where it had arrested four policemen, as well as Beit Jala and Beit Hanoun, and imposed a curfew on Beit Ummar and Al-Arroub villages near Hebron. (AFP, DPA, IMEMC, Reuters)

An Israeli was slightly injured and a building slightly damaged by a Qassam rocket fired into an Israeli settlement in the northern Gaza Strip. Earlier in the day, Palestinians fired at an IDF outpost near the “Neve Dekalim” settlement and threw grenades at an IDF patrol near the border with Egypt. In both incidents there were no casualties and no damage was caused. In the West Bank, 22 Palestinians were arrested. Three Palestinians were wounded in a firefight with IDF soldiers in Jenin. (Ma’ariv)

PA Prime Minister Qureia accused Israel of trying to aggravate the situation by resuming its policy of assassinating Palestinian militants. He told Voice of Palestineradio that an Israeli attack which had killed three Hamas members the previous afternoon showed that "Israel was not interested at all in pushing the situation towards calm and reaching a mutual and comprehensive ceasefire with the Palestinians, if the series of assassinations continues, there will be no room for calm." (DPA)

A spokesman at Prime Minister Sharon’s Office said nine West Bank settlement outposts faced removal “at any time” after settlers failed to have an eviction order overturned. The order to quit the outposts may be “a good way of showing good faith” before Mr. Sharon’s expected visit to Washington this month, a senior Israeli political source was quoted as saying. The Defence Ministry said settlers were to leave the outposts by afternoon, and if they stayed the IDF would forcibly remove them. Settlers vowed a last-minute appeal to Israel’s High Court of Justice to block any attempt to remove them from outposts, slated for removal under the Road Map. The settlers said they would not go quietly even if the Court upheld eviction orders first issued two months ago. “We plan to bring as many people as possible to resist passively,” settler spokeswoman Ruchie Avital said at “Ginot Aryeh,” a cluster of caravans listed for removal. (AP, Reuters, see also DF of 2 March 2004)

Arab foreign ministers ended their four-day meeting in Cairo. Asked if the Geneva Accord Initiative had been discussed during the meeting, Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa, who chaired the meeting, said: “It was not proposed for discussion. It was not discussed.” (Reuters)

The IDF transferred a Palestinian from Bethlehem to Gaza. (IMEMC)

Col. Rashid Abu Shbak, Head of the Preventative Security Service in the Gaza Strip, said at a press conference in Gaza City that the Palestinian Authority had decided “to apply tough measures to deal with breaches of the law, including attacks on journalists,” and was forming a joint task force to crack down on lawlessness in Gaza. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

A Jerusalem court ordered the release of 11 Israeli settlers from “Havat Maon” (“Maon Farm”), south of Hebron, detained on 3 March for fighting with Palestinians from Hirbat Atwana over grazing rights. Police said some of those detained were suspected of beating up a number of Palestinians, destroying a truck, and firing shots in the air. According to The Jerusalem Post, the site has always been a sore point between local Palestinian and Bedouin families, many of whom dwell in the area, and Israeli settlers. (Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post)

Ha’aretzreported that the IDF had occupied a Palestinian home in Hawwara, near Nablus, four days earlier and was preventing the family, including two children, from leaving. The IDF said that soldiers were to leave the house within hours. (Ha’aretz)

Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition filed against IDF plans to demolish Palestinian houses in Hebron. The IDF had originally intended to demolish 20 houses, located on a road called the "Worshippers’ Way", between the “Kiryat Arba” settlement and the Cave of the Patriarchs, but after the petition had been filed it changed its plans and notified the Court that it intended to demolish just two buildings. The petition was filed some 18 months ago by the Yesh Gvul (“There’s a Limit!”) group and the Hebron municipality. The petitioners asked the Court to delay carrying out the decision to allow time to ask for another High Court of Justice hearing on the issue, and to enable the Palestinian residents of the houses slated for demolition to document and photograph their homes. The State agreed to delay the demolition by a few days. (Ha’aretz)

According to The Financial Times,the British Government was ready to fund the unification of Palestinian security forces if the PA fulfilled a pledge to bring them under a central command. The British initiative would help the PA fulfil one of its cardinal commitments under the Road Map. (The Financial Times)

The IDF announced that it was sealing all Israeli-controlled crossings with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, except for humanitarian reasons, ahead of Purim to start on 7 March. Israel Army Radiosaid the closure would be enforced until 9 March. (AFP, DPA)

Mishael Cheshin of Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered a 10-day delay in the dismantling of settlement outposts by the IDF. The order was issued in response to a petition - filed by settler organizations - requesting an additional hearing on the verdict of 26 February, which allowed the evacuation of six outposts. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

5

Mo’taz Al-Sharafy, 10, died from wounds sustained on 29 February in Gaza City, when he had been hit in the head by a metal fragment while passing by a car used by Islamic Jihad members targeted in an Israeli air strike. (DPA, IMEMC)

A Qassam rocket fired from Gaza hit a parking lot outside a supermarket in the Israeli town of Sderot. The rocket damaged several nearby stores, but caused no injuries. (AP)

More than 10 IDF jeeps and armoured vehicles surrounded the muqataa, PA President Arafat’s Ramallah HQ, blocking the main entrance, as well as southern and western access points. Israeli security sources confirmed the presence of troops in the area undertaking “a routine activity, nothing exceptional.” (AFP)

Deutsche Presse-Agenturquoted Israeli security sources as saying that Israel would not begin implementing its unilateral disengagement plan until around March 2005: “It will take approximately one year until it is finalized, until it passes all the stages and until it is approved.” Defence Minister Mofaz reportedly made this clear in meetings he had held with the Israeli security establishment over the previous days. An Israeli source quoted by Reuters said Israel was likely to wait until after the US presidential election in November 2004 before dismantling Gaza settlements: “The Americans don’t want chaos in the Palestinian territories before the election.” (DPA, Reuters)

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour, Ehud Olmert, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph,said on the eve of a visit to London that Israel had to be realistic and hard-headed, insisting the barrier mark an interim border that would ensure a Jewish majority in Israel. He warned that Israel would face the prospect of a “South African-type conflict” unless it withdrew, and “transferred” Israeli settlers, from heavily populated Palestinian areas. Mr. Olmert also said that withdrawal to the Green Line would represent a “death penalty on the possibility of an agreement at any time in the future,” because it would remove any incentive for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. (The Jerusalem Post)

Labour MKs Avraham Burg and Amram Mitzna attended a meeting of the Palestinian Public Council in support of the Geneva Accord Initiative in Ramallah. Israeli security officials had reportedly warned the two not to travel to Ramallah because the city would be under closure. (Ma’ariv)

The European Commission issued a statement announcing a €1 million aid package for victims of Israeli house demolitions in the Gaza Strip. Some 13,000 Palestinians who had lost their homes in recent months would be provided with emergency shelter and relief items and with means for securing basic alternative accommodation. The funds are being channelled through the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) to UNRWA. “The demolitions are disproportionate acts that contravene international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson said in a statement. “We urge the Israeli military authorities to refrain from practices that aggravate the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinians.” (DPA, Ha’aretz)

A Palestinian teenager was seriously wounded in the head by Israeli gunfire near Jenin. Abdallah-al-Awna, 13, was hit when Israeli soldiers opened fire at a group of stone-throwers protesting against an army incursion in the village of Jabaa, near Jenin. (AFP)

6

Six Palestinians were killed during a failed assault on a Gaza border post in speeding jeeps disguised as Israeli military vehicles. The attack was a joint operation by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. “This was just the first of future joint operations confirming that we choose resistance and unity,” the three organizations said in a joint statement announcing the deaths of four militants. Two Palestinian policemen, who an Israeli general said might have been trying to stop the attack, were also killed. Brigadier-General Gadi Shamni, commander of the Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip, said the assault began when a Palestinian car exploded at the heavily guarded main Israeli-Gaza border crossing at "Erez"/Beit Hanoun. Hamas called it a suicide bombing and stated that the driver had been killed. Soon after, two jeeps painted in Israeli army khaki raced to the scene. A Palestinian gunman in the lead vehicle fired on soldiers, who shot him and the driver dead. The second jeep then exploded near a Palestinian police post about 100 metres away, killing the driver. Hospital officials said that at least 15 had been wounded. “It’s possible the Palestinian policeman tried to stop the jeep and the driver blew himself up or something malfunctioned,” according to General Shamni. (Albawaba.com, Reuters)

Israeli soldiers shot dead an 18-year-old Palestinian in the Tulkarm refugee camp. Soldiers raided the city and its camp in the early hours of the day and later clashed with students who were on their way to school. The soldiers opened heavy fire at some students in the market area, killing one, who was hit by several bullets. (DPA)

Israeli troops arrested a suspected armed militant from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades near the muqataain Ramallah. Mohammed Rashad Barghouti, 25, found carrying a Kalashnikov and two bombs, was arrested, according to a member of his organization. The suspect is related to Marwan Barghouti, the arrested Fatah West Bank leader, whom Israeli had accused of masterminding the ongoing intifada. (AFP)

7

At least 15 Palestinians were killed and more than 80 injured during an IDF operation in two refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip. Among the dead were nine Hamas members, one member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, one member of the Popular Resistance Committees and four children between the ages of 8 and 15. The fighting near the Bureij refugee camp pitted hundreds of Palestinians with assault rifles, anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers against Israeli snipers and troops firing from helicopters and tanks. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the deaths of the Palestinians killed in the raid. (DPA, The Guardian, Ha’aretz, Middle East Online, Reuters)

Local sources in Hebron said Israeli troops had arrested three Palestinians from the towns of Halhoul and Sa’ir, Palestinian sources said. Israeli troops had stormed Palestinian houses in each town during house-to-house search campaigns. Settlers from “Mitzpe Ya’ir,” south of Yatta, ruined the crops on 110 dunums of Palestinian land, as well as uprooting dozens of olive trees. The IDF arrested Ibrahim Seif, 14, from Nur Shams refugee camp, and Moayyad Nasralla, 25, from the Tulkarm refugee camp. (Albawaba.com)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returned from a European tour. At a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair, he had discussed the need for providing a favourable climate conducive to resuming the peace process in light of the unilateral Israeli plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, according to a press release. Speaking with Le Figaro,Mr. Mubarak said his country would not contribute to security in the Gaza Strip after any Israeli withdrawal. He said, “It is a trap because we would find ourselves in the situation of confrontation with the Palestinians. And if there were a problem, we could even find ourselves in conflict with the Israelis.” He also said, “It’s up to the Palestinian Authority to enforce the law and ensure security in Gaza. We can help along the border but the Palestinian Authority must have the means to be responsible for security in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.” (The Guardian, Reuters, www.sis.gov.eg)

8

Israeli undercover troops entered Salfit to arrest a suspect. During the operation, a neighbour of the suspect was killed by a stray bullet, his relatives said. Khaled Mahdi, a 34-year-old grocer and father of five, received a gunshot wound to the abdomen and died on the way to Rafidiya Hospital. Two others were wounded in the incident, including Yousef Al-Ber, 30, suspected by Israel of being a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. An Israeli military source said soldiers had opened fire when Mr. Al-Ber tried to flee, wounding him, then took him into custody. Media reported that a 16-year-old Palestinian, also named Khaled Mahdi, had been killed earlier in the day in the Gaza Strip. The Jerusalem Postthe next day gave his name as Khaled Muamar. The paper also reported that the incident had been investigated by the IDF, which declared that its soldiers had fired deterrent shots in the air, believing the teenager was attempting to approach the “Morag” settlement. (AP, The Jerusalem Post, Palestine Media Centre, Reuters)

Palestinian security sources said Khaled Mahdi, 16, had been helping his father in the family fields in the southern Gaza Strip during a school holiday when Israeli soldiers opened fire on them, killing the boy. Medics said Mahdi had been shot in the head. Israeli military sources confirmed that soldiers on patrol near the Morag settlement in southern Gaza had fired "warning shots'' and said they were checking whether anyone had been hit. (The Guardian, DPA, Ma’ariv, Reuters)

Israeli military officials said raids, such as the one in the Gaza Strip a day earlier, would continue, or even increase, ahead of an expected pullout from the area. The IDF had expressed concern that Palestinian militant groups in Gaza would escalate their armed activities in order to be able to claim the planned pullout as a victory. Israeli TV Channel 10military commentator Alon Ben-David said the purpose of the Israeli raids was to “kill as many armed Palestinians as possible. It’s a ritual in which everything is pre-planned. The army goes in, stations its snipers, then a convoy of armed vehicles moves in. The Palestinians don’t see the snipers, they begin to fire on armoured vehicles, and then they get hit. (DPA, The Jerusalem Post)

The following was made by the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General:

(SG/SM/9187-PAL/1976)

The League of Arab States condemned the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of pursuing a policy of escalation. A statement said: “Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa sharply denounces this savage military operation, which shows that Israel is slipping out of its international commitments.” It stated that the Israeli Government was “not understanding that the region needs peace and stability,” and that Israel could not be considered a “partner capable of reaching peace with the Arab side.” (AFP)

A report published by the PA Health Ministry claimed that 38 Palestinians had been killed since Prime Minister Sharon announced five weeks ago the plans to dismantle 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip. A total of 115 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year. The report called on the international community to intervene. (DPA)

Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon said in an interview with Israeli Radio,“It seems that in the past few years Israel has lost its ability to hurt armed Palestinians without also hurting innocent civilians, including children. Israeli security forces have managed in the past to conduct targeted operations in which only those whom they wished to harm were harmed while other remained untouched. (The Jerusalem Post)

Meretz MK Zahava Galon said the recent raid in Gaza had been aimed at undermining Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the area. Ms. Galon was demanding that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin slate an urgent debate about the operation. She was concerned that the IDF was carrying out operations due for politically motivated reasons. “The IDF may be signalling Sharon that it objects to a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,” Ms. Galon said. She added, “I hear defence experts say time and time again that no benefit comes out of these incursions … the Defence Minister has to clarify to the Knesset why the IDF repeatedly enters Gaza.” (Ma’ariv)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has called on Britain and the US to re-engage in pushing the peace process forward. “Today the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may be arriving at the rare positive turning point in the history of this long struggle,” he said at a lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. “This depends really on the proper performance of the international community … They should be able to cope with reform of the greater Middle East by looking into the reality of the existing problems of the region.” Mr. Qureia also said, “There is no doubt that such an important international approach will revive the Road Map. Without the US, it is impossible to have peace.” (Reuters)

In a press conference given by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and PA Prime Minister Qureia, Mr. Straw said, “The British Government is strongly committed to a two-State solution in which Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security, and we are very strongly committed to the Road Map which sets out the path to peace.” Mr. Straw also said that the loss of life on 6 and 7 March in Gaza reinforced the urgency of getting back to the peace process so that the Palestinian and Israeli people feel hope rather than despair. He expressed shock at the killings and asked that his condolences be passed on to the families of those killed. Mr. Qureia said in his meeting with Mr. Straw that they had “seen a good understanding and sympathy and support to the cause of peace in the region and to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.” He hoped that the “circle of violence will see an end, a real end, to convince the people on both sides that enough is enough. We discussed all the issues … in the context of the implementation of the Road Map.” (BBC, www.fco.gov.uk)

PA President Yasser Arafat was to hold talks in the coming days with Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman about Israeli plans to evacuate most settlements in the Gaza Strip. National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub, who recently returned from a visit in Egypt, said officials in Cairo had emphasized that any Israeli pullout must be coordinated with the PA. He said, “The Egyptians are worried also that the withdrawal from Gaza will be the first, as well as the last one." (AFP)

Israel’s Defence Minister endorsed a plan to speed up checks at West Bank roadblocks, but also make them more permanent. The Defence Ministry statement said the changes were meant “for humanitarian improvements for Palestinians in the West Bank,” but also included “transforming all roadblocks into regular crossing points/terminals governed by a work plan.” The plan includes a code of conduct for soldiers, high-tech devices for identifying people and a special lane for ambulances, VIPs and foreigners. Another aspect of the plan is to alter the route of Israel’s separation barrier and keep the gates in the barrier open longer. According to this “humane roadblocks” policy, IDF soldiers will be forbidden to use force as punishment, confiscate documents and car keys or humiliate Palestinians passing through roadblocks. One IDF commander reportedly recommended that Israel use millions of dollars confiscated from Palestinian banks to improve roadblocks, but it was not clear whether Defence Minister Mofaz had adopted the idea. (AFP, AP, DPA, The Jerusalem Post)

In a speech marking International Women’s Day, PA President Arafat called on women the world over to oppose Israeli occupation. The Palestinian woman “who gives birth at an Israeli checkpoint or dies there with her baby urges all women in the world to do everything they can to put an end to Israel’s despicable occupation,” he said in a radio address. He also urged all women to fight against “the inhumane Israeli aggression which results in barbarous executions, the construction of the annexation and apartheid wall on our land, raids, expulsions and the usurpation of our land.” He also called on Amnesty International to help “put an end to Israeli violence and repression against Palestinian women and ensure the liberation of our heroines held in Israeli jails.” (AFP)

Hundreds of Palestinian villagers, supported by Israeli peace activists and International Solidarity Movement volunteers, protested the work on the separation barrier near Beit Liqya and Beit Duqqu, not far from the “Mevo Horon” settlement north-west of Jerusalem, and clashed with IDF forces. Bulldozers were working near the place where the work had been stopped a week earlier by order of the High Court of Justice. The clashes involved stone throwing by the protesters and the use of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets by soldiers, the Ha’aretzreport said, adding that 10 Palestinians, one Israeli soldier and two of the workers on the fence had been wounded. (Ha’aretz, Palestine Media Centre, Xinhua)

Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on 30 April 2003, after denying it for nearly a year. Two bombers from Britain infiltrated from Gaza into Israel. One blew up a popular night spot, Mike’s Place, killing three people, and the other was found dead on a nearby beach two weeks later. Hamas said the pub bombing was a message to Israel that the group “has many options to fight against [it].” All the other suicide bombings in Israel originated in the West Bank. Hamas also released a farewell video in which Asif Hanif, 21, from a London suburb, spoke in English against Israel and what he said was a world indifferent to Palestinian suffering. (AP)

Israeli security officials said the army had dismantled 22 of a total 29 military roadblocks in the West Bank in the last six months. Four of the seven barriers still in place were located around Nablus. Another two were north and south of Ramallah and the last one north of Bethlehem, they said. Israeli state TV said the roadblocks had been torn down in keeping with a plan trying to limit areas of friction with the Palestinians. (AFP)

The IDF announced late in the day that “following a decision by the political echelon and in accordance with security assessment, it was decided to lift the general closure that was imposed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. With the lifting of the closure, entrance of workers and merchants into Israel and entrance of workers into the Erez Industrial Zone will be authorized.” Another IDF press release announced the change of command of its Gaza division the same day. In a ceremony held in the presence of the IDF OC Southern Commander, Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, Brig.-Gen. Shmuel Zakai replaced Brig.-Gen. Gadi Shamani. (AP, www.idf.il)

Israel’s High Court of Justice hearing on a petition against the construction of the separation barrier near Jerusalem, "Mevaseret Zion", had been postponed until 11 March due to “technical scheduling difficulties,” a Court spokeswoman said. The hearing had been originally set to take place on 7 March, then rescheduled for 9 March. (The Jerusalem Post; see also DF of 1 March 2004)

Prime Minister Sharon and the head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Omar Suleiman, had held a secret meeting at Mr. Sharon’s ranch in the Negev to discuss his disengagement plan and his intent to evacuate settlements from the Gaza Strip, Ha’aretzreported the following day. (Ha’aretz)

