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Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the

Question of Palestine

Monthly media monitoring review

April 2004


1

Israeli forces detained 12 Palestinians at a psychiatric hospital in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp after an hour-long gun battle. Eight belonged to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, among them the group’s commander for the region, Jamal Hamara. He is suspected of involvement in a suicide attack on a bus in Jerusalem on 29 January that had killed 10 Israelis. Also arrested was Mr. Hamara’s deputy, Rabia Rabia. Israel Broadcasting Authority said both men had been officers in the Palestinian intelligence service. The other four were reportedly members of the hospital’s staff. No casualties were reported. An Israeli military source said that the 12 were all wanted for their suspected involvement in preparing attacks in Israel, and had taken refuge in the hospital’s administrative wing. According to Reuters, the IDF said the militants had been meeting at the hospital to plan attacks against Israelis. (AFP, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), Reuters)

UNRWA announced it had stopped distributing emergency food aid to some 600,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip. Its statement said the suspension followed restrictions introduced by Israel on the sole commercial crossing into Gaza through which it is able to bring in humanitarian assistance. The Agency said it had now completely run out of stocks of rice, flour, cooking oil and other essential products. “Under normal circumstances, UNRWA delivers some 250 tons of food aid per day in Gaza alone as part of a wider programme of emergency assistance to refugees, initiated shortly after the outbreak of strife in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000,” the statement said. Since then, the Gaza Strip has been in a deep socio-economic crisis resulting from on and off closures of its border with Israel and the destruction of thousands of homes and agricultural and industrial properties. Almost two out of three households in Gaza live below the poverty line and more than half its workforce is unemployed. UNRWA said it urged Israel to loosen its restrictions in Gaza in a joint statement with other UN agencies in March, but thus far without success. (UN press release PAL/1977, Deutsche Press-Agentur (DPA))

Clashes between Israeli settlers and security forces continued at the unpopulated outpost of “Hazon David,” near Hebron, which the IDF tried to dismantle four times in two days. Police arrested 14 settlers on charges of illegally gathering and disturbing the peace. Two youths were lightly injured. The settlers tried to rebuild a place of worship at the site, and soldiers removed the structure. (IBA, Ma’ariv)

Three US envoys - White House officials Stephen Hadley and Elliot Abrams, as well as Assistant Secretary of State William Burns - travelled to a hotel in Jericho, under heavy security in a convoy protected by US guards, to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Qureia. The envoys had met earlier in Jerusalem with the Prime Minister’s Bureau Chief, Dov Weisglass, and National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, and were due to see Israel's Prime Minister Sharon later in the day. During the meeting, Mr. Qureia said he supported Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip only as part of full implementation of the Road Map. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat said, “The Americans asked that we impose order and take responsibility for security in West Bank cities and the Gaza Strip. We are willing to do this on the condition that there will be a return to negotiations and implementation of the Road Map.” (IBA, Ma’ariv, Reuters)

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said at his monthly press conference, “I hope very much that, in the next few weeks, we get some prospect of Israel making moves towards long-term peace, and some response from the Palestinian Authority”, adding, “That’s what we’re working towards at the moment.” (AFP, www.number-10.gov.uk)

The PA implemented a key reform, directly depositing the salaries of all its security officers in their respective bank accounts rather than giving them to security chiefs to distribute in cash. “The salaries (for March) of all the employees of the security services were paid into their bank accounts yesterday and they can access their money from today,” an official of the PA Finance Ministry told AFP. “This is very important. We can now say that we have an unprecedented system of paying salaries through banks,” PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said. (AFP, AP)

In the draft report of the European Parliament committee of inquiry it was stated that, "`There is no conclusive evidence, to date, that the EU non-targeted direct budgetary support was used to finance illegal activities, including the financing of terrorism.'' Commission External Affairs spokeswoman Emma Udwin noted that the EU had changed the way it funded the Palestinians and armarked aid for specific purposes. It had been handing over €10 million (US$12 million) a month to help pay the salaries of Palestinian public sector workers. From April 2003, it started a new system of allocating two tranches worth €40 million each. Money is only handed over if various conditions are met, such as the presentation of invoices for bills the PA needs to pay. (Reuters)

Israeli newspapers reported that Prime Minister Sharon would receive an official letter from the US in which it would declare that the 1967 border was not a “sacred line.” That should be seen in the context of Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan. In addition, the letter would note that permanent and final borders between Israel and the Palestinian State must be reached by agreement and not unilaterally. The US reportedly rejected Israel’s request to recognize the future annexation of the large settlement blocks in “Ma’ale Adumim", “Ariel” and “Etzion.” In addition, Washington agreed to declare that just as after the late 1940s the Jewish refugees from Arab countries found their home in Israel, so too should the Palestinian refugees find their home in the Palestinian State, when it is established. Israel also had been asking for public American recognition of the separation wall's route, after it agreed to put off building the section of the fence near “Ariel” and putting up an intermittent fence in the “enclaves” near Israel's Ben Gurion Airport and along Road 443. (Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