9

A Palestinian woman was killed and two people, including a news photographer, wounded when Israeli forces backed by tanks and combat helicopters raided Jenin, prompting a gun battle. Dalal al-Sabagh, 23 (Dalal Shihadeh, 25, according to IMEMC),was hit in the head and the stomach as she tried to move one of her three children away from the window in the family’s home during the shooting. A 25-year-old man had also been seriously wounded by shrapnel in the head, while AFPphotographer Saif Dahla, 28, had received a light wound to the leg. Israeli military sources said border police officers had exchanged fire with gunmen during an operation in which they arrested four Palestinians, including the head of the Islamic Jihad in Jenin, Anas Ansawi. According to IMEMC,12-year-old Mohammad Adnan Sa’adeh had also been injured in the town. (AFP, AP, IMEMC, The Jerusalem Post, Reuters)

In Hebron, Israeli soldiers arrested four Palestinians and settlers attacked Palestinians in the old city, wounding a woman. (IMEMC)

Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told reporters that the movement would soon unveil a plan to administer the Gaza Strip, should Israel carry out its announced intention to withdraw. The plan, currently being formulated, “includes political, administrative and social processes, as well as other fields that serve Palestinians.” While it has not yet been adopted by Hamas, it is expected to be approved by all the other factions as well as the PA. Sheikh Yassin also refuted reports that Hamas intended to assume control of the Gaza trip once the Israelis left, saying that [they] “never had the intention of taking over security responsibilities in the Strip” but “would seek cooperation and partnership among all the Palestinian national and Islamic movements.” Sheikh Yassin told APin an interview that such an agreement could help prevent conflict and chaos in Gaza, declaring “This proposed honour agreement will focus on the relations between the Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority and how to control the Gaza Strip, and to protect the stability and security of the Strip after the possible withdrawal.” Asked about Hamas participation in elections, he replied: “This depends on whether our people are going to receive their full freedom. What is the border of this withdrawal?” Sheikh Yassin also said: “No doubt our resistance will continue, even if they withdraw from Gaza. Resistance will continue until the end of the occupation.” (AP, DPA)

PA Prime Minister Qureia, speaking on BBC radio, said the US was not doing enough to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and would face a “real problem” if it did not intervene immediately to stop the violence. Mr. Qureia also urged Israel to agree to a mutual ceasefire and renew peace talks. He said he was “not against meeting” his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, but said any such meeting had to be a success, as a failure would be “catastrophic". "It will add to the frustration. But if the outcome is positive, it can be the beginning of a real breakthrough in the peace process,” he said. (BBC)

“If Israel continues to plunder Palestine by building the wall, it will be impossible with two states,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Qureia was quoted as saying by the Norwegian news agency NTBat a news conference in Oslo with Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. “When you close a door you have to open another door, or when you close that door you have to see what you can do to the windows. This is the way. This is politics.” However, Mr. Qureia said he believed that it was still possible to reach a peace agreement by the following year if Israel took negotiations seriously. He said high-level delegations from both sides would be meeting the following week in the hope of preparing for a summit with Prime Minister Sharon. “We want a meeting. If this preparatory meeting goes well, I hope the meeting with Sharon will not be [very far off].” (AP, DPA, Reuters)

The IDF had killed 205 Palestinian women since the outbreak of intifada in September 2000, said a report released by the PA Health Ministry the day after International Women’s Day. Over the same period, an additional 55 Palestinian women had given birth at Israeli military checkpoints, which led to the deaths of 33 newborns and 31 women, the report stated. The Ministry called on the UN and WHO, as well as human rights organizations, to pressure Israel into abiding by the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect women and all Palestinians. (Xinhua)

PA President Arafat would be prepared to meet Prime Minister Sharon in order to revive the stalled diplomatic process, United Arab List MK Taleb As-Sanaa said following his meeting with Mr. Arafat in Ramallah. (The Jerusalem Post)

South Africa expressed concern over the escalation of violence in Palestine, where 14 people were killed over the weekend. The Department of Foreign Affairs said recent actions by Palestinian militants and the IDF had sparked a renewed cycle of violence and counter-violence: “This bodes ill for any prospect of stability in this troubled region, leaving ordinary Israelis and Palestinians yearning for peace.” Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said: “The excessive use of force that led to the deaths of several children aged 8, 12 and 15 is utterly unacceptable under any circumstance. The Government would like to call on members of the international community to ensure the momentum for proper dialogue between the two countries. Acts such as the one that was witnessed over the weekend cannot be allowed to hold the peace process hostage.” (Xinhua)

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, said he would meet later that week with promoters of the Geneva Accord Initiative, saying in a statement: “While the Quartet Road Map remains the blueprint for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Geneva Initiative gives some indication of how the difficult problems associated with final-status issues might be addressed. I look forward to discussing these ideas with Yasser Abed Rabbo and Amram Mitzna on Thursday.” (AFP)

Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said: “We want an international force that includes Arab parties and the Arab League, to enable the Palestinian Authority to establish its rule on any territory evacuated by the Israeli forces.” Mr. Abed Rabbo was speaking after a meeting with the Arab League's Secretary-General Amre Moussa in Cairo. IMEMCthe previous day reported that MK Yossi Sarid also supported sending an international force to Gaza after Israel had evacuated it. (AFP, IMEMC)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said to a Ma’arivreporter that Prime Minister Sharon’s “disengagement plan” from Gaza was “a step in a positive direction. We need to know more about it, but anything that propels the process forward is good. I believe that the disengagement plan must be coordinated between Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinians and also the Quartet.” He also said that “the Geneva Initiative and others are excellent, as long as they help move the process forward. When we talk of comprehensive peace, we must have a practical solution, like the Road Map. Issues like disengagement are only part of the bigger picture.” When asked about the effects of the separation barrier on the demographic balance of Jordan, the King replied, “The intifada has created sensitivities between Israelis and Jordanians, but we must look beyond that. The project that is being launched in the Araba [the joint Israeli-Jordanian Bridging the Rift Center on the border of the two countries] allows us to step aside from politics and develop real peace among people. This is an educational project for the benefit of the whole region, and it is also important for Israel’s future relationships with the rest of the Middle East.” (Albawaba.com, Ma’ariv, www.mfa.gov.jo)

10

Five members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were killed by an Israeli undercover unit that intercepted their vehicle in Jenin. Their bodies were taken by Israeli soldiers to a roadblock at the entrance to Jenin, where they were recovered by Palestinian ambulance men, according to a security source. The men shot were identified as Ayman Sabahna, Amer Sakhel, Mohammed Khairallah, Iyhab Abu Jaafar and Bassem al-Mahdi. An Israeli military source said a unit taking part in an arrest operation in Jenin had opened fire after spotting the suspects armed with M16 assault rifles and Kalashnikovs. PA President Arafat condemned the attack as a “massacre.” (AFP, Albawaba.com, BBC, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Middle East Online)

Israeli forces with tanks, APCs and bulldozers entered the Rafah refugee camp, surrounding two houses and exchanging fire with Palestinian gunmen. A military official said the army was operating in the Rafah area, but refused to elaborate. According to WAFA,the Israeli troops had injured at least three Palestinians, including a pregnant woman identified as Rahab Awisi. She was wounded when her house was shelled by Israeli tanks. (AFP, Albawaba.com, Ma’ariv)

In Khan Yunis, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded two Palestinians, including a woman. Nasser Hospital sources said Sanaa al-Batta, 37, had been wounded in the face by shrapnel, while Mosleh Zo’orob, 27, had received a gunshot wound to his left hand. Also in Khan Yunis, a month-old infant, Hussam Al-Naijar, died after Israeli soldiers banned an ambulance from taking him to a hospital in the city. Medics said soldiers stationed at the al-Tuffah checkpoint prevented for more than an hour the ambulance carrying the infant and his family from reaching the Mubarak Children’s Hospital. After his death, the Israeli soldiers allowed the ambulance to pass. In the village of Serreas, south of Jenin, Israeli troops arrested two Palestinians. (Albawaba.com)

Prime Minister Sharon has given instructions to the Defence Ministry to streamline and thereby cut by 170 km the planned route of the separation barrier being built inside the West Bank, subject to Government approval. Mr. Sharon’s office said the Prime Minister had asked for adjustments to reduce friction with Palestinians, but did not give figures for any changes to the route. A source also said that Mr. Sharon was trying to win President Bush’s approval for a separation plan from the Palestinians, if the Road Map remained stalled. The plan would likely involve the setting of a new “security line” along the route of the wall as well as the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

In his latest report to the Commission for Human Rights, South African law professor John Dugard said Israel’s building of the separation barrier showed its main aim was to seize land rather than give protection against suicide bombers. “The manner in which it has been built, largely on Palestinian territory, cannot, however, be justified on security grounds.” He also stated that by creating “anger, anxiety and humiliation” among Palestinians, the wall would increase rather than reduce Israel’s insecurity. The report also said the operation of a permit system for access to the so-called “closed zone” areas between it and the Green Line, caused great hardship to Palestinians. “The main beneficiaries of the Wall are settlers … [who] will find themselves … with access to land separated from its Palestinian owners.” (Reuters)

Prime Ministers Sharon and Qureia had agreed to meet in a summit that would probably be held the following week, according to a PA official. The tentative date for the summit was 16 March. Aides to each Prime Minister said more preparations would be required and the date was not final. (AFP, AP)

The head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Omar Suleiman, held talks with PA President Arafat at the muqataa in Ramallah. Palestinian officials said the talks focused on the Gaza Strip, particularly insisting that any Israeli pullout be coordinated with the Palestinians and Egypt. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was expected to visit Cairo on the same day, to ask President Hosni Mubarak to help ensure security in Gaza if Israel withdrew. Earlier, President Mubarak had rejected a military role in Gaza but Israeli officials said they were optimistic Egypt was ready to listen to their proposals. Israeli officials said Mr. Shalom would explore a number of options with Egypt, including a possible role in Gaza or security of the border with Egypt. (AFP, AP, The Guardian)

The Israeli National Union Party, headed by Minister of Transportation MK Avigdor Lieberman, presented a proposal that would annex the Occupied Palestinian Territory to Israel. MK Brig.-Gen. Aryeh Eldad, who presented the proposal, said it was in reply to Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the compensation plan for the to-be-removed settlers. According to the proposal, the northern borders would be the UN-recognized borders with Lebanon, where the ceasefire borders represented the borders with Syria. On the eastern side, the borders with Jordan would be defined according to the Araba Valley peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994 and where the borders between Egypt and Gaza were the southern borders of Israel. The proposal also suggested compensation for those who would decide to leave their hometowns, listing a number of eligible cities including Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, Gaza, Khan Younis, Rafah, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Yatta and Halhoul. (IMEMC)

Three US envoys were headed for Israel to discuss Prime Minister Sharon’s plan, according to the State Department. The team was composed of Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Assistant Secretary William Burns, National Security Council member Stephen Hadley and its Middle East director, Elliott Abrams. (AFP)

An opinion poll showed that 60 per cent of Israelis were in favour of the plan to evacuate settlers from Gaza, but signalled concern that Palestinian militants would claim victory and keep fighting. But the level of support was significantly lower than the 80 per cent who, in a December 2003 poll, had said they approved of a withdrawal plan as part of a peace treaty. “With a peace process seemingly beyond the horizon, Israelis have an emotional urge to cut the Gordian knot with Palestinians and get out of the present mess,” stated Tamar Herman, co-director of the regular Peace Index poll. The poll queried 580 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.5 per cent. (Reuters)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen attended a working-level meeting of the Quartet in Washington. Mr. Larsen also met with US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussing ways in which the international community could assist the parties in the Middle East peace process, including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. On the instructions of the Secretary-General, Mr. Larsen then headed for the United Kingdom to see Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for further discussions on these issues. (AFP, UN News Centre)

11

Israeli troops entered Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and demolished three houses. In the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested 13 Palestinians, nine of whom were Fatah members, according to security forces on both sides. The IDF demolished the house of one of them in the village of Kfar Hussan, near Bethlehem. (AFP, IMEMC)

The IDF has seized 300 hectares (740 acres) of Palestinian land in four villages for its separation barrier. Confiscation orders were sent to the municipal councils of Masah, Al-Zawiya, Rafat and Deir Ballut, southeast of Qalqilya. The documents were signed by Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who heads the Israel IDF Central Command in charge of the West Bank. (AFP)

Israel’s High Court of Justice extended for another week an order to put on hold the construction of a section of the separation barrier in the West Bank. The freeze, which would remain in force until 17 March, allows the Court to examine appeals presented by residents of eight Palestinian villages in the West Bank against the construction of the wall. It would also give time to negotiate the route of the barrier in north-eastern Jerusalem, including the Palestinian villages of Beit Surik and Biddo. Peace activists from the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights demonstrated in front of the court building. The protesters vowed to continue protests in the village of Beit Duqqu, west of Ramallah, which had not been affected by the suspension order. (AFP)

In a televised speech on the occasion of the opening of the Palestine Legislative Council’s ninth session in Ramallah, PA President Yasser Arafat said he would welcome Israel’s planned pullout from the Gaza Strip as a step towards a full withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “We welcome any Israeli withdrawal from any part of our occupied land, from Gaza and the West Bank, in order to reach full withdrawal of the army of occupation and its settlers from all the occupied territories.” He added that any pullout “should be concluded through a resumption of dialogue between us and the Israelis and in the framework of the implementation of the Road Map,” and called on the Quartet to put down binding mechanisms on both parties in order to carry out the implementation simultaneously and in a balanced manner under international auspices and supervision. “In this regard, I call for an immediate agreement for a total withdrawal to the situation prior to the 29th of September 2000, and for a binding and mutual ceasefire,” he said. (AFP, Albawaba.com, Reuters)

Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom met with Egyptian Prime Minister Mubarak, Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Cairo, to discuss the Israeli disengagement plan. Following the meeting, Mr. Mubarak said his country would not send troops to the Gaza Strip if Israel withdrew. “We told the Palestinians they should themselves be responsible for the security situation (in the Gaza Strip). I promised the Foreign Minister we would tighten security along our border with the Gaza Strip, and we agreed on certain issues on this regard.” Mr. Shalom said he and Mr. Mubarak had discussed aspects of the plan that would bring in Egypt, such as guarding the Gaza-Egypt border and the future of a road along the frontier, but indicated that the talks were inconclusive from Israel’s point of view. “There is obviously a need to continue the dialogue with them on these issues,” said Mr. Shalom. In an interview with Israel Radio,Mr. Shalom said, “We think Egypt should have a permanent role, irrespective of the programme, in preventing smuggling of arms and people … This [withdrawal] plan will be done in coordination with the Americans as well as with the Egyptians.” (AFP, Albawaba.com, BBC, Reuters)

Prime Minister Sharon met in Jerusalem with US envoys, including Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council and William Burns of the State Department, to discuss the proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The Prime Minister’s Office said the meeting lasted for more than three hours, and more talks had been scheduled for the following day. The core of the talks was expected to be the relationship between the number of settlements Israel would evacuate in the West Bank and the level of the US recognition of the settlement blocks of “Ariel,” “Ma’aleh Adumim” and “Gush Etzion,” which Israel had wanted to annex in a future peace agreement. Israel had asked the US for the right to conduct hot pursuit in the Gaza Strip after a withdrawal if terror continued. Government sources said the US Administration was not requiring Israel to coordinate any withdrawals with the PA. Speaking in Washington, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East David Satterfield said the US had not yet formulated a position regarding Mr. Sharon’s plan and would do so only after the Administration had received more answers from Israel. Mr. Satterfield added that Israel had to take into account that disengagement must also be carried out in the West Bank, similar to what Israel was considering in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Sharon was expected to present details of his plan to the Knesset on 15 March. (AFP, Ha’aretz, IMEMC, Middle East Online)

Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, head of Israel’s National Security Council, has handed the initial draft of the disengagement plan to Prime Minister Sharon. Ma’arivreported that according to the draft, settlements in the Gaza Strip except “Nisanit,” “Dugit” and “Elei Sinai” would be evacuated. These three settlements are located on the northern edge of the Strip, close to the border with Israel, with no Palestinian towns in between. The draft also recommended retaining Israeli control of the “Philadelphi Corridor” near Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, and leaving the entire Israeli infrastructure intact. Regarding the West Bank, the draft listed three possibilities: no withdrawal; a withdrawal limited to the northern West Bank; and a larger-scale disengagement. The recommendations focused on the latter option, entailing a two-staged withdrawal. Stage one would see an evacuation of “Ganim,” “Kadim” and two other settlements near Jenin. The second stage would include a withdrawal from an additional 15 to 20 settlements. (Ma’ariv)

PA Prime Minister Qureia began a visit to Paris by meeting with President Chirac. He was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. He was accompanied by PA Foreign and Finance Ministers Nabil Shaath and Salam Fayyad, as well as Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Hervé Ladsous said, “We are concerned by the delays facing the implementation of the Quartet’s Road Map.” Mr. Ladsous said France believes “there is no other path but the implementation of this plan to arrive at a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The pursuit of violence by either side cannot but lead to more tragedies and put back hopes for a settlement of the conflict.” (AFP, DPA)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said Israeli restrictive policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the decision to build a separation barrier, were pushing many Palestinians towards destitution. The report entitled “Food Security Assessment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip” stated that Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” initiated in March 2002, had “tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods,” leading to a difficult food security situation for four out of ten Palestinians. “Food insecurity is a reality for 1.4 million people (40 per cent of the population) and a near constant worry for an additional 1.1 million people (30 per cent), who were under threat,” the report said. It also said the per capita incomes in the West Bank and Gaza had falenl by 23 per cent in real terms during 2001 and by the same amount in 2002. It called for the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and goods “to ensure free access of farmers to their lands, animals and markets and the free and unhindered movement of food aid and humanitarian workers.” The report had been requested by the PA’s Ministry for Agriculture and was carried out by FAO, WFP and UNRWA. It was co-funded by the European Commission and USAID. (DPA)

Israeli police fired rubber bullets to quell an uprising by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in an Ashkelon prison south of Tel Aviv, a Palestinian prisoners’ protection group said in Bethlehem. The association said prisoner representatives told them that some 900 prisoners had rioted over threats by prison officials to confiscate their mobile telephones. Police had put down the uprising, wounding at least four prisoners, the group told AFP, which could not get a confirmation from the Israeli prison service. (AFP)

12

Israel Radioquoted Al-Hayatas reporting that Egypt and Israel had discussed amending the Camp David peace agreement to allow Cairo to secure its border with the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal. The Camp David agreement would not permit a heavy Egyptian security presence along the border, which prevents providing security after a withdrawal, Egyptian Information Minister Safwar al-Sharif was quoted as saying. Mr. Sharif further said “Cairo and Tel Aviv discussed amending the Camp David agreement or signing new agreements that guarantee establishing a border guard with its mission.” (Ha’aretz)

Senior aide to PA President Arafat Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Egyptian-sponsored talks between the Palestinian factions and the PA would be held in Cairo and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks, though he did not give a date. “The dialogue will focus on the aftermath of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, how the Palestinians should run Gaza,” Mr. Abu Rudeineh said. “If Israel were to withdraw from the Gaza Strip without any coordination with the Palestinian Authority, which is what it wants, it will be of utmost importance to hold an inter-Palestinian dialogue ... to agree on a plan to administer Gaza,” Mr. Abu Rudeineh told AFP. (AFP, AP)

Fatah and Hamas held talks on the future of the Gaza Strip after a possible Israeli withdrawal. “We have discussed the internal situation and ways to stop chaos and maintain public order, and we also discussed issues pertaining to the future,” Samir Al-Mashharawi, a Fatah negotiator, said about the meeting held on 10 March. “We talked about the possibility of Hamas participation in the Palestinian Authority after the withdrawal, the future of resistance from the Gaza Strip, the fate of the West Bank and a number of political issues at the core of Palestinian concern.” The talks reportedly included senior leaders based outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr. Mashharawi told Reutersthat Hamas had not raised any demands. (Reuters)

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Rød-Larsen, would not be attending the planned Israeli-Palestinian summit of Prime ministers, and that no UN officials had been invited. (AFP)

Three visiting US envoys - Under-Secretary of State William Burns, Deputy Director of the National Security Council Stephen Hadley, and the Council’s Middle East specialist, Elliot Abrams - met Palestinian and Israeli officials in the region. Foreign Minister Shalom told Israel Radioafter meeting the US team that Israel was seeking full US support, not just “a nod of the head” for its disengagement plan. The US team also met PA Cabinet Ministers Saeb Erekat and Salam Fayyad. Mr. Erekat said the US envoys had not provided details of the Gaza withdrawal plan, but wanted to hear the views of the PA. “We stressed ... that this should be part of the road map and part of President Bush’s vision of a two-state solution,” Erekat said. (AP)

PA Prime Minister Qureia, on a visit to France, had restated his agreement for an international peace force in Gaza after a possible Israeli withdrawal, the Foreign Ministry in Paris said. “There is wide agreement on this concept,” said spokesman Hervé Ladsous. (AFP)

Ha’aretzreported that Prime Minister Sharon was considering limiting his disengagement plan to the Gaza Strip only, without a withdrawal from the West Bank, and would explore this possibility over the next few days, along with an alternative of a small, purely symbolic withdrawal from the West Bank. (Xinhua)

The IDF confirmed that it had issued expropriation orders for Palestinian land in the area of Deir Ballut village. Palestinians living in four West Bank villages close to Israel said they had received military orders expropriating more than 3,000 hectares (8,000 acres) of land - mostly olive groves and agricultural fields. The land would be used for a 5 km section of the separation barrier that would close the gap between the nearby “Elkana” settlement and the "Trans-Samaria Highway". This section of the barrier was to be built relatively close to the "Green Line", suggesting that Israel had decided not to move the barrier 17 km into the West Bank to wrap around the “Ariel” settlement. Changes also included cancelling the plan to create extensions, or “fingers,” around the settlements “Karnei Shomron,” “Immanuel” and “Kedumim.” “Ariel” would be surrounded by a local fence, and it was possible that the opening between it and the "Green Line" would be closed by a “light” fence. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Jordan had asked Prime Minister Sharon to retract publicly his past declarations of Jordan being the authentic Palestinian state, Deputy Industry, Trade and Labour Minister Michael Ratzon (Likud) told The Jerusalem Post.A senior delegation of Jordanian officials met with Mr. Sharon on 9 March in his official residence, at a reception marking the launching of a joint Israeli-Jordanian science centre. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post,Mr. Ratzon said members of the delegation, with whom he met two days later, had told him that Mr. Sharon had promised to “find an appropriate time and place to announce that Jordan is for the Jordanians, and that he no longer views Jordan as the Palestinian state.” (The Jerusalem Post)

At its 277th meeting, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People opened its 2004 session. The Secretary-General made a statement at the meeting. The Committee elected its new Bureau and adopted the programme of work for the year. The Bureau consisted of the Chairman of the Committee, two Vice-Chairmen and the Rapporteur. Ambassador Paul Badji (Senegal) was elected Chairman of the Committee. (UN press releases GA/PAL/945 and SG/SM/9194-GA/PAL/946)

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Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians before dawn in an off-limits military zone about 100 metres from a fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel, the Israeli military said, adding that the men were armed with two Kalashnikov assault rifles, 10 hand grenades and a pipe bomb. IDF sources said troops had seen two “suspect silhouettes” approaching the fence and opened fire, hitting them both. The two men were identified as Mohammed Haboush, 20, of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and Saed Mreish, 20, from a Gaza Fatah-affiliated group, the Ahmed Abu ul-Resh Brigades. Both groups said the attack was in retaliation for an Israeli raid at the al-Bureij and Nuseirat refugee camps, during which 15 Palestinians had been killed. The Israeli military suspected the men planned to attack kibbutz Nahal Oz, just across the border. (AFP, AP, DPA)

An IDF patrol had shot dead a Palestinian and wounded a disabled man in the West Bank, PA representatives said. A roadside bomb reportedly exploded in the village of Talusa near Nablus, prompting the soldiers to open fire. (DPA)

“We are proceeding with the Road Map as if there is no disengagement plan and proceeding with the disengagement plan as if there is no Road Map,” Prime Minister Sharon’s adviser Assaf Shariv told AP. But a failure to achieve progress at the expected summit could bring Israel a step closer to implementing the disengagement plan, Mr. Shariv said, “If we don’t advance in the Road Map, then we have our own plan.” (AP)

A Palestinian woman transferred from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip for sewing explosives belts worn by suicide bombers was to return to her home in Nablus, Israeli military officials and Palestinians said. Intisar Ajouri, 29, along with her brother Kifah, were the first two Palestinians deported by Israel in 2002, after a military court found they had aided another brother, Ali Ajouri, who was believed by Israel to have organized Tel Aviv suicide bombings in 2002 that had killed five Israelis. He was killed in an Israeli operation later that year. A military appeals committee accepted a petition from Ms. Ajouri on 3 March, reducing her two-year expulsion by six months. The committee had received no intelligence information that she would be a threat to Israel any longer, Israeli military officials said, adding that they did not know of any appeal by Kifah Ajouri, who had helped his brother by standing watch as he transported explosives. The Israeli military officials confirmed that her return had been coordinated within the army. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said Ms. Ajouri would return on 14 March. However, she was turned back at "Erez"/Beit Hanoun border crossing after a suicide bombing at the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod. The IDF said heightened security measures had held up Ms. Ajouri’s departure until Monday. (AP, Reuters; see also 3 March 2004)

Hundreds of young people marched through Oslo to protest Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank, Norwegian news reports said. The march, which ended at the Israeli Embassy, was organized by Blitz organization. Police said the march had been peaceful and created traffic problems in the Norwegian capital, news agency NTB reported. (AP)

An annual report by the Independent Palestinian Human Rights Institute accused Israeli forces of killing 627 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2003, including 123 children and 17 women. Seventeen killed were assassinated, while 50 were killed during militant operations against Israeli targets. The report, which said that more than 2,000 Palestinians had been wounded in 2003, also accused Israeli occupation authorities of arresting thousands of Palestinians, some of them relatives of suicide bombers. It charged Israeli forces with targeting Palestinian medics, journalists and TV crews, and said scores of Palestinian journalists had been “humiliated, beaten and at times prevented from covering events.” The report also said Israeli forces had damaged at least 2,000 Palestinian homes, including the destruction of 790. (UPI)

The Palestinian leadership was ready to hold negotiations with the Israeli Government, Hani Al-Hassan, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said. “Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, who believes only in military choices, should not believe that Palestinians would make concessions because of the pressures exerted on them,” Mr. Al-Hassan told the reporters. He said the Palestinians could confront Israel, and “[Mr.] Sharon … and his military officers have failed in breaking down Palestinians’ will and lost the battle with the Palestinian people.” “The dream of establishing a Palestinian State is becoming real and it wouldn’t exceed the year 2007,” he said, adding “the Palestinian sacrifices have made Mr. Sharon and President Bush understand that breaking our will is impossible.” (Xinhua)

Palestinian officials announced that Egypt would host a Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo to discuss ways of controlling the Gaza Strip after a possible IDF pullout and evacuation of Israelis from settlements. Fatah and Hamas had already held talks on 10 March to discuss the future of the Gaza Strip, said Samir al-Mashharawi, a senior Fatah official, adding that the two groups had discussed the internal situation and ways to stop chaos and maintain public order, saying “We also discussed issues pertaining to the future. We talked about the possibility of Hamas participation in the PNA after the Israeli withdrawal, the future of resistance in the Gaza Strip, the fate of the West Bank and a number of political issues.” It was the first dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip since Prime Minister Sharon proposed evacuating Israeli settlements in Gaza should the Road Map fail. Said Sayam, a senior Hamas representative from Gaza, stated that his movement had also held talks and exchanged views with other Palestinian factions and groups. (Xinhua)

A Hamas leader announced that the group would not participate in a meeting of the different Palestinian security apparatuses and political groups to be held soon in the Gaza Strip. Such a meeting had already taken place on 11 March, without Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Mohamed Nazzal, a senior Hamas leader based in Syria, told the movement's official website that Hamas had its own vision on the security situation and how to administer the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal. He said the Hamas leaders in and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory were discussing Gaza’s future “in order to come up with the best form that goes in harmony with the current circumstances.” “Reinforcing national unity among the Palestinians, avoiding internal confrontation and agreement among all the factions and groups on how the Gaza Strip would be administrated right after the Zionist withdrawal are three major factors.” He reiterated Hamas’s opposition to the peace accords reached between the Palestinians and Israel, in particular the Oslo Accords, saying: “Oslo can never be part of the plan to administrate the Gaza Strip after the pullout.” (Xinhua)

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Israeli forces had shot and killed three Palestinian militants near the road connecting the "Karni" commercial passage and Israeli settlement of “Netzarim,” the IDF said. Soldiers had searched the area after the shooting and discovered explosives on the men’s bodies, according to the army. According to sources quoted by Xinhua,Israeli soldiers opened heavy gunfire at three members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, while the latter were trying to plant a roadside bomb, killing two of them and seriously wounding the third. (AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

Two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up in the closely guarded Israeli port of Ashdod, killing 11 Israelis in the first deadly attack on a strategic installation in more than three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility for the attack, saying it came in response to Israeli killings of Palestinians. The attacks, which occurred at around 5:00 pm (1500 GMT), hit a citrus fruit packaging factory just inside the port and a makeshift cabin on a road running alongside it. Separating the two attack sites is a wide three-lane road lined with olive trees. Area police commander Moshe Karadi said that the bombers had been trying to blow themselves up next to tanks of bromide or other dangerous chemicals stored in the port. The explosions had gone off some way from the chemical storage area, possibly prematurely, he said. Mr. Karadi also told reporters that the explosives used were “different from other such cases.” Israel TV said they were high-grade plastic explosives not used before in Palestinian attacks. The bombers were identified as Nabil Massoud and Mahmoud Salem, both 17, and classmates in the 11th grade of a high school in the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City. The teens’ fathers said they were proud of their sons. The attackers, residents of a Gaza refugee camp, were the first Palestinian bombers from Gaza to infiltrate into Israel during the current intifada. A militant leader in Gaza, who identified himself only as Abu Qusay, told APhe believed the bombers had crawled through tunnels. Abu Qusay said the bombers had intended to blow up fuel storage tanks in Ashdod, but the explosions had gone off several hundred metres away. Initial reports by Israel Radioblamed a suspected gas explosion. (AFP, AP, The Jerusalem Post)

The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told reporters in Gaza City: “This operation is legitimate and confirms the only choice for Palestinians is to continue to resist Israeli occupation and avenge the crimes of Israel. Our people will continue its struggle and the [Ashdod] operation is part of jointly led actions.” Speaking to Al-JazeeraTV, senior Hamas official Abdelaziz al-Rantissi said: “We offer this operation as a present to the Arab and Islamic resistance.” He added, “We will continue the resistance and strike everywhere,” and said that Prime Minister Sharon’s planned withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip “will not mean that resistance will end.” “We are saying to the Israelis, Sharon has brought you only death and destruction, that is why you must get out of our land,” Rantissi added. “Neither the separation barrier, nor Zionist terrorism, nor the plots of America against the resistance will be able to stop us.” Hamas speaker Said Sayam also called the suicide attacks a natural response to the Israeli military operation last week in the Gaza Strip, during which 15 Palestinians were killed. Mr. Sayam told reporters the attack would not affect Israel’s decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip saying that the IDF would pull out from the Gaza Strip by force and not by its own volition. (Xinhua)

After the double suicide bombing in Ashdod, Prime Minister Sharon called off a meeting with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia that had tentatively been set for 16 March. Mr. Sharon’s Bureau Director Dov Weissglas and Mr. Qureia’s Bureau Chief Hassan Abu Libdeh had met earlier in the day and agreed to hold yet another round of preparatory talks on 15 March, sources on both sides said. That meeting has also been cancelled. (AFP, AP)

Following the suicide bombing in Ashdod, Israel closed the "Erez"/Beit Hanoun border crossing and cancelled Gaza workers’ entry permits, barring some 19,000 Palestinians from jobs in Israel. Military officials said there was concern the bombers had used forged IDs and permits to get through the border into Israel. An IDF statement announcing the decision said that the workers could still enter the Erez Industrial Zone and that the Rafah terminal remained open. (AFP, AP, UPI, www.idf.il)

“We condemn the targeting of civilians on both sides and the continuation of the military escalation,” Prime Minister Qureia and his Government said in a statement. “We call again on the Israeli Government to stop the exchange of fire between the two sides as soon as possible,” the statement added. Such attacks worked against the Palestinian national interest as they served to give the Israelis an excuse “to continue their aggressions and build the wall.” (AFP)

PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the Ashdod attacks on behalf of the PA and expressed regret that Israel had cancelled the bilateral talks. In a statement sent to the press, the Palestinian Authority urged all the Palestinian factions to stop such attacks immediately and called on Israel to commit itself to a ceasefire “to break the cycle of violence” and to implement the Road Map. (AP, Xinhua)

The EU has condemned the suicide bombings in Ashdod and demanded Palestinian radicals call an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. “Atrocities of this nature cannot be justified by any cause” said a statement from Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency. “The organizations responsible for this outrage must realize that terrorism is not an option. They should end their campaign and enter into an unconditional ceasefire without delay.” Cowen also expressed disappointment at the Israeli Government’s decision, in response to the attacks, to postpone talks between Prime Ministers Sharon and Qureia. The EU statement called for “the two leaders to meet as soon as possible in order to advance the process of negotiation.” (AP)

A big Israeli military force backed by armoured vehicles had moved into the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, Palestinian sources said. Israeli Public Radiosaid the aim of the operation was to arrest and detain a number of Palestinians wanted by the IDF. The IDF also raided Tulkarm. Two Palestinian houses in Balata and four in Tulkarm were seized by the soldiers and turned into military posts. In Zawata, 3 km west of Nablus, the army arrested four Palestinian men. Palestinian security sources said they were not wanted by the Israeli authorities. (AFP, Xinhua)

The PA had prepared a security plan for the Gaza Strip that would ban militants from carrying arms in public, according to a copy obtained by AP. The plan, finalized on 4 March after discussions with Egyptian officials, leaves military intelligence chief Moussa Arafat at the head of a new security force of 700 soldiers that would maintain order on the border of Egypt and Gaza, Palestinians security sources said. The proposal was presented to Palestinian militant groups last week for comment. Under the proposal, which details steps over a five-week period, Palestinian security forces will begin enforcing traffic laws, protecting ministries and demanding users to pay for water and electricity. By the fifth week, the Palestinian Authority would declare it illegal to carry guns in public. (AP)

In consultations on the future of the Gaza Strip, Egypt had asked Israel to let Gaza Palestinians work in Israel and to keep supplying the Gaza Strip with water and electricity, Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Eli Shaked said. Mr. Shaked, speaking as first reports of the Ashdod suicide attack came in, said Egypt had asked Israel to build a physical link between Gaza and the West Bank and to coordinate any withdrawal from Gaza with the Palestinian side. Mr. Shaked said Israel had promised to keep supplying water and electricity and would let Gazans work in Israel as long as Gaza was at peace and no suicide bombers crossed into Israel. He said Israel would seriously consider a land link with the West Bank, whether by railroad or highway, but that under present circumstances it did not see how it could meet Egypt’s demand to coordinate withdrawal with the Palestinians. Israel was willing to amend the 1979 treaty because Egypt would need more forces on the border, adding: “If we get out, then the Egyptians will be the main factor to protect against smuggling activity and the digging of tunnels, then the numbers and the quality of military personnel and equipment must be different than agreed upon 25 years ago.” The Ambassador said Egypt and Israel had not discussed details of the new security arrangements, saying that the discussions were exploratory at this stage. (Reuters)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II stressed in a meeting with members of the US Congress America’s important role in Middle East peace efforts, and urged support for PA Prime Minister Qureia in order to enable the latter's Government to rebuild the Palestinian institutions and return to negotiations with Israel, according to remarks carried by Petra. The delegation included US Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and John William Warner, a Republican Senator from Virginia. (AP)

A PA civil court in Gaza City acquitted four Palestinians with suspected links to a deadly roadside bombing of a US diplomatic convoy on 15 October 2003. The court decided to free the four because of lack of evidence. The suspects had been arrested by Palestinian security forces several days after the attack and charged with manslaughter for planting bombs against Israeli forces which, the indictment said, “might have led to the killing of the Americans.” The Popular Resistance Committees of the Intifada, of which the four are members, claimed responsibility immediately after the attack, but later denied it. The suspects’ trial was initially held in a PA military court, but was later transferred to a civil court. The US offered a $5 million reward for information about the attackers. Palestinian security officials said that no one had claimed the reward. A senior official quoted by Reuters said a final decision on whether to free the men rested with PA President Arafat: “They were detained upon a decision by President Arafat and it is now his decision when they will be freed.” A US Embassy spokesman said the United States had not been informed officially about the court’s decision. “We don’t have any details about the decision,” the spokesman said, adding that the US believed “more could be done” to bring to justice those responsible for the bombing. (AP, DPA, Reuters)

A survey by the Palestinian Authority's International Media Centre (IMC) said the number of Palestinians killed by the IDF since September 2000 had reached 2,930, adding that another 523 Palestinians killed by the IDF had not been reported at first, in times of closures, curfews and sieges. The survey also said that the IDF had killed 534 Palestinian children under the age of 18, and the number of Palestinians killed during Israeli military air and ground strikes was estimated at 732. The IMC added that among the 2,930 Palestinians killed by the IDF, 191 were women and 344 members of the Palestinian security services. It also said the IDF had carried out operations that led to the death of 220 Palestinians, of whom 90 were untargeted civilians, while 103 of those killed died at Israeli military checkpoints. The survey also revealed that the Israeli army had killed 29 paramedics, 8 journalists and 220 athletes. (Xinhua)

15

Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian during a gunfight in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinians said Moussad Emlat (Mos’ad Abu Jarad, according to the International Press Centre-Palestine),27, had not been involved in the shooting and had been hit while standing near his house in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt. An IDF spokesman said he was a “wanted” militant shot while resisting arrest. (AFP, DPA, IPC)

Israeli helicopters fired a dozen rockets at suspected Hamas targets in central and eastern Gaza City overnight, in apparent retaliation for the suicide bombings in Ashdod. An IDF statement said the Air Force had targeted two “structures” used by Hamas “for the development and manufacturing of weapons, including Qassam rockets and mortar shells, one in the Zaitun neighbourhood and the other in the Nazer neighbourhood in Gaza City.” Israel Broadcasting Authorityreported they had also hit the electricity infrastructure. Israeli security sources said the air strike would be followed up by additional, harsher reprisals. (AFP, AP, IBA, Reuters, www.idf.il)

Israeli Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz renewed a call for the expulsion of PA President Arafat from the West Bank. (AFP, Reuters)

The Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa Al-Barghouti, said talks between PA Prime Minister Qureia and Mr. Sharon had no meaning. “The Qureia-Sharon meeting is pointless and could contribute nothing to the peace process, because the Israeli army last month killed 47 Palestinians and refused to return to the negotiation table, only demanding a unilateral ceasefire.” Mr. Barghouti described Mr. Sharon’s unilateral evacuation plan from the Gaza Strip as a “trick”, saying Palestinians no longer believed in these schemes. “The Israeli plan is aimed at turning the Strip into a big jail and an exile area for Palestinian leaders and resistance men, who would be deported from the West Bank. That is to say, Israel will carry out ethnic cleansing amid absence of the Palestinian and international awareness.” He added that the IDF was razing five Palestinian-owned houses per day, and that the number of Palestinian houses demolished in the Strip by the Israel since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000 had reached 1,261. (Xinhua)

A poll by the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University indicated that 56 per cent of Israelis supported a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Professor Asher Ariyan, who was in charge of the poll, said support for a unilateral pullout had been developing over the past few years. (Ha’aretz, IBA)