2

Three Palestinians, including a 16-year-old, were killed by gunfire from IDF troops in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. One man was killed as he approached the “Karni-Netzarim” road in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers in the area opened fire on an armed gunman whom they had spotted in the area. Palestinians confirmed that militants had exchanged fire with Israeli soldiers near Karni, but said that the man killed had been a civilian bystander who was hit as he approached his home. Earlier, a 19-year-old man, identified as Mr. Mohammed Azmi Abed, was killed in the Gaza Strip-Egyptian border. According to Palestinian security forces, some 20 Armoured vehicles moved into Rafah. The Israeli army spokesman confirmed that the operation was under way and said it was aimed at destroying cross-border arms smuggling tunnels. During the afternoon in Bethlehem, Mr. Nisa’ar Isa Hajahjah was killed by Israeli troops in the northern entrance of town. The army said he had been shot after he threw a firebomb at IDF troops in the Rachel’s Tomb area. (AFP, Albawaba.com, DPA, Ha’aretz)

Israeli police stormed Al-Haram Al-Sharif in East Jerusalem, using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades after Palestinian youths threw stones after Friday prayers. However, a member of the Islamic Waqf said the police raid had been unprovoked. At least 60 people were injured, most of whom were treated on the spot for tear gas inhalation and bruises from police batons. Six needed hospital treatment, one for a bleeding cut in the leg. Many worshippers took refuge in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. After several hours, a deal was reached allowing people to leave peacefully. (AFP, BBC, DPA, Reuters)

Israeli troops arrested 10 Palestinian teenagers overnight in Ya'bad, 15km west of Jenin. Palestinian security forces said the boys were all high school students, aged between 16 and 17, and were not known for their political activism or affiliation. Israeli military sources confirmed nine arrests and would not comment on the age of those arrested. “Nine people wanted for questioning were arrested after being suspected of terrorist activities,” according to Israeli military sources. (AFP)

The IDF closed the "Erez Industrial Zone" to Palestinian workers in the Gaza Strip due to warnings of a terror attack at the "Erez Crossing". The West Bank and the Gaza Strip had been under general closure through the end of Passover. (Ha’aretz)

The PA condemned Prime Minister Sharon’s threat against PA President Arafat as an “unprecedented escalation.” “This is a serious threat which was aimed at scuppering the peace process,” according to Mr. Arafat’s advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh. “With this fresh threat, Israel is prompting a new and unprecedented escalation which will have dangerous consequences.” Mr. Sharon had earlier been asked by Ha’aretz whether Mr. Arafat and Mr. Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, might be on Israel’s list of leaders to assassinate. “I wouldn’t suggest either of them feel immune …,” he replied. He also told Ma’ariv, “Arafat does not have an insurance policy ...”. (AFP, BBC, Ma’ariv)

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, “Our position on such questions - the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat - is very well known. We are opposed and we have made that very clear to the Government of Israel.” EU sources in Brussels said Mr. Arafat was the elected representative of the Palestinian people and it would be “unwise” to make threats against him. (AFP, Reuters)

Prime Minister Sharon told Yediot Aharonotthat his Government had “stopped development projects” in settlements in the Gaza Strip, from which he was preparing to pull settlers and troops. He added that the evacuation would be well advanced a year from now. “We will be full on ... with the process of separating ourselves from the Palestinians by next Pesah (Passover).” But he stressed that Israel would keep a military presence on the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt. A spokesman for Gaza settlers, Mr. Dror Vanunu, said he had not been aware of any “freeze in development projects”, but acknowledged that no expansion work had been carried out in the past few months, while noting that roads leading to the settlements had been upgraded, security fences erected around them and private construction was proceeding apace inside the settlements. (AFP)

Amnesty International expressed deep concern for the health and well-being of some 600,000 Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, and called on Israel to immediately lift unlawful and disproportionate restrictions on movement, which were hampering relief efforts by humanitarian organizations. “Israel, as the occupying Power, must take immediate measures to comply with international law and ensure that the basic needs of the Palestinian population, including access to food, are met. Israel has consistently failed to meet these obligations for decades, leaving the international community to shoulder the burden of providing food, medical care, education, and shelter for the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” said Amnesty International. (http://amnesty-new.f.topica.com)

3

Shortly after midnight, Ramzi Fakhri Arda, 18, armed with an assault rifle, cut through the fence surrounding the “Avnei Hefetz” settlement, south-east of Tulkarm. He broke into a house, firing shots that lightly wounded a 14-year-old girl. When her father appeared with a pistol, the attacker shot and killed him. The armed Palestinian was then shot dead by Israeli troops stationed nearby. He belonged to Hamas and had been released the previous week from an Israeli prison. Israeli forces demolished his house in the Tulkarm refugee camp later in the day. The soldiers forced the eight-person family to leave the house without taking any belongings, witnesses said. Several nearby houses were severely damaged by the explosion and the IDF force extended the curfew on the city of Tulkarm. (AFP, AP, Xinhua)

In the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli forces searched for tunnels under the border with Egypt for the second day. Two dozen Israeli tanks accompanied by a bulldozer had entered the Salaam quarter of Rafah before dawn and surrounded a building near the Israeli-controlled border. "During the activity, the forces uncovered a weapons smuggling tunnel which was dug under the cover of a residential structure approximately 500 to 600 metres in length and about 20 metres in depth," the IDF said. "In the tunnel, incitement material of terrorist organisations were found," it said, adding that it was the sixth such tunnel uncovered in Rafah since the start of the year. Troops blew up the tunnel in Rafah in a massive explosion that levelled the three-storey house above. The blast left behind a deep crater. An AFP correspondent said Israeli troops rigged the two-storey house with explosives and demolished it, but the power of the blast also destroyed a three-storey structure next door and damaged three other houses. The demolition sparked fierce clashes with Palestinians in the area, and heavy machine-gun fire was seen coming from an Israeli helicopter overhead, the AFP correspondent said. AP said the helicopters fired into an empty field nearby, apparently to cover Israeli forces. Residents said three Palestinians were lightly wounded during the raid. An IDF spokesman had no immediate reports of casualties. (AFP, AP, www.idf.il)