Palestinians, joined by Israeli peace activists and activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), continued to demonstrate against the separation barrier in the area of Deir Qiddis, near the “Modi’in Illit” settlement. Palestinian sources said 18 demonstrators had been injured by rubber-coated bullets and smoke grenades and had to be hospitalized, in Ramallah. A general strike was held in Deir Qiddis to encourage its 2,000 residents to take part in the demonstrations. In confrontations with the army, youths threw stones at soldiers. Earlier, a Palestinian reportedly fired at troops before fleeing in the direction of the village. In demonstrations the previous day, one IDF soldier and four Palestinian demonstrators had been injured and three Israeli activists arrested for allegedly disrupting the peace. (Ma’ariv)

Prime Minister Sharon won the support of the Knesset for his disengagement plan. After addressing the lawmakers, Mr. Sharon asked them to vote, saying it would be a vote of confidence in him. Forty-six MKs voted in support and 45 against. In his speech, Mr. Sharon refused to go into the details of his plan, saying deliberations were still taking place. (Ha’aretz, IBA)

Israeli border police had caught a Palestinian boy as he tried to smuggle a “large bomb” in his bag through a roadblock near Nablus, Israel Radioreported. Initial reports said the boy was 10, though a later IDF press release said he was 12. The boy was with a group of children coming back from school and carrying three bags, the radio said. When Abdullah Quraan agreed to take a stranger's bag across an Israeli military checkpoint, he said he was just trying to earn a little money for his family. A cellphone meant to set off the bomb rang when the militants saw Abdullah being detained by soldiers, the IDF said, but the trigger failed. Abdullah said he routinely carried people's belongings across the Hawara checkpoint near his home in the Balata refugee camp. (AP, DPA)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General at UN Headquarters in New York:

(SG/SM/9198)

Israeli Army Radioreported that Israeli security officials, in a meeting with Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, had proposed that the military take “exceptional” action against Palestinian militants in response to the twin suicide bombings in Ashdod. They called for increased pressure on militant groups, especially Hamas, for an unlimited period of time. A senior security source quoted by the radio said the proposed moves would be “exceptional in their scope, their intensity and their duration,” and include activities “not seen in the Palestinian territories for a long time.” (AFP)

16

Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a one-storey building and two parked cars in the Al-Nasr neighbourhood of Gaza City. Initial reports also indicated that Israeli ground forces had entered the Gaza Strip at various locations in what appeared to be the beginning of a new military campaign. At least two people had been killed in the air strike, Israeli media said. The missiles destroyed the building and the cars, wounding 14 people, including a two-year-old girl. Three of the wounded were in critical condition, hospital officials said. An earlier report of witnesses saying that three people had been killed could not be confirmed. One of the wounded said that four missiles had hit the apartment building just after sundown, and witnesses said the two cars, parked outside, had also been hit. Israeli Channel Two TVsaid the strike was part of the stepped-up campaign that would include daily attacks against members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The Jerusalem Postreported that the house belonged to the Abu Hosseh family, known to have links to the Islamic Jihad, and Mahmoud Haroub, an Islamic Jihad member, had been named as one of those killed in the attack. He was reportedly responsible for the double suicide, car bomb and shooting attack at the "Erez"/Beit Hanoun crossing on 6 March. The army said the building destroyed in the attack had housed "Islamic Jihad terrorists, involved in attacks against Israelis.'' However, the two people killed were apparently bystanders, according to Palestinian officials and hospital doctors. (AP, IMEMC, The Jerusalem Post)

Four Israeli tanks entered Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp, after which soldiers fired from tank-mounted machine guns, hitting a 21-year-old woman in the chest, witnesses and hospital officials said. The army had no immediate comment. (AP)

Israeli troops blew up two abandoned buildings on the edge of Gaza City that the military said had been used repeatedly to fire missiles at Israeli motorists. The buildings in Al-Zaitun neighbourhood, which belong to the Al-Aqsa University, overlook a road frequently used by Israeli settlers. The previous day, an anti-tank missile had struck a bus carrying Israeli school children from the “Netzarim” settlement, causing damage but no injuries. Medics and witnesses said two Palestinian policemen were wounded when Israeli troops opened fire. (AP, Petra, Reuters)

According to Palestinian security sources, a number of Israeli tanks and bulldozers had raided the Al-Salam neighbourhood in Rafah before dawn, and after forcing their residents to evacuate, razed two houses. The raid was carried out under the cover of shelling by Israeli tanks, which caused damage to a number of Palestinian houses. Earlier in the day, Israeli troops stationed at a settlement near Khan Yunis reportedly shelled nearby Palestinian houses, damaging many of them. (Xinhua)

The IDF intercepted a truck carrying 10 kg of explosives at a military checkpoint near the village of Awarta, south of Nablus, and interrogated the driver. At least 90 Palestinian militants, including four would-be suicide bombers, had been arrested at the main checkpoints around Nablus over the previous three months. (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon’s adviser on counterterrorism, Dani Arditi, in an interview on Army Radio,said a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would be beneficial in the war against terror. (The Jerusalem Post)

Prime Minister Sharon convened his security cabinet and other key ministers to decide on a response to a Palestinian double-suicide bombing in Ashdod two days earlier. The first security cabinet meeting in six months lasted for more than three hours. Participants declined to comment on the discussions, but Israeli media said ministers had approved targeted killings, including of militant leaders, and a limited ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Reportedly it had also decided to expand the closure in effect in the Gaza to the West Bank, prohibiting Palestinians from travelling. (AP)

PA Prime Minister Qureia said if Israel kept saying there was no Palestinian peace partner, the Palestinians would say there was no Israeli partner. Mr. Qureia’s remarks came in response to Prime Minister Sharon’s speech the day before in the Knesset, saying there was no Palestinian partner for Israel. “The Palestinian partner exists and he was elected and is committed to the peace process,” Mr. Qureia said, adding: “If Israel wants to stop going around in circles ... it should turn to negotiations with Palestinians.” Mr. Qureia, speaking to reporters in Ramallah, also warned Israel against carrying out military reprisals in the Gaza Strip: “This will be useless because violence breeds violence. They must put a halt to the violence they generated in the first place so that we can do the same.” (AFP, Xinhua)

The Islamic Jihad called on Palestinian factions to begin a serious dialogue on reaching a united standpoint to face their challenges, particularly in the event of an Israeli military pullout from the Gaza Strip. Nafez Azzam, a representative of the group, told reporters Israel was trying to drop the heavy burden of its occupation and settlements in the Gaza Strip in order to stem the pressures exerted on it, especially regarding a pullout from the West Bank. (Xinhua)

Asma Khodr, spokeswoman for the Government of Jordan, said in a statement that the Kingdom was examining the possibility of suing Israel following the seizure by Israeli troops on 25 February of $9 million from the Arab Bank and the Cairo-Amman Bank in Ramallah. Jordan’s Central Bank governor, Omaya Tuqan, held several meetings with the head of Arab Bank, Abdel Hamid Shoman, the chairman of the Cairo-Amman Bank Khaled al-Masri, and with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Ms. Khodr said, adding: “Several options were examined during these meetings, including suing Israel internationally. Israel’s seizure of Jordanian money from licensed banks is a flagrant violation of international law and the peace treaty that was signed in 1994 [between Jordan and Israel]." According to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, in addition to the money taken from the Jordanian banks, some $37 million had been seized from the International Palestinian Bank in Ramallah, Ms. Khodr also said. On 26 February, she condemned the raid, describing it as “unprecedented in banking annals.” MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) told The Jerusalem Postthe previous night that Israel planned to return the confiscated money to Palestinian banks. Defence Ministry officials said that they were unaware of any plans to return the funds to the PA, but that the coordinator of government affairs in the territories was currently preparing a plan on where to direct the funds. (AFP, The Jerusalem Post)

Mazen Abu Habash, head of the Executive Committee against the Wall in Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, said that hundreds of Palestinians had headed in the afternoon towards the military post in Dahia Al-Barid, also north of Jerusalem to protest against the construction of the separation barrier in that area. Mr. Habash appealed to the international community to aid the Palestinians and to stop the military, which was confiscating vast areas from Dahiat Al-Barid and Al-Ram. (IMEMC)

The General Committee of Land Defence in Hebron said settlers from “Karmiel,” east of the village Yatta, had started to carry out work on Palestinian-owned lands under the protection of the army. The Committee added that during the previous 10 days, settlers had bulldozed more than 10 dunams from the Al-Ka’abneh village and had placed mobile homes there. One of the land owners said his home was now only meters away from the settlement after he, as well as many others, had lost his land to settlement expansion. Abdel-Hadi Khantash, an expert on settlements and cartography, said similar work was carried out in the village of Beit Ummar by the “Migdal Oz” settlers. He added that settlers had bulldozed more than 13 dunams, preventing the owners from reaching their land, and erected new outposts. (IMEMC)

Yisrael Kimche [Israel Kimhi], a city planner and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, said the barriers around Jerusalem had serious consequences for the lives of the people living on either side of it. “It is the most acute upheaval in the region since 1967, and affects the lives of hundreds and thousands of people,” he said. Dr. Kimche is a member of the Institute’s task force examining the civilian and urban consequences of the walls and fences around Jerusalem on both the Jewish and Arab communities in and around the city. Dr. Maya Hoshen, the editor of Jerusalem’s statistical yearbook, Lt.-Col. (res.) Kobi Michael, who was in charge of joint patrols with the Palestinians, and Amnon Ramon, the Institute’s specialist on Christian affairs, are also members. The task force found that some 60,000 to 90,000 Palestinians, who live outside Jerusalem’s municipal borders and outside the wall, carried Israeli identity cards, which made them eligible for permanent residence in Israel. These Palestinians were moving back to East Jerusalem at the rate of 300 a week, being reluctant to lose their eligibility for National Insurance allowances, state health insurance, freedom of movement in Israel and access to the employment market in Jerusalem and Israel. (Ha’aretz)

17

Israeli helicopters fired a missile in each of two attacks, hours apart, in the Rafah refugee camp, killing four and wounding seven Palestinians. The IDF said its ground forces had raided the camp overnight to uncover tunnels used by weapons smugglers. In the first strike, the army said a group of gunmen had tried to place a bomb along a road used by the military. Two people had been killed, identified as Faraj Abu Jazar, a 22-year-old member of the Popular Resistance Committees, and Mahmud Abu Nahel, a 45-year-old civilian. Later in the day, a helicopter had fired a second missile at what the army said was a group of militants that approached soldiers. Residents, however, said the crowd included civilians, and two unarmed 15-year-old boys, identified as Ali al-Najili and Misbah Mawafi, were killed. (AFP, AP)

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the PFLP armed wing, claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli soldier in Rafah. The group said in a leaflet that one of its snipers had “hunted an Israeli soldier on the roof of a high building in Rafah during an incursion of the Israel army into the area,” and had also shot and wounded two other Israeli soldiers. (Xinhua)

The IDF said it had found and disabled a 26-kg explosive device near the “Gadid” settlement in the Gaza Strip. (IMEMC)

Israeli troops arrested Nasser Maswadi, a local commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Hebron. (AFP)

UNRWA said in a report that, in less than 24 hours, the IDF had demolished 31 houses of 47 Palestinian families in Rafah, comprising 165 members, and had partially damaged six other houses sheltering some 77 Palestinians. UNRWA said it would provide financial assistance estimated at $500 and food to each affected family by 27 March. The IDF was carrying out a widespread military operation in Block (O) in Rafah near the border with Egypt, demolishing Palestinians’ houses and killing five Palestinians, including two children. The IDF withdrew late in the day, saying it had not found tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. (IBA, Xinhua)

Clashes broke out near the PA military intelligence service’s HQ in Gaza after a vehicle had been stopped for an identity check at breakfast time. “The passengers threw three grenades at the patrol, killing one bystander and wounding seven others, as well as 11 policemen,” a Palestinian official said. Police forces chased the attackers and three of the passengers were arrested, he said. “According to the preliminary findings, the three are members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades,” the military wing of Hamas, the official said. Two Israeli attack helicopters could be seen flying overhead throughout the gun battle. (AFP)

Israel closed the Al-Muntar (Karni) Crossing to containers, presuming that the two bombers who had carried out the Ashdod attacks had possibly infiltrated Israel in a container that had passed through the crossing. Earlier in the day, a container was discovered with a hidden side panel stashed with grenades, as well as food, water and personal gear. (Ma’ariv)

PA President Arafat, speaking in English, told reporters outside his HQ in Ramallah after a meeting with an Irish diplomat: “Before leaving Gaza [the Israelis] want to destroy Gaza. This is a big crime. … Look, nobody can push the Palestinian people to their knees. This is the people of Palestine. Nobody can defeat us. [We] will not submit to anyone except God.” His senior adviser, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Israeli military action had failed to end the bloodshed since 2000 and the cycle of violence would expand if Israel kept pursuing military means against Palestinians seeking statehood: “We call on the Israeli Government to find political solutions and to reach a comprehensive ceasefire to end the cycle of violence.” (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia warned that Israel’s recent military escalation in the Gaza Strip “would blow up the whole situation in the Palestinian territories.” He added that the Israelis must first stop their violence against the Palestinians, saying “but Israel is escaping from implementing its commitments.” “Such revenge operations have no benefits, as violence can only generate violence. The Israelis must put an end to violence that they have generated in the beginning for us to stop the violence on our side,” he said. (Xinhua)

Fatah condemned the latest Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip and warned of serious repercussions. The movement said in a communiqué that it strongly denounced the unjustified Israeli military escalations that led to further deterioration in the region and sabotaged all the peace initiatives and efforts that attempted to halt the ongoing violence. It called on the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations to “intervene and put pressures on Israel in order to halt its military aggressions and escalations in the Gaza Strip and all the Palestinian territories.” The communiqué stressed the necessity of solving the conflict through diplomatic means and urged Israel to pull out its army, halt all forms of occupation and settlement and allow Palestinians to establish their independent State. It appealed to the Palestinians to “remain alert and enhance cooperation in order to avoid the Israeli ambushes that aim at liquidating Palestinians and confusing the interior front.” (Xinhua)

The latest Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip represented a “serious relapse,” President Mubarak’s adviser for political affairs, Osama Al-Baz, said. “We are going through a serious depression that could lead to serious repercussions in the long term and would not positively serve Palestinians’ or Israelis’ interests,” Mr. Al-Baz told a press conference after his meeting with PA President Arafat in Ramallah. (Xinhua)

Israeli Army Radioreported that Israeli security officials had recommended to Prime Minister Sharon that all the settlements in the Gaza Strip be evacuated and that control be kept over the southern area known as the “Philadelphia corridor”, which runs alongside the Israeli-Egyptian border. The recommendations also included the evacuation of several isolated settlements in the northern West Bank, including “Ganim” and “Kadim” just outside Jenin. According to the report, the military also urged the Government to lobby the US to approve the annexation of several West Bank settlement blocks. (AFP)

Ma’arivreported that Prime Minister Sharon had approved the Gaza disengagement plan late on 17 March. The paper quoted him as having told defence officials: “I understand the defence establishment recommends a partial disengagement. I support the proposal and will bring it before the Cabinet.” He still asked them to prepare a plan for a total disengagement, should it be warranted. The plan would be implemented in two stages. Stage one would include an almost total withdrawal from Gaza (three settlements in the northern Gaza Strip would remain, and there reportedly was no decision on them), and a partial withdrawal in the West Bank, most likely from “Kadim,” “Ganim,” “Sanur” and “Homesh”, near Jenin. It was unanimously decided that the IDF would retain full control of the “Philadelphi” axis on the border with Egypt. That could change, should Egypt, or the PA, assume effective control of the related area. Ma’ariv did not give details of the second phase of the plan. (Ma’ariv, UPI)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen expressed the hope that an “international presence” be deployed in the Gaza Strip to prevent chaos and anarchy following an Israeli withdrawal. “I think that we have to do everything that can hinder chaos and anarchy in Gaza after withdrawal,” Mr. Larsen, speaking after talks with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa, told reporters when asked if an international force should be deployed in the Gaza Strip. “This is supposed to be done first by institutionally strengthening and reforming the Palestinians Authority. It might be that the situation will necessitate an international presence. I do hope as we proceed with our dialogue with the Israeli representative and other relevant partners that we can shape and form such a potential presence to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.” “The Quartet stands ready to assist, and, of course the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan,” Mr. Larsen said after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher. “What we discussed today with the Minister of Egypt is how Egypt and the UN and the Quartet can push this project forward the right way. The important [thing] for all of us now is that the Israelis withdraw from Gaza.” Such a pullout should be in line with Security Council resolutions calling for withdrawal from occupied land and with the Road Map, Mr. Larsen said, adding it should also be “coordinated” with the PA and with the international community. (AFP)

EU Middle East Envoy Marc Otte told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher that it was necessary for both sides to stop the violence and work on creating a suitable atmosphere to resume negotiations. Russia’s special envoy to the Middle East, Alexander Kalugin, called for ending “this vicious circle of violence and counter-violence.” Mr. Kalugin, who also met with Mr. Maher, said Israel’s proposal for a possible withdrawal from Gaza should be followed by its pullout from the West Bank according to the Road Map. (AP)

Israel’s High Court of Justice imposed an open-ended freeze on construction of a 25-km section of the separation barrier around "Mevaseret Zion", in response to a complaint by Palestinian and Israeli residents of the area, declared their lawyer, Mohammed Dahla, the next day. The order affects an area around eight Palestinian villages north-west of Jerusalem, near the Green Line. The petitioners claimed that the planned route of the barrier would severely disrupt the lives of 30,000 Palestinians by virtually imprisoning them in their villages and cutting them off from Jerusalem and Ramallah. Mr. Dahla said he had submitted a report by former Israeli military officials saying that the planned route went far beyond security considerations, and that a less intrusive route would be equally effective. The Court ordered the Israeli military to respond to the report and extended a freeze, first imposed 29 February, until it heard back from the IDF. The Court did not schedule another hearing. Israel Radioreported that the construction of parts of the barrier near the villages of Ni’lin, Deir Qiddis and Midya would be delayed for a few days by order of the High Court of Justice. The residents of Ni’lin were given two weeks, and the residents of Deir Qiddis and Midya one week, to petition the Court against the barrier. The State noted that the villagers had failed to voice opposition to the route until work was under way last week. Yoav Loeff, a spokesman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed the petitions, said the villagers had not realized that they had the option to go to court. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

Japan would provide 500 million yen ($4.6 million) in grants to the PA to support its economic reforms and improve its financial situation, Foreign Ministry officials said, adding that the Japanese Ambassador to Israel, Tadashi Imai, and PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad had exchanged notes to that effect in Ramallah. Japan also decided to disburse about $2.13 million for three projects for Palestinians, partly to improve their living conditions, including renovation of a garbage-disposal facility in Ramallah, the officials said. The $2.13 million in aid is part of an assistance package of $22.25 million for the PA pledged in April 2003. (AP, Kyodo)

The Director of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Bureau, Dov Weissglas, met with PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad to discuss a transfer of NIS100 million in tax revenues that Israel had collected on behalf of the PA. (IBA)

18

Muhammad Ali Abu Taha, 27, died from shrapnel wounds suffered in an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp the previous day, bringing the death toll from the strikes to five. Medical workers said he was an unarmed bystander. A medical source in Rafah said a woman and a teenager had been wounded in Rafah: Najeyya Al-Akhras, 40, was wounded in her thigh, and Mahmoud Al-Najjar, 13, sustained an injury to his head. (AP, IMEMC)

A 10-year-old boy (12, according to AP) was hit and seriously injured by a rubber-coated bullet and two other Palestinians were lightly hurt by tear gas inhalation during the continuing demonstration against the separation barrier near Deir Qiddis, close to the “Modi’in Illit” settlement. (AP, Ha’aretz)

The IDF detained 17 Palestinians overnight in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank. Israeli troops also raided the Ayda refugee camp near Bethlehem. (Palestine Media Centre-PMC)

Mohammed Juda would receive compensation from Israel for injuries he sustained during clashes in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 6 October 2000, in the first week of the current intifada. Thirteen years old (16, according to AFP) at the time of the incident, he was hit in the neck by a rubber-coated bullet and hospitalized for half a year, undergoing 15 head operations in Saudi Arabia, but remained paralysed from the neck down. A negotiated settlement accepted by the Jerusalem District Court provided that the State would not acknowledge responsibility for the incident, and Mr. Juda would receive NIS 2.5 million (some $560,000) and his family NIS 500,000 (some $112,000). (AFP, Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

The founder and spiritual leader of Hamas Sheikh Ahmad Yassin stated on one of the movement's websites: “If Israel completely evacuates the Gaza Strip, we can start a new phase of calmness in order to discuss the issues of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the prisoners and the refugees.” Sheikh Yassin insisted that the Israeli pullout should be a complete evacuation of all the settlements and military bases, saying his movement’s intention to halt attacks depended on the extent of the Israeli withdrawal. (Xinhua)

EU Middle East Envoy Marc Otte met Prime Minister Qureia in Abu Dis, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, telling reporters afterwards: “The situation is the result of a lack of a political process. When the weapons speak, peace goes away. We are here to encourage both sides to talk and not to fight. If we are asked to do specific things to promote such an outcome, we will do it.” When asked about Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan, Mr. Otte voiced his hope that such a measure could become an opportunity for both sides to make progress. He stressed that, should Israel go ahead with the pullout, the EU would consider offering assistance in the economic and security fields to the PA when it took over. (AFP)

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Defence for Children International/Palestine Section and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel condemned “the [alleged] use of a Palestinian child to carry explosives, and the Israeli Occupation for using him in their propaganda.” They referred to an alleged attempt by Palestinians to smuggle a bomb through a military roadblock with the help of an unsuspecting 11-year-old boy, who along with eyewitnesses, relatives and Palestinian sources, refuted as “pure fabrication” the story widely reported by Israeli officials and media. (IMRA, Palestine Media Centre)

The IDF partially closed Gaza border crossings, allowing only certain goods through the Sufa and Al-Muntar (Karni) checkpoints. (Ha’aretz)

An IDF spokesperson announced that a military court issued an indictment against the armoured battalion commander over an incident in which four Palestinians, including three children, were killed by tank shells in Jenin on 21 June 2002. Charges against the company commander had been filed in 2003, and the prosecutor had intended also to indict former Golani brigade commander, Col. Moshe “Chico” Tamir, but it was later decided that he would face a disciplinary hearing on charges of negligence before Maj.-Gen. Gil Regev, head of the IDF's manpower division. (Ha’aretz, IMRA)

The European Voicereported that a probe by OLAF, the European Commission’s anti-fraud office, had found no evidence for Israeli claims that part of the €1.5 billion the EU had given to the Palestinians in the past decade had been siphoned off to fund suicide bombers, although it said the misuse of aid “cannot be excluded.” OLAF recommended that controls on the direct budgetary aid to the Palestinians be reinforced, and had decided that the investigation should continue. So far, it had involved two OLAF missions to the Middle East to study documents furnished by the Israeli Government. OLAF also noted Israel had made payments into the same bank account used for EU funding. The Commission believed that this indicated that Israel had confidence in the budgetary controls introduced by the PA Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad. (EIU)

King Abdullah II of Jordan had met with Prime Minister Sharon for three hours, an official at the royal palace said. King Abdullah, accompanied by his intelligence chief, Gen. Saad Khair, had flown by helicopter to Sycamore Ranch, Mr. Sharon’s home in the Negev Desert, for a lunch meeting aimed at “stopping Israel from taking unilateral measures that affect the rights of the Palestinian people.” Israeli Public Radioreported the next day that the two leaders had discussed the Israeli disengagement plan, in the king’s first visit to Israel since Mr. Sharon took office in 2001. “The king stressed during his talks the need to implement the Road Map, the only way to guarantee the rights of all parties and establish a fair and comprehensive peace,” the palace official said. He had also told Mr. Sharon “the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza must be a prelude to a total withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and not just a tactical manoeuvre to transfer settlers from Gaza to the West Bank." Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, called the reported meeting a “real disaster.” “They are busy with meetings and normalization with the enemy, while they pretend they are acting in the interest of the Palestinian people,” Sheikh Yassin told AP. “The truth is, this nation is being bought and sold. This nation must instead be liberated by all Arab nations.” (AFP, AP, IBA, Petra)

19

Israeli troops in about 25 army vehicles, including tanks, APCs and bulldozers, supported by helicopter gunships, raided Mughraqa village, near the “Netzarim” settlement in the Gaza Strip. Dr. Moawia Hassanein of the PA Health Ministry said 10 Palestinians had been wounded, three of them critically. They included a 12-year-old boy shot in the head, a 15-year-old boy shot in the neck, and a 29-year-old man. At least one of the boys had been wounded when soldiers in a tank fired at a crowd of stone throwers. The IDF said four soldiers had been slightly wounded when militants detonated a bomb under a tank. “It was a large explosion. It caused the tank to overturn. There was damage,” an IDF spokeswoman said. Later, Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing. The army also said it had arrested two Hamas militants and blown up their homes. Local officials said Israeli bulldozers had destroyed four other houses in the centre of the town and ripped up the main road, damaging water pipes and cutting off electricity. The army denied the charge. (AP, Reuters)

Ayman Abdelkarim Abu Hashem, 23, who had been critically wounded in an Israeli helicopter raid on Rafah on 17 March, died from his wounds. (AP, Xinhua)

In Bethlehem, Israeli forces destroyed a house belonging to the family of Jamal Khalef Mustapha Hamid (Hmeid), who had died in an attack on the “Efrat” settlement, south Bethlehem, in March 2002, killing two Israelis and injuring four. The three-storey building had housed 10 Palestinians. (AP, IMEMC, Ma’ariv)

Palestinian security forces in the Bethlehem area handed over to Israeli forces bombs and explosive materials found in an explosives laboratory located in the Bethlehem Paradise Hotel. (IBA)

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that there was no cause to issue a restraining order to prevent Prime Minister Sharon from presenting his disengagement plan to President Bush or any other leader before the plan was approved by the Israeli Cabinet. The petitioner, attorney Yossi Fuchs, is a resident of the “Gush Etzion” settlement block in the West Bank. He accused the Prime Minister of acting behind the backs of his ministers, in a way that caused damage to the fundamentals of the structure of a constitutional regime. (IBA)

John Dugard, a South African lawyer and Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, presented his report to its sixtieth session. On the West Bank separation barrier, Mr. Dugard said: “A further wrong has been added to a list of wrongs … No reasonable person can deny the threat posed to Israel by suicide bombers or the right of Israel to take measures to prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israel. This wall or barrier might have been justified as a legitimate security measure to prevent would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel had it followed the course of the Green Line. But this is not the issue. The issue is whether Israel can justify its building of the wall largely within Palestinian territory.” He said it was primarily aimed at protecting Israeli settlements, and added to a “system which subjects Palestinian freedom of movement to the whim of the occupying power and creates anger, anxiety and humiliation among the population. As a result, it is likely to create insecurity for Israel rather than security.” Israel's delegate Yaakov Levy said the report was “rife with loaded, misleading terminology” and painted “a simplistic picture in which one side of the conflict has a total monopoly on victimhood.” Palestinian delegate Nabil Ramlawi said Mr. Dugard was “objective, truthful and sincere.” “I do have a bias,” Mr. Dugard told the Commission. “But not a political bias. I’m biased in favour of a solution to the Middle East crisis that will secure the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.” (AP)

20

In the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, Israeli troops shot in the head and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian. Mohammad Eshtewi Abu Mohsen had been reportedly throwing stones at the Israeli forces with a group of youths at the entrance to the camp. The army said he had been armed. (AFP, AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

In the Gaza Strip, a seven-year-old Palestinian girl died from wounds sustained a day earlier. Fatima Al-Jallad was reportedly shot in the head by Israeli soldiers who had fired from an outpost at the nearby “Ganei Tal” settlement on 19 March, while the girl was playing outside her home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp. An IDF spokeswoman said she did not have any information about the girl, but said that at about the same time nearby soldiers had fired warning shots in the air as two Palestinians entered an off-limits buffer zone between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (AP)

An Israel military column of about 15 vehicles entered the village of Seida, south-west of Jenin, prompting an exchange of gunfire with Palestinians. (AFP)

More than 200 Palestinian and foreign women demonstrated in the village of Mas’ha, south-east of Qalqilya, against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank. PA Women's Affairs Minister Zahira Kamal joined about 200 Palestinians and 50 foreign peace activists. Dozens of members of an Arab-Israeli organization were prevented from joining the demonstration by the IDF, which declared the village a “closed military zone.” (AFP)

21

IDF soldiers raided the Gaza village of Abassan Al-Kabira before dawn, killing three militants and two bystanders. Ten other Palestinians were hurt. A local Hamas leader, Bassam Salem Qudeh (Kadeeh, according to AP), and his wife Sanaa, as well as his 32-year-old neighbour, were among the dead. Hamas said the couple had blown themselves up, as troops closed in. The army said soldiers had fired at Mr. Qudeh, causing explosives in his bag to detonate. The military said a Hamas militant fleeing the village had been run over and killed by an army vehicle and a third militant, firing rocket-propelled grenades during the fighting, had been shot dead. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Ibrahim Al-Haw, a prominent 27-year-old leader of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, died from injuries sustained in February in armed clashes during an Israeli incursion into Al-Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City. The Brigades vowed to retaliate. (Xinhua)

Two Palestinians were killed in the evening when Israeli soldiers opened fire in the Gaza Strip near the “Kissufim” border crossing into Israel. Military sources said the two had been part of an armed group that approached “Kissufim,” entering into a restricted zone in order to stage an attack. The Israeli soldiers opened fire in their direction and then found the two bodies. Palestinian security officials confirmed they had been contacted by the IDF to recover the bodies of two Palestinians. They had also noted exchanges of gunfire as well as an incursion by several Israeli tanks that destroyed a house near “Kissufim.” (AFP)

Demonstrations against the separation barrier continued near the village of Kharbatha Al-Misbah, some 15 km north-west of Jerusalem. Medical sources at Sheikh Zayid Hospital in Ramallah said 37 wounded demonstrators had been hit by rubber-coated bullets, five of them sustaining head wounds, including Israeli activist Itai Lavinsky. (AFP, Reuters)

IDF troops demolished two houses in Bethlehem and the Dheisheh refugee camp. One house belonged to Rami Easa, the Fatah militant who carried out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in April 2002 that had killed a Palestinian police officer. The other belonged to the family of Mohamed Daraghma, who had carried out a suicide bombing in September 2003 in Beit Yisrael that had killed 10 persons. (Xinhua)

Israel’s Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a speech that the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip must be accompanied by a “clear American declaration” opposing any right of return for Palestinian refugees. In his first public remarks on the plan, he said there could be no pullback from “even one centimetre of Gaza” until Israel completed its West Bank separation barrier, including around three major settlement blocks (“Gush Etzion,” “Ariel” and “Ma’ale Adumim”) and along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway 443 that passes through the West Bank. Moreover, Israel must be able to act freely against militants who it fears will claim a withdrawal as a victory. He also demanded Israel control all land, sea and air crossing points to the Palestinian areas. Mr. Netanyahu spoke after attending with other Likud ministers a meeting with Prime Minister Sharon on the pullout plan. Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said no decision on the plan had been taken there. Israel Radiosaid the deliberations would continue the following week. “I think that this is the stage at which everyone should put forward his view,” Mr. Katz told reporters. Media reports said Mr. Sharon had presented two options: a withdrawal only from the Gaza Strip, and a Gaza pullout along with the evacuation of four isolated settlements in the West Bank. They said that Mr. Sharon preferred the first option. (Reuters, UPI)

A Palestinian court ordered the PA to free up the frozen bank accounts of charities linked to Hamas. Jamil Sarhan, a lawyer for the Al-Mizan human rights group who was hired by the Islamic charities concerned to contest an earlier ruling, said the decision had been made by the Supreme Court meeting in Gaza City. The head of one of the organizations urged the PA to carry out the court order immediately. “We now call on the executive authorities to respect this decision which affects thousands of impoverished families,” Sheikh Ahmed al-Kurd, president of the Al-Salah Al-Islami organization, said. On 28 August 2003, the PA had frozen the accounts of six charitable organizations linked to Hamas in a bid to comply with a US demand to clamp down on armed groups. The move had affected about 40 branches of the six organizations, including the Islamic Association and El-Mojamma, a society founded by Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. (AFP)

The Israeli security forces decided to reopen the Beit Hanoun/"Erez" crossing on the northern tip of the Gaza Strip after it had been blocked for a week after a double suicide bombing on 14 March at the Israeli port of Ashdod. (Xinhua)

Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition by settler groups to overturn a Government decision to remove two settlement outposts, a ruling that set aside legal challenges stalling plans to tear down more of the outposts. The Israeli Defence Ministry could not immediately say when the removal of the outposts would begin following the ruling, and there was no immediate comment from settler leaders. (Reuters)

22

Israeli helicopter gunships fired three missiles, killing the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as he was leaving a mosque in a wheelchair near his home in Gaza at dawn, after morning prayers. The strike killed seven other people, including several bodyguards, and wounded 17. One of Sheikh Yassin’s sons, Mohammed, said that he had remarked to his father about three hours before the attack about an Israeli reconnaissance plane spotted in the sky. “He said, ‘We seek martyrdom … To Him (God) we belong and to Him we return.’” Israeli security sources said that Mr. Sharon personally had ordered and monitored the attack. Sheikh Yassin had been unsuccessfully targeted by an Israeli airstrike in September 2003, escaping with only light injuries. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Three Palestinians were killed in Gaza later in the day in clashes with Israeli troops, while another was killed handling explosives. Among them, Musaab al-Khalban, 11, received a fatal head would in Khan Yunis when troops opened fire from a watchtower in the nearby “Ganei Tal” settlement. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Witnesses said that the IDF had imposed a curfew in Hebron by firing tear gas. Palestinians said a 34-year-old man had been fatally shot in Beit Ummar near Hebron after throwing rocks. A Reutersjournalist in the area was wounded in the eye by a rubber-coated bullet. The IDF said it had been attacked by gunmen near Bethlehem and returned fire, hitting two men who had thrown firebombs. (AP, IMEMC)

A Palestinian got out of a car in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan and attacked a group of Israeli pedestrians with a blunt instrument. The IDF said the 19-year-old resident of Biddya, south-east of Qalqilya, had an axe and “was taken for questioning to Dan District of the Israeli police.” Israeli media said a 32-year-old woman had been hospitalized in serious condition, while a 50-year-old man had suffered moderate wounds. A 29-year-old man was briefly hospitalized with light wounds. Police said the motive was revenge for the Sheikh Yassin killing. Later in the day, a Palestinian had stabbed and slightly wounded three passengers – two men and a woman – during the evening rush hour on an Israeli bus in Jaffa before fleeing, a police spokeswoman said. (AP, Reuters, www.idf.il)

In the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, IDF soldiers shot dead a university student-reporter during an anti-Israeli protest. Mohammed Abu Khalimi, 22, was hit in the stomach and died in a Nablus hospital. He had been working for Al-Najah radio station, based at the Al-Najah University. The army said Mr. Abu Khalimi was a Hamas militant and had been shot after opening fire at troops. Palestinians said he had been a Hamas supporter but not involved in militant activities. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility for destroying an Israeli tank near the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. They said in a leaflet that their militants had planted a roadside bomb that “completely destroyed” the tank. (Xinhua)

Palestinian militants fired 10 makeshift rockets at the “Neve Dekalim” settlement in the Gaza Strip. A number of the rockets were also fired by Hamas at the Beit Hanoun/"Erez" crossing point with Israel. Later in the day, several more rockets were fired towards the crossing, with no immediate claim of responsibility. There were no reports of damage or injuries in any of the attacks. (AP, IMEMC)

Israel sealed off the West Bank and Gaza and confined many West Bank Palestinians to their communities. The IDF announced the complete closure of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, adding that the Gaza Strip had been divided into three parts, with movement prevented between them. Sporadic fighting with soldiers was still reported in several areas. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was also closed. Troop reinforcements were sent to the Gaza Strip, and security forces in Israel were placed on high alert. West Bank schools were closed, and a one-day commercial strike was declared. In the Israeli prison camp Ketziot, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners rioted briefly, setting tents on fire and throwing stones at soldiers. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, threatening retaliation for the killing of Sheikh Yassin. (AP)

Foreign Minister Shalom said Israel was doing everything it could to coordinate with the US, although he told reporters after meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, “It didn't include this action.” Mr. Shalom called the attack “pure self-defence in order to protect our people.” Interviewed by Israel TV Channel 2, he said: “Israel is an independent, sovereign country that on defence issues reaches decisions independently.” Asked on CNN TV if a plan to assassinate PA President Arafat was on the cards, Mr. Shalom replied, “Not at all.” (AFP, AP)

Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said Sheikh Yassin was not “a ticking bomb” and voiced fear that "we have opened up a cycle here," and that "many will pay for it with their lives.” Mr. Poraz said he and Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, both of the Shinui party, had voted in the security cabinet against assassinating Sheikh Yassin following the double suicide bombing in Ashdod on 14 March. Israeli media reports said they had been the only dissenting voices. (Reuters)

US State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said: “We are aware of reports of this incident. We are looking into the circumstances and are in touch with Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The United States urges all sides to remain calm and exercise restraint.” The US did not know in advance of Israel’s plans to assassinate Sheikh Yassin, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told NBC’s “Today” show, “It is very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region. There is always a possibility of a better day in the Middle East, and some of the things that are being talked about by the Israelis, about disengagement from areas, might provide new opportunities. And so I would hope that nothing will be done that would preclude those new opportunities from emerging.” “We are deeply troubled by this morning’s incident in Gaza,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “We urge everyone to remain calm in the region,” he said. “Our policy remains the same” - that those on both sides be aware of the consequences of their actions - Mr. McClellan told a White House briefing. (AFP, AP, DPA)

PA President Arafat said in a statement that Israel had “exceeded all red lines with this cheap and dirty crime,” and declared a three-day mourning period. Prime Minister Qureia called the killing of Sheikh Yassin “one of the biggest crimes that the Israeli Government has committed” and said the Palestinians had lost “a great leader.” During a meeting chaired by Mr. Arafat and attended by Mr. Qureia, the PA Cabinet decided to call for “a special meeting of the [UN] Security Council to examine this vile crime and provide protection for our people,” according to a statement. (AFP, AP)

“Yassin is a man in a nation, and a nation in a man. And the retaliation of this nation will be of the size of this man,” said Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi, a prominent Hamas leader in Gaza who had escaped an Israeli assassination attempt in June 2003. For the first time, Hamas also threatened the United States, saying its support of Israel made the assassination possible. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a leaflet that “revenge for Ahmed Yassin’s assassination would be carried out in a few hours,” adding: “this coward[ly] assassination unveils the real vision of the enemy that understands only the language of fire and explosions.” (AFP, AP)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

(SG/SM/9210)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen also issued a statement strongly condemning Israel’s action. “In addition to the killing of so many, the assassination of Ahmed Yassin threatens the tenuous steps currently under way to revive the peace process,” he said. “Only a viable peace process can bring about a halt to violence,” stressed Mr. Larsen. (UN News Service)