The IDF arrested 26 Palestinians in an arrest raid in Nablus. Witnesses said more than 70 jeeps drove into the city before dawn and soldiers ordered people out of homes. (AP, Xinhua)

PA President Arafat emerged from his office in Ramallah to speak to reporters after a meeting with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. ``For me, I don't care,'' he said in English from the front steps of his office, commenting on threats against him. ``I care only for my people, for our students, for our children.'' "The threat is serious, and I'm sure that President Arafat will be assassinated - this is my personal conviction", PA Minister for Negotiations Affairs Saeb Erakat said, speaking on Moroccan television TVMfrom Ramallah, "The goal of Israel's assassinations of important Palestinians is to push things into anarchy, militias, violence and extremism, he added." (AFP, AP)

Russia's Xinhuasaid the statements made by Israel "on direct threats to Yasser Arafat, legitimately elected leader of the Palestinian people" were "unacceptable", ITAR-TASSquoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko as saying. ``Russia has repeatedly spoken against the practice of extrajudicial executions, which not only violate the norms of international law but also run counter to efforts to break the meaningless cycle of violence,'' he added. (AFP, AP)

According to a statement sent to AFP,the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Amre Moussa said he had telephoned PA President Arafat to discuss the events in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the "dangerous threats of the Israeli Prime Minister" against him, and that, "Arab and international action was necessary to stop the (situation) from deteriorating." Mr. Moussa also condemned Israeli police who stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on 2 April, stressing that such developments were part of a series of "aggressive attacks and provocations waged by the extremist Government in Israel." (AFP)

Jordanian State Minister and Government spokeswoman Asma Khader said in remarks, carried by State-run radio, that the Kingdom “condemns and strongly objects to the policy of assassination.” “A new Israeli crime [against PA President Arafat] would only lead to further deterioration in the region and an escalation of violence,” Ms. Khader said. (AP)

"Any attack on Yasser Arafat would drag the whole region into a huge war and would of course undermine all the chances to revive the peace process," Fatah said in a statement to the press. Fatah warned that Israel hurting President Arafat would be a great political blunder for which Israel and the Israelis would pay a heavy price. It also urged the international community, especially the Quartet, to interfere immediately to stop any Israeli attempt to hurt Mr. Arafat. (Xinhua)

Israel rejected the United States' criticism of a veiled threat by Prime Minister Sharon to assassinate PA President Arafat. Internal Security Minister Tsahi Hanegbi (Likud) said in an interview with Israel Radio,"It seems to me that it (the US) should be the last one that can preach to us about how to implement our right to self-defense.'' (Reuters)

Up to 15,000 Palestinians marched through Jenin in memory of the Palestinians who were killed in an Israeli operation two years ago. Hundreds of uniformed Palestinian police participated in the march alongside around 500 armed militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Jenin Governor Ramadan Bata read out a message from Arafat, in which the veteran leader stressed that "massacres like those committed in Jenin will never stop the Palestinian people from reaching their independence." (AFP)

The first session of dialogue among 13 Palestinian national and Islamic factions was held late at the Palestinian Legislative Council in the Gaza Strip. It lasted for three hours and some leaders said the atmosphere was encouraging. Leaders of all factions, including Fatah and Hamas, announced that they agreed to continue their dialogue until a joint understanding was reached. The basic issue discussed was sharing rule of the Gaza Strip after the IDF pullout from the Gaza Strip, while forming a unified Palestinian leadership was another subject. Palestinian sources close to the dialogue said the issue all had agreed upon was the unity of all Palestinians. The issues still under discussion included Hamas and Islamic Jihad participation in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. Another issue to be discussed was the hudna(truce) after Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip and whether armed attacks on Israel would continue or stop. "If Israel pulls out from the Gaza Strip as a first step to be followed by a similar withdrawal from the West Bank, and this happens through a political agreement with Israel, then attacks would of course completely stop," sources told Xinhua. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials confirmed they were willing to participate in a joint administration of Gaza in the wake of an Israeli withdrawal. "Hamas is completely ready to participate in the authority which takes over the Gaza Strip along with the Palestinian Authority and all the factions after Israel completely withdraws," Hamas spokesman Said Siyam told AFP."We will participate in the administration according to how complete the Israeli withdrawal is," Khaled al-Batsh, one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad, told AFP. "We are committed to Palestinian national dialogue to face all dangers, including the Israeli escalation and threats." (AFP, Xinhua)

4

Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian and wounded another near the Tulkarm refugee camp, Palestinian witnesses and Israeli Radioreported. The radio said the Israeli soldiers in the camp had spotted the two Hamas militants carrying weapons, and had opened fire on them. The Palestinian who had been killed reportedly had sent another militant on the night of 2 April to the “Avnei Hefetz” settlement, where he killed a 40-year-old settler and wounded the daughter of the settler at their home, before being shot dead by Israeli troops. The radio quoted Israeli security sources as saying they had received information that Hamas activists from the refugee camp were intending to carry out further attacks in the area. Palestinian residents identified the dead man as Khaled Horweish, 30, a resident of Tulkarm, and a member of the Izz al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing. (Xinhua)