Representatives of the Quartet met to discuss the deteriorating Middle East conflict. MENA said the meeting was to focus on “developments of the situation in the Palestinian territories after Sheikh Yassin’s assassination and ways to get the region out of the cycle of mutual violence between Palestinians and Israelis.” EU envoy Marc Otte, Russian envoy Alexander Kalugin and UN Special Coordinator Terje Rød-Larsen held a meeting with US envoy William Burns at the US Embassy in Cairo. The meeting, held without the presence of journalists, had ended after an hour without the release of a statement, a US Embassy official said. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters earlier that he hoped the envoys would show their “commitment to the Road Map” and reject Israeli attempts to undermine it. (AFP, DPA)

President Mubarak called the killing of Sheikh Yassin “a savage act” and cancelled plans for Egyptian legislators to take part in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in the Israeli parliament on 23 March. “The peace process was discontinued today and will have to begin anew,” he also said. The Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Syria had decided to meet in Cairo for urgent talks, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. (AP, DPA)

King Abdullah II of Jordan said the killing “annoyed and pained” him. It was “a crime” that would lead only to more violence. Syrian President Bashar Assad condemned the killing as “the climax of terrorism that Israel is continuously practicing.” Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said the assassination “will push the region into a new cycle of violence and terrorism and undermine any hope for achieving peace in the Middle East.” The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) issued a statement calling on the world to “press Israel to halt its terrorist operations and to end the occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories.” The GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah called the attack a “savage and cowardly crime.” A Yemeni Government spokesman told the official Sabanews agency: “This terrorist act confirms the state terrorism practised by the Israeli Government and its head, Sharon, while all international efforts were being deployed to establish a just and comprehensive peace. The policy of assassination and physical liquidation of political opponents leads to more violence and resistance to Israel’s stupid policy.” The killing of Sheikh Yassin was “state terrorism in its most hideous form,” the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, said in Tunis. “This operation reveals Israel’s aggressive intentions and unarguably shows its refusal of an eventual return of calm [to the region]," Mr. Moussa's spokesman Houssam Zaki said. “This murder, on the eve of the Arab summit in Tunis, is tantamount to Israel refusing to take the extended hand of peace,” he also said. Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said the assassination reflected Israeli vulnerability: “The heinous crime reflects a cowardly behaviour of the occupying Israeli regime as well as its fear of Palestinian resistance, which is centred on their religious faith.” In Baghdad, Mohsen Abdelhamid, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said “the blood of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will ignite the flame in our hearts and lead to a united front against the aggression of Sharon.” (AFP, AP, DPA)

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said: “We strongly fear that this incident will intensify violent activities on the part of Palestinian extremists and others, and trigger a chain of violence ... Our country strongly requests that the Israeli Government exercise maximum self-restraint and seek to calm the situation.” (AFP, AP, DPA)

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the killing of Sheikh Yassin “was unacceptable, [...] unjustified and ... very unlikely to achieve its objectives.” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the killing was to be condemned at a moment when “we should be mobilizing further to re-launch the peace process.” “France condemns the action carried out against Sheikh Yassin just as it always condemns the principle of extrajudicial execution,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hervé Ladsous said in a press statement. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he was “deeply concerned” about the possible repercussions on the Middle East and warned that “everything must be done to prevent a further escalation.” Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said the Israeli action and the threats of retaliation by the Palestinians were a cause for concern. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül said his country was deeply concerned that “this very dangerous action” could lead to an escalation of terror. China expressed its concern at the possible impact of the killing and would be “closely watching developments,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said. (AP, DPA)

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said the killing was “very, very bad news for the peace process.” In his statement he said that the consistent condemnation by the EU of “extrajudicial killings” had to be even stronger in this particular case. “Not only are extra-judicial killings contrary to international law, they undermine the concept of the rule of law, which is a key element in the fight against terrorism,” declared the statement issued by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels. The President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, said: “Neither the cause of peace nor the equally vital cause of combating international terrorism have been facilitated by today’s ‘extrajudicial killing’.” The foreign ministers of the EU nations appealed to Israel and Palestinians to “refrain from acts of violence which will only lead to more deaths and will put a peaceful settlement still further from reach.” (AP, DPA)

South Africa condemned the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, saying: “Such extrajudicial assassinations are in contravention of international law and relevant United Nations conventions and only serve to strengthen those not committed to achieving peace in the Middle East. … It is generally accepted that Sheikh Yassin was a moderating influence and it is reported that he was seeking to find a political solution to the challenges being experienced by Israelis and Palestinians.” It added that “the only way to end violence and such extrajudicial acts is to end the occupation of Palestinian territories and for both sides to return to unconditional negotiations.” (AFP, DPA)

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marti Natalegawa said the killing of Sheikh Yassin was “shocking ... The assassination by Israel does not contribute to a peaceful resolution to the Middle East problem. On the contrary, it has the potential to further fuel the cycle of violence ... “It is an act we strongly deplore.” (AP)

The Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls, said: “The Holy See joins the international community in deprecating this act of violence, which finds no justification in any constitutional State. Recourse to terrorism on the one hand, and retaliation on the other, the humiliation of the adversary and resentful propaganda do not lead anywhere. Lasting and real peace cannot be born out of simple exhibitions of force.” (DPA)

Amnesty International condemned the killing as an extrajudicial execution, saying, “Once again Israel has chosen to violate international law instead of using alternative lawful means. Sheikh Yassin could have been arrested and prosecuted.” (DPA)

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An 18-year-old Palestinian died from wounds sustained during an Israeli air strike in the Rafah refugee camp on 17 March. The head of Rafah hospital, Dr. Ali Moussa, said Abdullah Al-Mughair had been critically wounded by shrapnel in his head, abdomen and chest. IMEMCsaid he was 22 and had been wounded when an Israeli jet strafed the Block “O” of the camp. (IMEMC, Xinhua)

A Palestinian was reportedly shot in the head during violent clashes with IDF forces in the village of Beit Omar, north of Hebron. An explosive device was detonated near an IDF post in the Gaza Strip. According to the report, exchanges of gun fire had followed the explosion. (Ma’ariv)

Israel has increased security both at home and abroad following the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, with Israel’s security forces placed on their highest alert. The closure preventing Palestinians from entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza remained in effect. (AFP, DPA)

The assassination of Sheikh Yassin received broad support in Israel, despite the belief it would spark more violence. Yediot Ahronotpublished a poll showing 60 per cent of Israelis thought that killing Sheikh Yassin was the right thing to do, while 32 per cent thought it was wrong. On the other hand, 81 per cent of Israelis believed the assassination would lead to an increase in militant attacks, according to the Dahaf Institute. (AP)

Malaysia condemned Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as “State terrorism” and called on the international community to take disciplinary action. A Foreign Ministry statement said the killing was against international law. “Israel, by taking this means, has actually committed an act of State terrorism,” the ministry was quoted as saying by Bernama. “This would only escalate further the cycle of deadly violence and increase tension,” it said. (AFP)

Viet Nam Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said in a statement: “Viet Nam condemns the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. This dangerous act has violated international law and goes against peace efforts in the region and in the world.” (AFP)

The African Union, in a press release, described the Israeli move as a violation of international law, saying such killings only helped incite more violence and seriously undermined the prospects for dialogue and peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Foreign Ministry of Oman, in a statement, called the attack a “brutal crime” and a “gross violation of human rights.” The statement said that such an aggressive act would rekindle angry emotions and deal a heavy blow to confidence in hope for peace. (Xinhua)

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that although Hamas was a terrorist organization and his Government supported Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, “I do regret the use of targeted assassinations.” “This Government does not support targeted assassinations, and I am concerned that the killing of such a high-profile Palestinian leader will simply lead to further violence and the loss of innocent life.” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said that though Hamas was known as an organization that inspired people “to commit terrible atrocities, [...] few would see taking out the leader of that movement as a step forward towards peace.” New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said: “We think that the extrajudicial execution of the Hamas spiritual leader will simply be counter productive ... It will create another martyr. It will continue the cycle of violence in retaliation.” (AP, AFP, Xinhua)

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said in the House of Commons: “We have condemned the death of Sheikh Yassin because in our view this is a matter that is contrary to international legal obligations on behalf of the State of Israel”. Mr. Graham said the killing of Sheikh Yassin would serve to contribute to instability in the area and make peace more difficult to achieve. (CBC)

The IDF said its troops had shot and killed two armed Palestinians who had tried to infiltrate the “Morag” settlement after dark. Troops also confiscated a bag of explosives. The men were dressed in camouflage and flak jackets and had been armed with assault rifles, the army said. Hamas claimed responsibility for the failed attack. The announcement over loudspeakers in Gaza identified them as residents of Rafah, aged 21 and 25. IMEMCreported the IDF had handed over the bodies of Mohammad Ahmad Al-Qadi and Yasser Izzat Al-Sultan two days later. (AP, IBA, IMEMC)

IDF tanks entered the Khan Yunis refugee camp late in the day, and bulldozers demolished buildings overlooking the “Ganei Tal” settlement. Palestinian sources said some 60 families living in the houses had fled the scene. The next day, Palestinian officials said Israeli forces had razed four Palestinian farms, partially demolished two houses and destroyed a road linking two parts of the shantytown during the raid. Early the next day, the troops withdrew from the area. The IDF said it had removed some brush and two abandoned buildings used to fire on settlements. It said troops opened fire after being attacked by an anti-tank missile and gunfire. No casualties were reported. (AP, IBA)

Israeli gunboats opened fire off the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military said a gunboat fired at a suspicious object floating in the water some 4 km offshore. There were no reports of injuries or damage. (AP, IBA)

“Social welfare in the territories and the lack of hope in reaching a political solution is the worst it has ever been since Israel occupied the territories in 1967,” Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the West Bank, Brig.-Gen. Ilan Paz, said in Tel Aviv at an international conference on low-intensity conflict warfare. Gen. Paz said the PA’s ability to function had drastically deteriorated since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, and while the educational system and health and medical services continued to work, its municipal infrastructure barely functioned. He said a great effort was being made to ease conditions for the Palestinian population. (The Jerusalem Post)

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A 17-year-old Palestinian died from wounds he had sustained during an Israeli air raid in the Rafah refugee camp on 17 March. Dr. Baker Abu Safieh, who heads Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital emergency services, named the youth as Atef Awajeh and said he had been critically wounded in the head. IMEMC also quoted a medical source in Abu Yousef Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah as saying Jihad Awaja, 19, had died from his wounds. He was shot in the head on 22 March when the army raided Block “J” of the Rafah refugee camp. (AFP, IMEMC)

A 65-year-old Palestinian man died in hospital after inhaling tear gas fired by soldiers during a demonstration in Hebron. (Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

An IDF soldier was lightly wounded in a shooting near the “Gadid” settlement in the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops returned fire. (Ha’aretz)

Israeli troops entered the village of Yamun near northern Jenin. The village was put under curfew and tanks were outside it, while about 20 military jeeps had surrounded one or two buildings there. Israeli military officials told AP that forces had entered the village after they were shot at. IMEMCalso reported a curfew imposed on the village of Za’tara south-east Bethlehem. According to Ha’aretz,two Israeli soldiers had been lightly wounded by Palestinian stone throwers in two separate West Bank incidents. (AP, Ha’aretz, IMEMC)

Israeli forces reported stopping a Palestinian boy wearing a suicide bomb belt at a West Bank checkpoint. The IDF said the boy was 12, while APsaid he was 16 and Ma’ariv14. The Jerusalem Postnamed the boy as 14-and-a-half-year-old Hosni Muhammad Bilal Abdu from the Masahiya neighbourhood in Nablus. He was reportedly running towards the Hawara (Huwwara) checkpoint south of Nablus when soldiers had stopped him and removed the belt with explosives from his body, sending in experts to detonate them. It was unclear whether the boy had been sent as a suicide bomber or was a courier trying to smuggle the bomb belt through the checkpoint. Soldiers said he had been given NIS 100 to carry the belt. Ha’aretz claimed a technical malfunction had prevented the detonation of the explosives. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post)

Abdel Aziz Rantissi, named on 23 March as Hamas leader in Gaza, told reporters that the group’s militant activities were aimed solely at Israel: “We are inside Palestinian land and acting only inside Palestinian land. We are resisting the occupation, nothing else. Our resistance will continue just inside our border, here inside our country.” Mr. Rantissi told AFPthat Hamas had no intention of targeting the US: “We have said it many times that we will target only our enemy, the [Israeli] occupiers.” He also denied reports Hamas would join forces with Al-Qaeda, calling the claims “Zionist propaganda.” His comments were backed up by another Hamas leader, Sayedi Seyam, who told Reuters:“It is not our policy to target Americans or American interests.” Khaled Meshaal, Syrian-based head of the Hamas political bureau, said on a website that the group had no intention of carrying out retaliatory attacks against international targets, and would focus on attacks against Israel. “[Prime Minister] Sharon has become a target for Palestinian resistance men and the [Izz ad-Din] al-Qassam Brigades in retaliation for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin,” Mr. Meshaal added. (AFP, DPA, The Guardian, Reuters)

By a vote of 31 to 2, the UN Commission on Human Rights condemned Israel’s killing of Sheikh Yassin in a resolution introduced by Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Cuba and Zimbabwe. The United States and Australia were the two countries that voted against, although the Australian delegate Caroline Millar told the Commission: “Australia opposes targeted assassinations and is concerned that the killing of such a high-profile Palestinian leader will lead to further violence and loss of innocent life.” “One-sided, unbalanced efforts can only detract from Quartet peace efforts,” said US delegate Richard Williamson, maintaining the Commission was wrong to hold a special session on the killing, noting that the issue was under discussion at the Security Council. Besides African and Middle East countries, those voting in favour included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, India and Russia. Eighteen countries, mostly from Europe, abstained, with the EU saying the resolution should have included a general call to halt the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Two members of the 53-nation body – Gabon and Sierra Leone – did not vote. Eritrea, which initially had joined Australia and the US in opposing the debate on the killing of Sheikh Yassin, later sided to support condemnation of the Israeli attack. The Commission also issued a general condemnation of Israel’s policy of “targeted killings” of Palestinians. European countries had repeatedly condemned “terrorist atrocities” by Hamas and other groups, said Irish Ambassador Mary Whelan, speaking on behalf of the EU and 20 other European countries. She stressed: “Israel is entitled under international law to protect its citizens, but not to carry out assassinations.” (AFP, AP, Reuters, CHR press release of 24 March 2004)

PA Prime Minister Qureia criticized Israeli statements about targeting PA President Arafat, telling reporters: “These statements are rude and are part of the Israeli plans that aim at resuming violence, but they are delusional if they think they are able to break the Palestinians’ will.” (Xinhua)

US President Bush urged restraint on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and said he was planning to dispatch a top-level team to the Middle East next week to try to review the stalled peace process “if circumstances on the ground allow.” “This Administration is committed to finding a two-State solution for the good of Israel, a two-State solution for the good of the Palestinian people,” Mr. Bush told reporters after a meeting with his Cabinet. “As far as the Middle East [is concerned], it’s a troubled region and the attacks were troubling. Any country has a right to defend itself from terror. Israel has a right to defend herself from terror, and as she does so I hope she keeps consequences in mind as to how to make sure we stay on the path to peace,” Mr. Bush said, adding the administration team would “see if we can’t keep the process alive, the process towards peace.” (AP)

British banks would freeze assets belonging to five senior members of Hamas, including those of its new leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, HM Treasury said in a statement. The other four were named as Khaled Meshaal, Imad Khalil Al-Alami, Musa Abu Marzouq and Usama Hamdan. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said in a statement that “this action has been taken because the Treasury has reasonable grounds for suspecting that four of the individuals are, or may be, persons who facilitate or participate in the commission of acts of terrorism, and one, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, is or may be a person who commits, facilitates or participates in such acts.” “This is not the first time we hear such stories ... which only aim to deceive and mislead international public opinion,” Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniya told the media. “I challenge the world to disclose these account numbers and the amounts on those accounts. This is a groundless story. Our leadership is based here [in the Occupied Palestinian Territory] and our support comes from members, followers and sympathizers.” (AFP, BBC, Reuters, Xinhua)

Late in the day, Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved back into the Khan Yunis refugee camp, where some structures had been razed the previous night. An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a group of Palestinians, residents said, wounding a policeman. Palestinians said 15 that buildings had been entirely or partially demolished. The Israeli forces had withdrawn early the next day, an IDF spokeswoman said. The IDF said the demolition of houses in Khan Yunis was aimed at “improving the Israeli defensive infrastructure and averting rockets being fired against Israeli tanks.” Shortly after, a group of Palestinian youths began throwing stones at a nearby military outpost. Palestinian hospital officials said a 16-year-old boy had been lightly wounded in the shoulder. The IDF said it had fired at the legs of a person who entered a prohibited area, but had no further information. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said it had destroyed an Israeli bulldozer during the incursion. (AP, Xinhua)

IDF forces foiled an attempted infiltration into the “Emanuel” settlement, west of Nablus. Soldiers reportedly spotted two Palestinians near the “Emanuel” industrial zone, and after a long pursuit captured one in a nearby village. The second one escaped. (Ma’ariv)

Israel Broadcasting Authorityreported that Israeli police had announced the arrest of five Palestinians suspected of firing makeshift firearms at police during demonstrations against the separation barrier near the “Modi’in Ilit” settlement last week. The five, from Beit Liqya, were accused of attempted murder and reportedly had admitted their involvement. (The Jerusalem Post)

An Israeli delegation in Washington - including Director of the Prime Minister’s Bureau Dov Weissglas and National Security Adviser Giora Eiland - had shown the United States a map to illustrate which six West Bank settlements would be removed, in addition to most of those in the Gaza Strip, said an anonymous official quoted in the media. No decision had been made on which option to implement. The six small settlements– “Ganim,” “Kadim,” “Homesh,” “Sanur,” “Mevo Dotan” and “Hermesh” - were all situated in the north of the West Bank, Ha’aretzreported the next day. In exchange, Israel Army Radiosaid, Mr. Sharon wanted the US to formally approve Israel’s hold on settlement blocks in the West Bank where most of the settlers lived. He was also looking for a declaration that Palestinian refugees had no “right to return” to Israel after the creation of the Palestinian State. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the evacuation of the West Bank settlements had been discussed in the meeting between US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Messrs. Eiland and Weissglas, adding that "specific settlements were not discussed” and “the redeployment of settlements in the West Bank was one of a number of options.” (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz)

In a meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Foreign Minister Shalom explained Israel’s decision to kill Sheikh Yassin and called on the UN to convene a special session on fighting terror. Mr. Shalom reportedly told Mr. Annan “we would like to believe that the UN won’t be used once again as a political tool against us.” Addressing afterwards the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Mr. Shalom said: “The fence is reversible but human lives are irreversible. We are very experienced with fences in the past. We moved fences with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, so if we reach any kind of agreement with the Palestinians, the fence is movable.” Noting that a negative advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice could be sent to the Security Council, where sanctions against Israel might be proposed, he said “we should get prepared” for the day after the Court's decision. (The Jerusalem Post)

“Israel, like any other State, has a right to defend its citizens from terrorists, but must do so in accordance with international humanitarian norms,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement on the adoption by the Commission of Human Rights of a resolution on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “The situation in the Palestinian territories after Yassin’s assassination is a matter of serious concern for Moscow. Russia once again calls on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to show restraint and responsibility and not resort to actions that could worsen the situation further,” he added. (AFP, www.mid.ru)

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Six Palestinians, including two children, were injured by the IDF near the Al-Tofah roadblock north of Khan Yunis. The IDF reportedly bulldozed a Palestinian security post near the roadblock. (Xinhua)

IDF jeeps entered the village of Kafr Qalil (Kufr Kalil), just south of Nablus, in search of two members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The fleeing suspects had been caught by troops, the IDF said. No casualties were reported. During the operation, a bomb was thrown at troops, but failed to explode. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

Jerusalem police announced restrictions on entering the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound, with Palestinian men under the age of 45 barred from the site for Friday prayers. (The Jerusalem Post)

A 16-year-old boy’s foiled suicide bombing at an Israeli checkpoint sparked Palestinian criticism of militants’ use of children to carry out attacks, while many Palestinians believed the incident had been staged by Israel. Overnight, Israel arrested two of the boy’s classmates. The family of the teenager, Hussam Abdu, said he was gullible and easily manipulated. Hussam’s relatives also complained: “The IDF and the Israeli propaganda machine are attempting to make headlines by deliberately reporting that he is younger than he is.” A senior IDF official responded: “The report of the child’s age was based on the child’s testimony. He claimed all along that he was 14, an assertion we were not able to verify since he did not possess any identification papers.” The official added that further investigation had revealed that the boy was in fact 16. (AP, Ma’ariv)

Seventy prominent Palestinian officials and intellectuals urged the public not to retaliate for Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Yassin, saying it would ignite a new round of bloodshed that would only hurt Palestinian aspirations for independence. A half-page advertisement in Al-Ayyamcalled on Palestinians to lay down their arms and turn to peaceful means of protest to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The signatories included three PA ministers, including Women’s Affairs Minister Zahira Kamal and Communications Minister Azzam Al-Ahmed, as well as Sari Nusseibeh, PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, Fatah Central Committee and PLC member Abbas Zaki, Nablus Governor Mahmoud Aloul and PLC member Hanan Ashrawi. The signatories said: “We the undersigned, members of varying political, intellectual and social groups ... are terribly pained by this tragedy but we appeal to the sons of our people to act in accordance to our national interests and seize the initiative from the hands of the criminal gang of occupiers and to suppress our revulsion and rise again in a peaceful, popular intifada with well-defined, clear goals and a well-defined message. Such a move would “deprive [Prime Minister] Sharon of the opportunity to increase his aggression against our people.” “Responding to Sharon could be by showing his moral and political bankruptcy rather than adopting his methods and exacting revenge,” Ms. Ashrawi told Reuters. “Resistance does not have to be violent resistance.” (AFP, AP, DPA, Reuters)

Interfaxquoted Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov as saying: “We think this resolution has a sufficiently balanced character and appeal for it to reflect the positions of all Security Council members ... It is important for the UN Security Council to produce a unified position on this issue [Israel’s killing of Sheikh Yassin].” The Security Council was due to discuss the resolution later in the day. Algeria, the only Arab State currently on the Council, spoke for the Palestinians in presenting the draft and calling for a vote at about 2100 GMT. The United States was expected to veto the resolution. If the resolution received the minimum nine votes needed for adoption and was vetoed, the sponsors can could an emergency session of the General Assembly. (AFP, Reuters)

The Jerusalem Postquoted PA President Arafat as saying he was not afraid of the Israeli threats to liquidate him and vowed to pursue the struggle until the Palestinians achieved statehood: “We are a mountain that is not shaken by any wind. This is not the first time that they make such threats.” Mr. Arafat renewed his call for the United Nations to dispatch an international force to the West Bank and Gaza Strip “to defend the Palestinians against Israeli crimes.” He reiterated his opposition to the targeting of civilians on both sides, saying: “I am against any attacks on civilians, including Israelis and Palestinians. We want peace and seek peace in the Holy Land.” (The Jerusalem Post, Xinhua)

The PA Ministry of Health reported that since 1 March 2004, the IDF had killed 80 Palestinians (63 in the Gaza Strip and 17 in the West Bank) and injured 352 (197 in the Gaza Strip and 155 in the West Bank). Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi, PA Minister of Health, said in the report 17 of those killed (21 per cent of the total) were under the age of 18. The report also said that 19 Palestinians had been killed, 36 died after being shot with live ammunition, 10 died during IDF shelling, and 2 died after stepping on mines. The report further showed that most of those killed had sustained wounds to their heads. Among those killed were five women, two of them pregnant, and a mentally handicapped person. A medic was shot in the line of duty. (IMEMC)

Israeli security forces shot and killed two armed Palestinians who reportedly came ashore on a Gaza beach to infiltrate the beachfront Israeli settlement of “Tel Katifa” in the “Gush Katif” block. The men first opened fire on a vehicle in the settlement, but missed their target. They then fired assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades towards the IDF post guarding the settlement before they were hit. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. The army initially said three Palestinians had been shot but found only two bodies after daybreak. (AFP, AP, Ma’ariv)

Owing to a veto of the United States, the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution (S/2004/240) tabled by Algeria that would have condemned the extrajudicial execution of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Eleven Council members voted in favour, with three abstentions (Germany, Romania and the United Kingdom). Speaking before the vote, the United States had said that it would oppose the draft because it was silent about the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas, it did not reflect the realities of the conflict and would not further the goals of peace and security in the region. (UN press release SC/8039)

Israeli media reported on a number of economic and political setbacks to Israel stemming from the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin. Romanian President Ion Iliescu and a Spanish basketball team had cancelled trips to Israel. Tour operators say a large number of tourists have called off their trips to the Holy Land. The recent precautions taken by Israel added to a nervous atmosphere, with many Israelis preferring to stay indoors, leaving malls and restaurants nearly empty. Of particular concern was a UN State Department travel advisory that automatically voided insurance for trips to Israel, triggering many trip cancellations. (AP, Ma’ariv)

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Two Palestinians were killed in separate incidents. One was killed when an explosion went off in the van he was driving in the Balata refugee camp. The man was identified as Ahmed al-Abed from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Palestinian security officials said the car had been carrying explosives. The Israeli military denied any involvement in the blast. Another Palestinian named Mahmoud Zaran, 20, was shot dead by IDF soldiers in the Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem, during a confrontation between the army and stone-throwers protesting the killing of Sheikh Yassin. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said: “We regret that unity failed to be achieved in the UN Security Council over the present dangerous turn of the spiral of violence in the Middle East. Russia had wanted the Council’s response to the assassination of Sheikh Yassin to be balanced and, most importantly, aimed at preventing a further growth in tensions.” Interfaxnews agency reported that Mr. Fedotov said, “There was a chance to reach consensus if the consultations continued.” Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, said one of the problems with UN resolutions on the Middle East was that, to be passed, they had to include a condemnation of suicide bombings. “Not having that in the resolution brought the problem,” he said. Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said, “We deeply regret that the Security Council of the United Nations has failed to shoulder its responsibility in security issues.” It warned that the assassination could spark fresh bloodletting in the Middle East. PA Minister of Negotiations Affairs Saeb Erakat said the US veto would be seen by Israel “as an encouragement to continue the path of violence, escalation, assassinations and reoccupation.” (AP, Reuters,www.ln.mid.ru)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, senior adviser to PA President Yasser Arafat, urged the US to use its influence to stop Israel from making threats against Mr. Arafat’s life. “We urge the US Administration to put an end to these threats, and it can do that,” he said. He referred to the hint by Israel Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon that Mr. Arafat, along with the chief of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, might be targets for assassination. Gen. Ya’alon had earlier said, “judging by their reactions (to Sheikh Yassin’s assassination), they know that it is coming closer to them.” But Israeli Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi had said that Mr. Arafat was not a target: “We are frustrated by the fact that he is still in power … however, we are not going to intervene in the creation of a new political leader for the Palestinian Authority.” Mr. Rudeineh said Mr. Arafat was not concerned for his life and that security measures at his HQ were “as normal,” but added “the situation is dangerous and the threats are serious and should be taken seriously.” (DPA, Ma’ariv, Xinhua)

The US turned down Israel’s request that Washington recognize and accept Israeli annexation of the “Ariel” and “Ma’ale Adumim” settlement blocks in any future peace agreement in return for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a few settlements in the West Bank. Sources said, “Israel did not get the full political support” it sought from the US after three days of intensive talks between Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weissglas and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The US said the two settlement blocks were a matter for final-status negotiations with the Palestinians in the future. A senior diplomatic source said that the US Administration would support Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan, but still sought clarifications on various issues regarding developments to be expected “the day after” Israel left Gaza. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said Israel was not seeking US approval of its plan to withdraw from most of the Gaza Strip, although it would like to coordinate certain moves with Washington. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz)

The conclusions of the Presidency of the European Council expressed “deep concern at the situation in the Middle East and the deepening of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following in particular the extrajudicial killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin … It called on the Palestinian Authority to address the issue of security and combat terrorism and welcome the Palestinian Authority’s announcement of plans for improving Palestinian security performance … It noted with particular concern the grievous humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and called on the Israeli Government to take action to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians by lifting prohibitions of movement [and] reversing the construction of the so-called security fence on Palestinian land … [The] European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.” (ue.eu.int.newsroom/)

Seven UN entities - WFP, UNDP, WHO, UNRWA, UNICEF, OCHA and UNSCO - issued a press statement in the Gaza Strip saying they could be forced to “reduce or terminate some critical relief operations” in the Gaza Strip because of Israeli restrictions on their movement. The statement noted: “During the past three weeks, all the UN and relevant organizations’ vehicles were barred from crossing the Erez terminal in the north of the Gaza Strip, obliging the employees to cross the terminal on foot.” Food shipments through Karni, the only commercial crossing point in Gaza, had also been obstructed. “Because the restrictions persist, the UN is compelled to call publicly on the Government of Israel to restore full access to Gaza for UN and humanitarian workers and goods,” it said. “There are some limits after which we cannot go further,” said Jean-Marc Siblot, WFP Country Director for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said that UN staff had to walk through the dangerous Erez Crossing, which could take more than four hours, and flatbed trucks that brought food into Gaza were sometimes not allowed to leave again, meaning agencies had to pay fines for not returning them in time. Mr. Siblot said WFP provided food to about 10 per cent of Gaza’s residents and its stocks there would last about one and half months if the situation did not change: “If they don’t receive this food then the problem for them will deteriorate extremely rapidly.” Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Arye Meckel said the Mission in New York had received no complaints, and the issue had not come up during a meeting between Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Foreign Minister Shalom on 24 March, or in meetings he had had that week with the UN Special Coordinator and the head of the OCHA. “It would be a better idea, if the UN has any complaints, that they come to us before they go to the press,” Mr. Meckel said. “Without having received any complaints, nevertheless, if there are any restrictions they must be based on the security situation there.” The restrictions appeared to be part of stepped-up security in the West Bank and Gaza amid an Israeli offensive before a possible withdrawal from Gaza. Pointing out the need for security checks, Mr. Meckel noted that earlier that month, two Palestinian suicide bombers had sneaked into the port of Ashdod in a cargo container. (AP, Xinhua)

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A seven-year-old Palestinian boy was killed when two IDF companies entered the Balata refugee camp, on the edge of Nablus. The boy, Khaled Walweel, was standing at the window of his home and had just turned his back when he was shot and killed, his family said. IDF sector commander Guy Hatzout said the troops had searched for a fugitive suspected of recent attempts to smuggle explosives and had traded fire with Palestinians, but were ordered to withdraw when they were unable to find the fugitive. Col. Hatzout said he had driven into the camp in his jeep to supervise the withdrawal of his troops; no firing was heard for about five minutes when suddenly a Palestinian began shooting at the jeep from an alley. He said the man had fired from behind a corner and could not see what he was shooting at, and added: “Ten seconds later, I hear screaming behind my jeep. I see an entire family shouting, and in the arms of a father I see a bleeding boy.” The boy’s mother believed that he was hit by Israeli soldiers firing at a group of youths hurling stones at their jeeps. Palestinian security sources and a witness from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) said the fatal bullet had been fired by Israeli troops. “I was 50 metres from the jeep when the soldiers opened fire without any provocation,” said ISM photographer Omar Tibi. An IDF spokesman insisted that troops had not opened fire at the time of the incident. Video footage showed a line of jeeps being pelted by stones as troops drove through an alley. At one point a bullet hit the top right fender of the lead jeep, and moments later, screaming was heard, with several people carrying a boy into the street. The boy’s family lived in a second-floor apartment. It is speculated that a bullet fired at street level might have ricocheted through the apartment window. (AFP, AP)

Two Palestinian stone throwers were shot in the legs by Israeli gunfire in the area of Rachel’s Tomb, just outside Bethlehem. In Rafah, a 17-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man were injured by gunfire when they entered a strip of land next to the border with Egypt under Israeli control. The army had no immediate comment on either incident. (AFP)

IDF soldiers evacuated the “Giborim” outpost established by some 350 Israeli youth along the so-called Worshippers’ Way connecting the “Kiryat Arba” settlement and the Cave of the Patriarchs (Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi) in Hebron. The IDF was investigating a report that soldiers had fired warning shots in the air in violation of standing army regulations for outpost evacuations. Urit Struck of the Hebron Settler Council told Israel National News (a.k.a. Arutz 7) the next day: “More than 20 attempts have been made so far to populate the outpost, and Kiryat Arba youth will continue to go up there, even if they are evacuated, until a new neighbourhood of Kiryat Arba is established in that place.” (IMRA)

PA President Arafat endorsed a Jordanian-Palestinian draft sent to him from Tunis by Arab foreign ministers trying to revive an Arab initiative for peace with Israel. “The document on the Arab-Israeli conflict was sent by fax to President Arafat, who signed it,” an Arab official said, as ministers prepared a document to submit at an Arab summit to start on 29 March. “President Arafat approved it and the foreign ministers are discussing it behind closed doors, while Syria has expressed criticism about the document that should however be overcome,” the official further said. The combined draft reportedly incorporated the Saudi initiative adopted by the Beirut summit in 2002, as well as the Road Map. (AFP)

PA Labour Minister Ghassan Al-Khatib praised the EU for not recognizing any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties. “The EU’s position is the result of intensified Palestinian public and formal activities in different European countries,” Mr. Al-Khatib told the Voice of Palestine radio, adding, "The greater challenge would be to change the US position, which totally supports Israel.” He called on the Arab world to launch diplomatic moves in this respect. (Xinhua)

Hamas strongly rejected the call made two days earlier by a number of Palestinian officials and intellectuals to adopt non-violent means in retaliating to Sheikh Yassin's assassination. Hamas representative Mohammad Ghazal told reporters “Those who issued this communiqué do not represent Palestinians, because Palestinians have chosen to adopt resistance until ousting the occupation and gaining freedom.” Responding to the same call, a leaflet from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said “These people have imposed themselves on the Palestinian people and called for the end of the intifada and halt our resistance against the Zionist enemy without any shame, while our blood is constantly shed.” The leaflet further said that the only way for Palestinians to halt the Israeli occupation and regain their rights was to adopt the choice of armed resistance. (Xinhua)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, senior adviser to PA President Arafat, denied Israeli media reports that the PA had been seeking guarantees from the US Central Intelligence Agency to protect Mr. Arafat, telling the press: “We have nothing to do with these reports, which were made up and absolutely wrong.” Mr. Abu Rudeineh also said the PA had been disappointed at the US veto of a draft Security Council resolution condemning the assassination by Israel of Sheikh Yassin. (Xinhua)

A memorial service was held at London’s Catholic Westminster Cathedral for Tom Hurndall, shot dead in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Family and friends were joined by lawmakers, campaigners, including Bianca Jagger, and Afif Safieh, an official Palestinian representative in London. Tributes from Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Britain were also read out. (AP)

The Philippine Government supported a Security Council draft resolution condemning Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Yassin, the Foreign Affairs Department said. Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Rafael Seguis said the Philippines was among the 10 council members that had sought a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but was defeated by the US veto. “It was our hope that this resolution would have helped to encourage the parties to exert every effort to prevent an escalation of violence in the Middle East,” Mr. Seguis said, “We must shift the momentum to peace, and clearly veer away from further violence and death.” He added that the Philippines would be sending Ambassador Roy Cimatu to Israel to assess the situation and inform the Government of any contingency plans. (DPA)

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Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian during an arrest operation in Ad-Dhahiriya, south-west of Hebron. Israeli military sources said Jamal At-Tal, 32, refused orders to come out and be arrested. “Eventually our forces spotted a suspicious figure on the roof and opened fire. The man, who was killed, turned out to be the terrorist we were seeking.” A forged ID card, an IDF uniform and ammunition were found during a search of the house, the IDF said. Israel Army Radiosaid Mr. At-Tal had been shot after he pointed what was thought to be a firearm at the troops. But Palestinian sources and an AFPcorrespondent at the scene said a broom had been found beside his body. While the IDF maintained that Mr. At-Tal had been a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and was planning a suicide attack, family and neighbours said he had no known militant links, and denied he had been implicated in any anti-Israeli attacks. They had initially assumed the army was after the killed man's brother, a member of the Palestinian security services reportedly wanted for alleged involvement in the intifada. (AFP, AP, DPA, Reuters)

In Nablus, witnesses reported heavy exchanges of fire and heard a number of explosions, when at least 10 IDF jeeps cordoned off a house in the centre of the city. One person had been shot and wounded in the leg, hospital officials said. A 15-year-old boy was lightly wounded in the clashes. The IDF said troops came under fire during a routine arrest operation and that two men had been apprehended before troops withdrew. Witnesses identified them as two brothers, Shaher and Basher Asfouri. Neighbours said Shaher, 35, was a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, while Basher, 28, was not linked to any group. Two other Palestinians were arrested in the city, with an IDF spokesman telling AFP:“Our forces arrested Taher Hariwi, 16, in the Rafidiya refugee camp in Nablus, who was planning to commit a suicide attack in Israel. Another wanted Palestinian was arrested in the course of the same operation.” Israel Broadcasting Authorityidentified the youth as Tamar Hawira, a 16-year-old Islamic Jihad activist. (AFP, IBA, AP)

An Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by Palestinian sniper fire at an IDF outpost near the “Gadid” and “Neve Dekalim” settlements in the Gaza Strip. (IBA, Ha’aretz)

The IDF demolished two Palestinian houses in the Ereba area near Rafah. The Palestinian General Security Services said that Israeli soldiers stationed at the “Morag” settlement had raided the area with the backup of two tanks and a military bulldozer. (Xinhua)

The IDF raided Biddya village, between Salfit and Qalqilya, and demolished the house of Abdel-Rahman Ibrahim, 19, who had stabbed an Israeli soldier and two other Israelis on 22 March in Ramat Gan after the assassination of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli forces. The Israeli soldiers had forced the residents to evacuate the two-storey house, as well as the neighbouring houses, and then had blown it up. (Xinhua)

A Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research poll showed that some three quarters of Palestinians welcomed Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to evacuate most Gaza Strip settlements, but that only a third believed he was serious about implementing such a move. Two thirds of those surveyed said they believed the planned pullout represented a victory for armed factions. Some 32 per cent thought a withdrawal from Gaza would increase the chances for a peace settlement, while 24 per cent said it would decrease hopes. A total of 49 per cent of Gaza residents said the withdrawal would lead to a decrease in attacks against Israel from the territory, although the number dropped to 41 per cent when including the responses from West Bank residents. Thirty per cent thought it would lead to an increase in violence. The survey also showed wide support for armed attacks: 87 per cent supported attacks against Israeli soldiers, 86 per cent against settlers and 53 per cent against Israeli civilians. But the survey also found that 84 per cent supported “mutual cessation of violence” and 70 per cent support a truce. PA President Arafat’s popularity remained unchanged at 38 per cent since the December 2003 survey. Fatah popularity stood at 27 per cent, compared with a 20 per cent rating for Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas commanded the support of 27 per cent, compared with 23 per cent for Fatah. A total of 1,320 people were surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza between 14 and 17 March, before Israel assassinated Sheikh Yassin. The margin of error was 3 per cent. (AFP, IMRA, PCPSR press release)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in an interview with London-based Al-Hayat: “Assassinating Sheikh Yassin is a crime according to any criteria, and should bring about a turning point in the international community … to put an end to all Israel’s arbitrary acts.” King Abdullah, who had met Prime Minister Sharon in Israel on 18 March said that he had left the meeting with the impression Mr. Sharon “will cooperate on the peace process from now on, but unfortunately he embarrassed us and carried out this operation that the whole world condemned.” Speaking on the eve of the Arab League’s summit meeting, since cancelled, the King said: “The Israelis do not want this summit to succeed, and they don’t want the Arab peace initiative raised again, because they don’t want peace … The Israelis do not want peace, they want to embarrass the Arabs in the eyes of the world, so that everyone says the Arabs are the ones who do not want peace.” Earlier, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher accused Mr. Sharon of “wanting to kill the idea of the establishment of the Palestinian State.” (Ma’ariv, Xinhua)