Rami Khalili, 20, died in hospital from injuries sustained after Israeli troops had opened fire on a car in the Tulkarm refugee camp. Mr. Khalili was a member of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, according to sources within the organization and security sources. He and seven other Palestinians were wounded when Israeli forces opened fire in the camp where scores of people were paying respects to the Hamas member who was shot dead after he killed a Jewish settler in the nearby settlement of "Avnei Hefetz" in the early hours of 4 April. Among the other casualties was a senior Hamas commander, Khaled Khreweish, who was first taken to hospital in Tulkarm but was then detained by Israeli forces, medics said. An Israeli military source said that troops on routine duties in the area opened fire at the car, which had sped towards them. (AFP)

During the weekly Cabinet meeting, members led by Tourism Minister Benny Elon demanded that Prime Minister Sharon immediately bring his plan to a Cabinet vote so they could decide whether to pull out of the coalition, according to officials in the meeting. Mr. Sharon said the details of the plan had not been finalized, and if he brought it to the ministers they would leak it to the press, the officials said. ``There is no obligation to be in the Cabinet. It is very simple not to be here. Anyone who wants to can get up and leave,'' Mr. Sharon reportedly told his ministers. Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet that a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip will remain in effect until after Israel's Independence Day on 26 April, to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Mr. Mofaz also said the army had been instructed to continue its offensive against the militants. The military also was putting in place a special plan to maintain security during the weeklong Passover holiday that was to begin on Monday night, he said. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also told the Cabinet that Israeli settlements would be given the equivalent of US$67 million to pay for additional security infrastructure. (AP)

Israeli police in East Jerusalem shut down the office of a foundation for Arab women accused of being affiliated with Hamas. Two workers were detained and authorities were applying for a warrant to freeze the group's bank accounts, according to police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby. The office would be closed for 15 days. Police suspect the money is being used to support families and prisoners connected to terror attacks, he said. (AP)

Islamic Jihad vowed revenge for clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on 3 April, in which 45 worshippers were injured. The group said in a leaflet that attacking Al-Haram Al-Sharif and opening fire at the worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque "would never pass without a tough punishment." The leaflet expressed concerns "over the dangers of the Israeli policy [to] the Palestinian Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is for Muslims the first shrine and the third mosque.” "This campaign against our holy sites and against our worshippers aims to frighten them and prevent them in the future from coming to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, to turn the city into a Jewish one," the group stated. It accused Israel "of not saying the truth that the Marwani prayer [hall] at Al-Haram Al-Sharif is [threateneing] to collapse," adding, "Israel [on] purpose say [that] in order to prevent people from going there and [building] up their alleged temple." Islamic Jihad also urged the Islamic and Arab worlds to interfere as immediately as possible "to prevent Israel from executing its plans aimed at destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque." (Xinhua)

A total of 74 per cent of people questioned for a Tel Aviv University survey said "the targeted killing of Palestinians involved in terror against Israelis is justified from a moral standpoint," and 69 per cent said that such operations should continue "because they are a necessary means of preventing or at least reducing the killing of innocent Israelis", while 23 per cent said that they should stop as they often involved killing innocent Palestinians. A total of 576 people were questioned in the survey for the University's Tami Steinmetz Centre for Peace Research, with a 4.5 per cent margin of error. (AFP)

A senior Hamas leader said his movement had not decided on what kind of participation to choose in the Palestinian Authority. However, Ismail Haniyah told reporters that Hamas accepted the principle of political partnership. "We believe in political partnership and we decided to participate in the Palestinian decision making because blood partners must be decision partners," said Mr. Haniyah, one day after a dialogue among 13 Palestinian national and Islamic factions resumed. "In the light of the Israeli army's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas would decide on what kind of political participation the movement would go for with the Palestinian Authority", said Mr. Haniyah. (Xinhua)

Israel’s Health Minister Danny Naveh (Likud) declared that PA President Arafat was a "more serious obstacle" than Hamas and Sheikh Yassin. The Minister also made a new call for Mr. Arafat's expulsion from his Ramallah headquarters, telling Israel Army Radiothe threat would "make Arafat understand that he has no immunity." "To my understanding, there has been no concrete decision to expel Arafat but we must show our resolve," he added. (AFP)

Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians approaching the Karni border crossing. Medical sources confirmed that the three young men, all aged 19, had yet to be identified. The three men, who all came from the refugee camp of Deir Al-Balah, had been hit by IDF tank fire close to the “Netzarim” settlement. Israeli sources said troops opened fire in the darkness as they spotted them in a “closed military zone.” No weapons were discovered near the dead bodies. (AFP)

The IDF destroyed the family home of a Palestinian, who they charged was involved in a series of anti-Israeli attacks. The army said they demolished the house of Mr. Falah Shehadah in Deir Al-Sudan, north of Ramallah. They also said the 32-year-old father of three had been a member of Hamas, but Palestinian security forces said he had been a follower of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. (AFP, Albawaba.com)