The mayors of two of the largest West Bank settlements criticized as “immoral” the separation barrier. “The Government which is building this barrier is immoral for it is rendering the communities which are being left on the other side illegitimate,” Ron Nahman, mayor of “Ariel,” told a conference there. “The route of the barrier is in reality the future frontier of the State of Israel, which is unacceptable.” Daniela Weiss, mayor of “Kedumim,” said she was prepared to go to prison in order to prevent its construction. “The principle of the barrier is wrong and I will oppose it by any means possible. I will destroy with my own hands any barrier which turns Kedumim into a ghetto and separates me from my brothers who live on the other side. I am ready to go to prison to prevent the construction of this barrier. This unfair plan of Sharon’s must disappear. We will not live like rats who have been caught behind a barrier while our enemies bolster their means to wage war against us and yet our side does nothing to intervene.” Former Defence Minister Moshe Arens told the conference: “The barrier saves lives but it cannot provide a satisfactory long-term solution to the threat posed by Palestinian terrorism to the existence of the State of Israel.” Reserve Gen. Baruch Spiegel, head of the Defence Ministry’s security fence team, said the barrier had already proved its effectiveness in foiling attacks in the completed section: “Since it has been in place between Megiddo and Qalqilya, there have been no incursions from this region.” (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon held his second meeting with Likud ministers to discuss his disengagement plan. He also met with the three Likud deputy ministers. In the meeting, Foreign Minister Shalom reportedly said: “If we want an arrangement to hold for a long time, we have to do it with a partner [on the other side].” Such a move also requires US and international backing, he added. Treasury Minister Meir Sheetrit said that Israel should leave Gaza in the framework of an agreement and not carry out a unilateral withdrawal, Ha’aretz reported. (IBA, UPI)

“We were troubled by [Sheikh Yassin’s] assassination, because we are concerned about the consequences of the assassination,” US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” programme. “We have said to both parties, this is a time to end this cycle - people don’t like to say it’s a cycle, but I’m afraid that’s what it is. It’s time to end this,” he said. “But it has to begin with greater effort on the part of the Palestinians to bring terror under control,” he added. (Xinhua)

British Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, when addressing members of his Manchester constituency, called for economic sanctions against Israel to force it back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians: “It is not enough for the world community, including our own Government, to condemn the Israeli Government’s brutal policies of repression. Only widespread economic sanctions on Israel, together with cutting off arms supplies, can make any impact on this Government without a conscience.” (AFP)

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Palestinian witnesses said two Palestinians had been wounded as Israeli soldiers opened intensive fire at them in the Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron. They added that the Israeli soldiers, stationed at a nearby military checkpoint, “intentionally shot two civilians ... walking in the street.” In Rafah, Israeli soldiers had wounded a Palestinian in Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood, medical sources reported. They said that Yossef Abu Kashan, 42, had been shot and wounded in the shoulder when the Israeli soldiers opened heavy machine-gun fire towards civilian houses. (Xinhua)

The IDF detained three Palestinians in the Al-Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem. Witnesses said the Israeli troops, backed by tanks and jeeps, had entered the camp and arrested three residents in house-to-house searches. Israel Radioreported that the three were wanted for their involvement in armed attacks against Israel, and had been taken for interrogation. (Xinhua)

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio:“I am convinced that [the] disengagement plan will advance and in the end will be carried out. The Prime Minister is determined to do this.” Mr. Sharon told the closed meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that he planned to seek Cabinet and Knesset approval after returning from a trip to Washington in April, his spokesman, Assaf Shariv, said. Mr. Sharon was scheduled to meet President Bush on 14 April. Mr. Shariv said Mr. Sharon had not decided when to submit the proposal. MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labour) said Mr. Sharon had told the Committee the vote would be taken immediately after his return from the United States. (AP, DPA)

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi had conveyed Japan’s regret to Israel over its assassination of Sheikh Yassin, Foreign Ministry officials said. In her telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Shalom, Ms. Kawaguchi was quoted as saying that the assassination was a reckless act and could not be justified. The Ministry also released remarks by its Director-General for the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau, Hideaki Domichi, to Israeli Ambassador to Japan Eli Cohen on 23 March, which had called the assassination “a thoughtless and unjustifiable act giving no consideration of its consequences” that “gravely impairs the realization of peace, and is profoundly regrettable.” (AP, www.mofa.go.jp)

Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds criticized the US for not doing more to resolve the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. “It is of course unfortunate that the US has been so passive in light of the great possibilities it has to exert influence, especially when it comes to Israel,” she said. “It is obvious that they understand that they have to do something … that they can’t remain passive as they have been so far,” she added. Ms. Freivalds had just returned from a visit to Tunis, where the Arab League Summit had just been postponed. (AFP)

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The IDF blew up a two-storey house during an overnight incursion into the town of Rafah. About a dozen armoured vehicles took part in the operation in the Al-Salam neighbourhood near the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The two-storey house was dynamited during the operation and farmland was also razed by bulldozers. An Israeli military spokesman said the house had been used as cover by Palestinian militants to launch attacks with explosives and firearms. (AFP)

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs called on all Arabs in Israel to mark the 28th anniversary of Land Day, protesting the Israeli Government’s policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israel’s Arab population held mass protests. Some 5,000 marchers gathered in the Galilee town of Arraba, many carrying banners condemning the assassination of Sheikh Yassin. The marchers, whose demonstration echoed in towns in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, commemorated Land Day, marking the killing of six Israeli Arabs in 1976 during protests against the confiscation of thousands of acres of Arab land from the villages of Arraba, Deir Hanna and Sakhnin, in Lower Galilee. (AFP, Albawaba.com, IMEMC, Ma’ariv, Middle East Online)

The IDF attacked a march in Nablus marking the Land Day, and arrested four Palestinians. Three Palestinians were wounded by the Israeli army in the village of Beit Liqya near Ramallah. (IMEMC)

Dozens of settlers scuffled with Israeli troops in an attempt to prevent the dismantling of an unauthorized place of worship on a West Bank hilltop. More than 200 settlers had arrived at the one-trailer outpost, “Hazon David,” to block troops, according to a settler spokesperson. Israeli security sources said “Hazon David” was one of several outposts to be dismantled ahead of Prime Minister Sharon’s trip to the US in mid-April. The army said it had removed three tents from the site earlier, but declined to say whether there were plans to dismantle the outpost itself. Dror Etkes, spokesman for the Peace Now movement, said the dismantling of “Hazon David,” located at the entrance of the “Kiryat Arba” settlement, was symbolic. “It is the same old game to take down an insignificant outpost and make a big deal out of it.” A young Israeli woman and two police officers were lightly injured in clashes between the settlers and Palestinians. (AP, The Guardian)

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said the Agency would have to halt food deliveries to the Gaza Strip this week because of restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of staff and supplies. “We will have as of Thursday [1 April] to discontinue food distributions as we can no longer cope with the inability to take containers out of Gaza,” Mr. Hansen said. He also said the blockage was adding “intolerable costs to a programme which is already stung by underfunding.” About 11,000 tonnes of food were running into a bottleneck outside Gaza, according to Mr. Hansen. (AFP)

Three senior US officials - Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and National Security Council Middle East Affairs head Elliot Abrams - held a meeting in Brussels with EU officials and a Russian envoy, ahead of a trip to Israel and to at least two Arab countries. A US embassy spokesman said the talks were part of regular Quartet consultations. The three US envoys also met with EU Middle East envoy Marc Otte. (AFP)

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades warned of “undesirable consequences” if the group of senior US officials, who were due in the region this week, were to travel to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The warning was delivered in a statement sent to AFP in Gaza City. A US embassy spokesman said the threats were being “taken seriously” but added that the diplomats had no plans to go to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon told Likud Convention a poll to be held by the party members on the disengagement plan would be binding. The Convention earlier approved by a show of hands the Prime Minister’s proposal to hold the poll, which would be held after Mr. Sharon’s return from his visit to Washington. (Ha’aretz)

Some 101 Israeli officers, many of them generals belonging to the Council for Peace and Security sent a letter to Cabinet ministers warning that the latter would be held responsible for any bloodshed that resulted from the route of the separation barrier in the West Bank. The Council had been among the first Israelis to suggest the construction of the barrier, but said it should be built along the Green Line. The letter read: “Time flies! The fence is being built quickly and we will all pay a high price in blood. We are calling on you to exhibit courage and responsibility to the public and demand a change in the route of the fence!” The officers wrote that the barrier endangered Israeli troops who would have to patrol the sections that run near Palestinian homes, from which militants could attack, and would also create points of friction at gates through which Palestinians would have to pass to conduct their daily affairs. The 388,000 Palestinians who would be left on the Israeli side of the barrier would pose an additional security hazard, as well as a demographic problem. The Council joined Palestinians in petitioning the High Court of Justice against the route of the barrier in the Jerusalem area. (AP)

Seven protesters demonstrating against the separation barrier near Beituniya were injured by rubber-coated bullets fired by IDF soldiers. One of the injured was Israeli, five were Palestinian, and one was from abroad. (IBA)

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Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian when they opened fire at three men seen crawling towards their base near the “Gush Katif” settlement block. Military sources had earlier said that troops combing the area had found the bodies of two militants, but later said only one body had been recovered. Soldiers also recovered an assault rifle, ammunition, hand grenades and a mobile telephone. Another person appeared to have been wounded by gunfire but had escaped, they added. A Fatah group said it had sent a man to carry out a suicide attack against the settlement and that several other gunmen were to have provided covering fire when he launched the attack. (AFP, AP, Reuters)

IDF troops with seven tanks and four armoured bulldozers had raided the eastern areas of Gaza City before dawn and razed Palestinian agricultural lands near the Al-Muntar (Karni) Crossing, Palestinian security sources said. Other IDF troops had reportedly broken into the Abu Huli area in central Gaza Strip and bulldozed a number of Palestinian-owned plots of land, in addition to erecting sand barricades and digging trenches for the tanks. (Xinhua)

Israeli border police dismantled two uninhabited settler outposts in the West Bank. Troops clashed with settlers who had broken through a police cordon to try to block an army bulldozer that eventually tore down a makeshift place of worship at the “Hazon David” outpost, near Hebron. Two hours later, soldiers and police stopped an attempt by more than 100 settlers to rebuild the site. Protesters threw stones at soldiers and at Palestinian houses in the area, injuring a policewoman. A 14-year-old settler suffered a moderate head injury. Police said the boy had apparently been hit by a stone. In the afternoon, soldiers removed two shipping containers used as makeshift shelters at the “Bat Ayin West-West” (“West Bat Ayin Ma’arav”) outpost in the “Gush Etzion” block, where they met no resistance. The outposts were among six slated for removal after Israel’s High Court of Justice had lifted an injunction barring the evacuation. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.–Gen. Moshe Ya’alon announced additional outposts would be dismantled “in the coming days,” saying “a plan has been approved” and the army was just waiting for the Court’s approval before carrying out the evacuation orders. (AP, Ma’ariv, Reuters, Xinhua)

Twenty-five protesters were injured near the village of Qatanna, south-west of Ramallah, where bulldozers were clearing ground for the separation barrier. The demonstrators were reportedly trying to reach the bulldozers when troops fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. No injuries were reported in three other incidents in which Palestinians had allegedly fired at soldiers in the Gaza Strip, at civilian workers in the “Gush Katif” settlement block and at an Israeli car in the northern West Bank. (Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

At daybreak, settlers armed with assault rifles moved into Silwan, just south-west of Jerusalem. Settlers said eight families were to move into two renovated compounds bought for them: a seven-storey apartment building and a smaller house, the latter reportedly standing on the same spot where Yemeni Jews had settled in 1882. The Palestinian owner disputed the settlers’ claim of ownership. Clashes erupted in a narrow alley, with Palestinians throwing stones from rooftops. Police and soldiers ran onto nearby rooftops and fired tear gas. Troops pulled young men out of nearby homes, beat one with a baton and led away six others in handcuffs. Nine Palestinians were arrested for stone-throwing. Six police officers had been hurt, police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said. At least three Palestinians were seen bleeding. Police reportedly found a sizeable number of firebombs on a roof and suspected they were to be used against the settlers. The settlers said they were members of the Committee for the Renewal of the Yemenite Village in Shiloah (Hebrew for Silwan) and their aim was to re-establish a Jewish presence in the neighbourhood. “Sixty-six years later we have returned Jewish families to the area with the idea of living side by side with the Arabs,” Daniel Luria, a Committee spokesman, said, adding that three of the eight families were of Yemenite heritage so “it is really closing a circle.” Forty settlers moved into the buildings bought by several organizations, among them the Kfar Hatemanim (Hebrew for “Yemeni village”) group, headed by Haim Bashari, a former adviser to Finance Minister Netanyahu. Two of the new residents were descendants of Yemenis who had once lived in Silwan. In late 1882, a group of Jews from Yemen settled in caves near Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery. A donor then decided to build houses for the impoverished immigrants and bought land in Silwan. In 1885, the first houses were inaugurated during a ceremony attended by leading Jewish figures of Jerusalem. Six years later, 65 families lived in the “Kfar Shiloah,” named after the Siloam Pool mentioned in the Bible. Relations with their Palestinian neighbours were good, but the community was increasingly threatened by rioting and the Mandate authorities finally asked them to leave during the great Arab revolt in 1938. (AFP, AP, Reuters, Xinhua)

Majid Abu Khamis, a Hamas member from Jenin arrested on 5 February 2004, appeared before a military tribunal near Nablus and was charged with planning to kill former Foreign Minister of Israel and Likud MK David Levy. According to the details of his indictment, Mr. Abu Khamis had followed Mr. Levy in the ex-Minister’s hometown of Beit Shean, where Mr. Abu Khamis worked as a fishmonger. He had also asked one of his colleagues to carry out the killing but the colleague had refused, the indictment added. Mr. Levy first served as Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Shamir in the early 1990s and later held the same position under Prime Minister Barak. He recently returned to the Likud party after founding and leading the Besher movement. (AFP, AP)

The PA Health Ministry information centre published a report stating that 31 Palestinians had been killed and 226 injured since the assassination of Sheikh Yassin on 22 March. According to the Minister, the report held the Israeli Government fully responsible for the safety and lives of Palestinians in the light of its military measures in breach of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Minister called on the United Nations, the international Red Cross and the WHO to exert pressure on Israel and halt its military actions against Palestinian hospitals, health centres, paramedics and ambulances. The report also said that since the start of the intifada in September 2000, the IDF had been besieging and storming Palestinian hospitals and barring patients and injured people from reaching hospitals, in addition to humiliating and arresting Palestinian paramedic staff . (Xinhua)

Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak, along with Justices Eliyahu Matzah and Mishael Heshin, after hearing nine petitions on the proposed route of the wall near Jerusalem, decided to extend by one week the ban on construction. They also reviewed the response filed by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky. In one of the petitions, the Council for Peace and Security, comprising former senior IDF and security officers, was critical of the proposed route in two sections near Jerusalem (its western suburb of Mevaseret Zion and the “Har Adar” settlement), saying that the barrier needlessly harmed residents of nearby Palestinians villages. In its opinion paper, the Council sharply criticized the suggested barrier path and set out an alternative route, based on security considerations, with less damage to nearby Palestinian villages. Among the officers who signed the petition was Gen. (Res.) Avraham Adan (Bren), commander of the army division that fought alongside Ariel Sharon’s division in the 1973 war. “It is our security assessment that, as the building of the security barrier progresses, terror threats increasingly will be directed against Israeli settlements, key transport routes and infrastructure installations in the Judea and Samaria [West Bank] region”, Gen. Kaplinsky wrote in an affidavit to the High Court of Justice in response to a number of petitions on the planned route of the barrier. (Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on 31 March that work on segments of the West Bank barrier that had been held up could proceed as of the following Sunday. The Defence Ministry would be allowed to resume work on the fence in the Modiin Ilit and Hasmonaim segment along highway 443, and in Har Adar. The justices ordered work on the fence in the area of Modiin to be suspended until Sunday. The construction freeze would enable petitioners against the fence to respond to the latest arguments presented by the State. The judges also issued a temporary injunction barring work from resuming on the Beit Surik-Mevasseret Tzion segment of the fence. The injunction would be in effect for nine days. The judges proposed that those opposed to the current route offer an alternative. The State would have until 13 April to respond to the alternative route. (IBA)

Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher spoke to reporters after his talks with the US delegation headed by Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley (and including Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns and Assistant National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams), saying: “The American team reaffirmed the US administration’s adherence to the Road Map and the setting up of a viable Palestinian State. They assured us that any Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip should represent a step in this direction.” (DPA)

Prime Minister Qureia would hold talks on 1 April with the US delegation, a senior Palestinian source told AFP. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat would also attend the meeting, likely to take place in the US Consulate in East Jerusalem. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and National Security Council Middle East affairs head Elliot Abrams were also expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Sharon in Jerusalem on 1 April. (AFP)

In a speech marking his first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Qureia addressed the PLC, saying: “The Gaza pullout proposal could be a chance and we should all work together to seize this chance in a wise and courageous manner … In principle, we welcome the Israeli withdrawal from our Palestinian land. But for any withdrawal to have meaning for us ... it should ... be followed by a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, too.” He said it also would have to be done through negotiations, and added: “If any of these conditions are not met, then a new obstacle will be placed in the path of peace and it will not help take the sides out of the current vicious cycle.” Mr. Qureia also used especially tough language to condemn suicide bombings, calling them an obstacle to peace and saying that such attacks led to an “accumulation of hatred and loss of confidence between the two peoples and place obstacles in the path of reviving the peace process.” Speaking of the situation on the ground, Mr. Qureia said: “The situation has remained the same since the Government was formed. The siege, the aggression continues. The economic situation is deteriorating, the internal security situation is ... getting worse. … All this is happening with the international community’s complacency and the United States’ blatant bias [toward Israel]". (AFP, AP, DPA, Reuters)

An internal Likud survey, commissioned by Prime Minister Sharon and published in Yediot Aharonotand Ma’ariv, found that 51 per cent of party members supported Mr. Sharon’s unilateral Gaza Strip withdrawal plan, while between 36 and 39 per cent opposed it; the rest were undecided. The poll was undertaken before Mr. Sharon announced his intention to hold a binding Likud vote on the plan. The referendum of 200,000 Likud members would be held sometime after Mr. Sharon’s return from 14 April talks in Washington with President Bush. “All Likud representatives, me included, will be bound by the results of the survey among all Likud Members,” Mr. Sharon told the Likud convention the previous night. (AFP, AP, Ma’ariv, Reuters)

In a speech in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Sharon said Israel had to draw its own security line, which would mean “withdrawal from areas which it is understood will not be under Israeli control in any permanent agreement to be signed in the future, which cause great friction between Israelis and Palestinians - the Gaza Strip, for example.” Mr. Sharon warned that if violence continued, international donors had said they could not maintain their contributions to the Palestinians, which he said supported 1.8 million people. Stopping foreign aid to the Palestinians would be a “humanitarian disaster,” he said, and Israel would be blamed. Mr. Sharon further said: “The world will not allow the stalemate to continue. The stalemate will inevitably bring a flood of international initiatives,” and Israel’s vital interests would not be taken into account. He said the world was not sympathetic to Israel’s demand that as a first step, the Palestinians must stop terror attacks against Israel: “They say Israel must first withdraw from all the territory, and then Palestinians would stop terrorism. … Israel must take a step that will prevent political collapse. It must reduce the friction between Israelis and Palestinians [by leaving the Gaza Strip]." (AP)



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