5

A Palestinian seriously wounded last month in an Israeli air strike on a Gaza City house had died from his injuries, Palestinian medical sources said. Mr. Adham Abed Hashem, 30, lived in the house next door to the building targeted in the raid on 16 March wherein two Islamic Jihad members had been killed. (AFP)

Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said Prime Minister Sharon’s renewed threat against PA President Arafat was “another measure of violence … another proof that the human person does not count.” He told reporters that Mr. Sharon’s threat was unacceptable. He added, “By killing President Arafat, you will be more insecure, you will stir more violence.” Mr. Sharon had repeated threats against Mr. Arafat, calling him a “marked man”, and said he was not vouching for his physical safety. Patriarch Sabbah said the quest for security and peace was incumbent on both the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships as “there is not one party responsible for the violence, the responsibility falls on both parties.” In his Easter address, he called on Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat to “reconsider what they have done in order to avoid for themselves and for their people the sin of more bloodshed and the permanence of insecurity.” (AFP, Albawaba.com, Reuters)

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that expelling Mr. Arafat from the Occupied Palestinian Territory or any violence against him would not ease the renewed Middle East crisis. “We have made it clear that sending him (Arafat) into exile, or otherwise dealing with him, is not part of the solution to the situation in the Middle East. So we made our view very clear to Prime Minister Sharon and he’s very well aware of what our view is.” (AFP)

PA President Arafat said he was prepared to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad in a new Palestinian leadership organization that would function alongside the PA, according to Al-Ayyam. Fatah Central Committee member Hani Al-Hassan said a new leadership group could easily co-exist alongside the existing leadership structure, according to the report. Mr. Al-Hassan said, “Forming a unified Palestinian leadership does not contradict the Palestinian Authority, as it is an internal Palestinian factional issue.” (Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Sharon told Israel Radiohe had no intention of demolishing settlements but wanted compensation for them, saying that he intended to get the property evaluated by international organizations and had already raised the issue with the World Bank. He also said he favoured the withdrawal from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, as well as from “no more than four” settlements in the West Bank. “At the moment, the plan is to evacuate all the (Gaza) settlements, to prevent the Palestinians from operating ports and to keep the border with Egypt under our authority. In my opinion, it would be best to disconnect from all the territory.” He also said Israel would continue to supply water and electricity, but said the flow might stop in the event of a major Palestinian attack on Israelis. Palestinians, according to Mr. Sharon, might not get a State for many years.” (Albawaba.com)

In a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kofi Annan said, “There’s been lots of discussions in diplomatic quarters, and envoys of the Quartet met recently to discuss what further steps could be taken to energize the peace process and to try and get the parties back to the table. And these discussions are ongoing. What is important is that we not only take steps, but also find ways of stopping the killing that is going on in the region. What I can assure you is that all the members of the Quartet, including the Russian Federation, are determined to really re-energize our efforts to bring the parties back to the table and find a way forward.” (UN News Centre)

A poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research said most Israelis and Palestinians supported Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, under which the settlements in the Gaza Strip would be evacuated. A total of 64 per cent of Israelis questioned for the survey said they backed the plan. The figure was 73 per cent among Palestinians. A majority of Israelis (62 per cent) and Palestinians (58 per cent) said the pullout should be conducted through negotiations and not unilaterally. Asked whether Israel should destroy the infrastructure as it left, 49 per cent of Israelis backed destruction, while 39 per cent said it should be handed over to the Palestinians. Seventy-six per cent of the Palestinian respondents said the buildings and not just the land should be handed over. A total of 505 Israelis and 1,320 Palestinians were questioned for the poll. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Israeli security forces were on high alert for the Passover holiday, with reinforcements deployed at outdoor markets, malls and synagogues. The military banned all Palestinians from entering Israel to “ward off” attacks. The tight closure was to remain in effect at least until Israel’s Independence Day on 26 April. (Albawaba.com)

A Palestinian Cabinet meeting scheduled to take place on 5 April was postponed due to Israel’s closure of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, according to PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath. Several ministers, mainly from the Gaza Strip, were unable to travel due to stepped up restrictions imposed by Israel for Passover. The meeting, which had been rescheduled for 8 April, would address Prime Minister Sharon’s latest verbal threats against PA President Arafat. (AFP)

Prime Minister Sharon was accused by Israeli hard-liners of rewarding Palestinian militants by proposing to withdraw from Gaza and four West Bank settlements. In interviews with Ma’ariv, Yediot Aharonotand Ha’aretz,Mr. Sharon defended his plan, saying it served the interests of Israel, not those of the Palestinians. He said, “The Palestinians understand that this plan is to a large extent the end of their dreams, a very heavy blow to them." He told Yediot Ahronot,“In a unilateral plan, there is no Palestinian State. The situation could continue for many years.” PA President Arafat said he welcomed an Israeli withdrawal, but only as a first step: “He (Mr. Sharon) has to remember that he has to withdraw also … from the West Bank.” (AP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

PA Labour Minister Ghassan Khatib cautioned the international community on the unilateral evacuation plan, Voice of Palestinereported. “I hope that all the international sides concerned [will] deal with Israel according to its practices against Palestinians and not fall into the trap of the evacuation plan,” he said. He added that Mr. Sharon’s statements about evacuating the Gaza Strip settlements were aimed at diverting international attention from the continuous Israeli aggressions against Palestinians and their leadership. (Xinhua)

Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher sought the help of the United States and Germany to ensure that Israel’s planned pullout from the Gaza Strip “be part of the Road Map and leads to the creation of a Palestinian State,” according to an official statement. The remarks were made during separate telephone conversations Mr. Muasher had with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The Foreign Minister also made it clear in the statement that there should be “no concessions (from the Palestinian side) in return” that might affect the final stage of the peace process. (DPA, www.mfa.gov.jo)

6

In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian civilian was injured in Khan Yunis. Medical sources confirmed that Hussein Khdair, 21, had a gunshot wound in the right leg. (Albawaba.com)

US Ambassador to Egypt David Welch said an Israeli withdrawal from some of the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory could restart the peace process. “If there is an Israeli Government decision to withdraw from some places, perhaps that’s the key to unlock the process. Who wants to stand in the way of withdrawal,” he said speaking in Cairo on Nile TV. He voiced concerns that the PA did not have sufficient power and had not made enough effort to rein in militants. “If we felt that things were going well, we would say so,” he said. (Ha’aretz)

Spain’s Foreign Minister and former EU envoy to the Middle East Miguel Angel Moratinos told the Financial Times that Al-Qaeda would not be defeated until there was a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Ha’aretz)

The refugee department of the PLO warned of a possible collapse of the living standards of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip refugee camps. The warning was launched after UNRWA announced it would reduce its support to the 600,000 refugees due to the Israeli military restrictions imposed on the area. “The military oppressive measures and various restrictions that obstruct the transfer of food and medicine supplies predict a human catastrophe in the refugee camps,” the department said in a communiqué. These refugee camps suffered from serious rates of poverty, which was estimated at 70 per cent, as well as, an unemployment rate of 72 per cent. It added, “The international community must interfere and exert pressures on Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and put an end to his oppressive measures and obstacles put before the UNRWA.” (Xinhua)

7

Ibrahim Abu Saris, 16, from the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, died from wounds sustained during clashes with Israeli troops in Nablus a day earlier. (Ha’aretz)

Three Palestinians, including two children, were wounded as Israeli forces stormed Nablus' casbah and imposed a strict curfew. Sources said Yasser Msallam had been wounded with a live bullet in the left leg, while a schoolgirl, identified as Bayan Omran, was injured. (Albawaba.com, Ha’aretz)

About 30 Palestinians were hurt as Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors demonstrating against the separation barrier near Biddu, north-west of Jerusalem. At least one of the casualties was struck by a rubber-coated bullet, while others suffered from the effects of tear gas. Three Palestinians were arrested during the scuffles. Protestors tried to prevent the demolition of a house and the uprooting of olive trees that stood in the way of the barrier. Dozens of Israeli construction workers with electric chainsaws, accompanied by five bulldozers, entered the town and began cutting down olive trees. Hundreds of villagers, including women and children, tried to obstruct the path of the bulldozers. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath said he would meet with Secretary of State Powell and other top US officials in Washington on 21 April to discuss Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “This visit will be very important because we will be able to express our point of view regarding the various issues that are being discussed now, and I will come after Sharon’s visit to Washington,” he said. Mr. Sha’ath would also hold talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Sha’ath had reportedly said the US had promised financial assistance to the PA in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, on condition that the PA strengthened its security forces in the Gaza Strip. President Bush was expected to back the Israeli disengagement plan as an interim step while his peace initiative remained stalled. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Prime Minister Blair told Prime Minister Sharon that he would work towards enlisting international support for the disengagement plan. “British Prime Minister Blair called to voice his support for the disengagement plan and his appreciation for the step Israel is taking,” according to a statement from Mr. Sharon’s office. “Blair added that he intends to work towards enlisting support for the plan among the international community,” the statement said. Mr. Blair also said the withdrawal must lead the international community to commit to improving the PA. The world must also make clear to the PA the need to carry out reforms and fight terror, Mr. Blair was quoted as saying. (Ha’aretz)

8

Mohammed al-Fuqayat, an official from the PA Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, was arrested by Israeli troops in his office in Ramallah, a Ministry source said. Mr. Al-Fuqayat headed a department that distributed aid to prisoners freed by the Israelis. During the raid, the soldiers also searched the office of Qaddura Fares, a Palestinian Legislative Council member whose HQ was in the same building, tasked by Fatah with providing financial aid to Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel. For its part, the army said it had arrested a wanted militant from Hamas. (AFP, AP)

Israeli troops arrested 27 Palestinians overnight, 7-8 April. Palestinian officials said two of those arrested were female students from Al-Quds University in Nablus. (AP)

IDF troops arrested a woman from the Dheisheh refugee camp charged with planning to carry out a bombing in Israel. (Ha’aretz)

In the village of Biddu, north-west of Jerusalem, Palestinians and Israeli activists resumed protests against the construction of the barrier. (Ha’aretz)

The Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad leaderships in Gaza have prepared a draft “National Plan” that emphasized the right to use violence to oppose the occupation and the settlements, while avoiding turning civilians from either side into targets for attack. The document, which summarized the outcome of meetings between Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas and Ahmed Halas of Fatah, and representatives from Islamic Jihad and other, smaller political factions, was regarded as a basis for negotiations between the PA and all the other factions for a mutually agreed leadership to control Gaza after Israel withdrew. The document summed up various meetings between the faction leaders in recent weeks, ending on 10 April, with a meeting of the “Monitoring Committee of the National and Islamic Organizations.” The document was still a draft and was not binding on any organization. The leaders also stated in the document that, “The forces support acceptance of security and administrative responsibility by the PA in evacuated territories in the context of ‘an agreed national plan,’ but they vehemently oppose, and warn against, any attempt to pay Israel for the withdrawal or to turn [the withdrawal] into an alternative to the fulfilment of Israel’s international obligations, or granting false legitimacy to the separation fence, or to the annexation or expansion of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, or avoiding full withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967.” (Ha’aretz)

PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath said Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could pave the way for Palestinian elections with the participation of the militant opposition groups. Several options have been raised in talks with other Palestinian organizations, including Hamas. One idea was to hold elections after a Gaza withdrawal. Another way was the assigning of roles in a joint leadership group using a quota system. Mr. Sha’ath said, “Our hope is that once there is a withdrawal from Gaza there will be a real ceasefire. In a ceasefire, we have the commitment of Hamas and everybody, when there is a reciprocated ceasefire.” He added that Hamas “will be fully committed” to respecting such a ceasefire, while the Palestinian security forces “will punish violators without going to total war.” Mr. Sha’ath also said that the Americans would have to be ready with the World Bank and other donors to offer “massive” economic support for the Palestinians in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The aid would be needed for relief, reconstruction, economic activities, labour, job creation and others needs. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz)

9

Referring to Prime Minister Sharon’s recent verbal threats against PA President Arafat, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper: "We are opposed to exile, and we're opposed to assassination". Asked if the US could guarantee Mr. Arafat would not be assassinated, Mr. Armitage said: "Well, what's the guarantee? There is no guarantee other than a guarantee of good common sense. And I think that all the nations, whether it's Egypt, whether it's Jordan or the United States, we're all opposed to this." (AP)

10

An 11-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in the kitchen of her dwelling in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis when she was hit by a stray bullet, witnesses said. The IDF said soldiers were shooting at militants who had fired a rocket. Two Israeli tanks fired machine guns and three shells near the Gaza Strip settlement of “Netzarim”, witnesses said. There were no reports of injuries. The IDF denied its troops were operating in the area.

"Any Hamas participation in the administration of the Gaza Strip after a possible Israeli evacuation or any other partnership with that organization is dependent upon the Hamas leadership agreeing to totally stopping suicide attacks," said PA President Arafat to a visiting Israeli peace delegation. "In our dialogue with Hamas, which was initiated via the mediation of the Egyptians, we have made absolutely clear that harming civilians is unacceptable." (www.gush-shalom.org)

11

Israeli forces shot dead a 36-year-old Palestinian during an operation to arrest his brother in the village of Aqraba, south-east of Nablus, Palestinian sources said. An Israeli military source said troops had opened fire during an arrest operation after warning people inside the building to give themselves up. The body of the victim, who was hit in the head, was handed over by Israeli forces to Palestinian medics, the sources said. His identity was not immediately known. Israel Radio,citing military sources, said the victim had been killed during a raid by an Israeli unit on a house where members of an armed wing of Fatah had taken cover. Two activists were arrested in possession of a pistol and a shotgun during the raid, it added. (AFP, AP)

Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad official, said Islamic Jihad was now prepared to join the PLO to administer a post-occupation Gaza, but only if the PLO changed direction and [undertook] major reforms of its institutions. “The Islamic Jihad movement will not join the PLO unless its positions and policies are changed. The PLO has recognized Israel and this principle should be changed so that we can join. This is one of our conditions,'' he said. Yasser Abbed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and former PA Information Minister, said Islamic Jihad's terms were not acceptable. He urged Islamic Jihad and Hamas to adopt pragmatic positions needed for real peace in the region. “What is needed in this stage from these forces is to get closer to realistic and rational positions and not extremism because extremism would abort the PLO,'' he said. (Reuters)

The PA said it was ready to assume security and administrative affairs once the IDF pulled out of the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian Authority is ready to work with the different national and Islamic movements in a framework of real participation in order to move on and reach a peace agreement," PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath said at a news conference held in Gaza. Mr. Sha’ath said Palestinians were holding intensive talks with all concerned parties about the Israeli evacuation from Gaza in order to present their positions to the US Administration. "The Palestinian position regarding the Israeli evacuation must be clear before reaching any agreements and before putting the agreement's words into deeds that couldn't be changed," Mr. Sha’ath further said. (UPI)

Prime Minister Sharon insisted that Israel would only benefit from his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip, as he prepared to present the plan to President Bush. A close aide to Sharon said the premier would hand Mr. Bush a written commitment at talks at the White House on Wednesday regarding the evacuation of all 21 of the Israeli settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank, but without any binding timetable. "The separation is good for Israel from a political point of view, as it will free us of unnecessary pressure, while it is also good economically, as it will open up development opportunities," Mr. Sharon told Israel Radio."The separation is also important when it comes to security, as this plan will allow us to fight against terrorism without any limitations, a battle we will continue to wage," he added. (AFP)

Likud’s electoral commission fixed 29 April as the date for a referendum of all its members regarding Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, after delegates at the party convention backed Mr. Sharon's proposal late last month to poll members on the plan. Senior Likud party members have pledged to block the pull-out plan, as have junior members of his coalition government, including the right-wing National Union and National Religious Party, arguing that it amounts to a "reward for terrorism". Agriculture Minister Israel Katz, a senior Likud official, announced that he would oppose the plan. Early in the day, some 400 demonstrators from settlements in the Gaza Strip gathered outside Mr. Sharon's ranch in the Negev to protest the withdrawal plan. (AP, AFP)

Ha'aretzreported that Israel would not be required to withdraw to the Green Line in any future peace agreement. That pledge would reportedly be contained in a letter of understanding President Bush was to present to Prime Minister Sharon at their White House meeting on 14 April. According to the letter, the determination of borders in a final status accord would take into consideration "demographic realities" on the ground. The US would recognize Israel's right to self-defence and its right, as need arises, to carry out anti-terror operations in areas from which its forces are to be withdrawn. The pledge would also contain a declaration that Palestinian refugees can be absorbed in the future in the Palestinian State. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat warned that any deal between the US and Israel that undermined a final status agreement would wreck the whole peace process. Mr. Erakat said the Palestinians had relayed their concerns to American mediators, and that he had been assured that the US would not take any steps that would prejudice a final settlement. (Ha’aretz, Xinhua)

12

Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops as they attacked the “Netzarim” settlement south of Gaza City. A spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said three Palestinians planted an explosive device on the road leading to the settlement before being spotted by Israeli soldiers. "The occupation forces opened heavy fire at the group, killing the three instantly," the spokesman said. He said the Palestinians belonged not only to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and Islamic Jihad Al-Quds Brigades. An IDF spokesman confirmed that Israeli troops killed three Palestinians who tried to enter “Netzarim”. He was quoted by Israel Radioas saying the men were wearing military fatigues and were carrying automatic rifles, hand grenades and shoulder-fired rockets. (UPI)

In the morning, the IDF carried out incursions into Jenin and Tulkarm. The larger operation was in Jenin, where a column of 30 vehicles moved in, sparking exchanges of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, the sources said, without mentioning injuries. In Tulkarm a dozen vehicles moved in and troops arrested an unknown number of Palestinian policemen. (AFP)

Responding to a Ha’aretzreport, PA Prime Minister Qureia said "Palestinians' rights must not be renounced by a powerful country that sponsors the peace process, especially issues regarding the final status," and added, “Any guarantees to Israel that affect the final status issues are unacceptable and will be rejected.'' "President Mubarak [of Egypt] and King Abdullah [II of Jordan], who will meet with [President] Bush, would convey the PNA's demands that call for evacuating the Gaza Strip as part of the Road Map plan," Mr. Qureia said. He voiced optimism regarding these meetings, saying "we explained to our Arab brothers the demands and the guarantees that we seek, and we trust them." (Xinhua, Reuters)

President Bush said after meeting President Mubarak of Egypt that an Israeli plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank would not replace the Road Map. “If he [Sharon] were to decide to withdraw, it would be a positive development,'' Mr. Bush said at a news conference at his Texas ranch, adding, “We both are in agreement that if Israel makes a decision to withdraw, it doesn't replace the Road Map.” “I think any withdrawal from the occupied territory is very highly appreciated,'' President Mubarak told reporters. (Xinhua, Reuters)

During a visit to the “Ma’aleh Adumim” settlement in the West Bank, Prime Minister Sharon said that in giving up Gaza and parts of the West Bank, Israel would gain security and be able to keep large settlement blocks. “Only an Israeli initiative will assure the future of the large settlement blocks and the security zones, like a strong Ma’aleh Adumim, a strong Ariel, a strong Giv’at Ze’ev, a strong Etzion block - places that will remain under Israeli control, will continue to be strengthened and developed, and I also add a strong Hebron and Kiryat Arba", he said. The statement marked the first time Mr. Sharon detailed which settlements blocks he wanted to keep. Asked what would happen to the other West Bank settlements, his aide Ra’anan Gissin said their fate would be determined in peace talks. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat said: “Settlements in the West Bank are just as illegal as those in Gaza.'' He added that if Israel tries to annex parts of the West Bank, “We will not get to peace and not to security, and that “With this statement, Sharon is closing the door before any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. We firmly condemn these very serious declarations by Sharon. The maintenance of six settlement blocks in the West Bank is a recipe for closing all the doors in the peace process and its destruction. The Gaza withdrawal cannot be exchanged for maintaining Israeli occupation in Jerusalem or in the West Bank.'' The next day, PA Prime Minister Qureia said that "Sharon's determination to keep these Jewish settlements destroys peace opportunities and any peace hopes between Palestinian and Israeli peoples." He added that all the Israeli settlements established in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were "illegal, illegitimate and oppressive." (Reuters, AP, AFP)

13

Israeli authorities said they had discovered a West Bank weapons-smuggling cell made up of four Israeli Bedouin, seven Egyptians and a Palestinian. The 12 Nablus-based suspects were accused of smuggling arms from Egypt into PA-administered areas. About 140 automatic rifles, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, six grenades and a large cache of ammunition were seized. (Ha’aretz)

The Israeli soldiers in the last two weeks had shot and killed 14 Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a report by the PA Ministry of Health stated. Eight were killed in the Gaza Strip and six in the West Bank, seven under 18 years of age. The report stated that the majority of those killed had been shot by the Israeli soldiers' live ammunition in the upper parts of their bodies, especially heads and chests and that "This indicates that the Israeli soldiers have clear orders from their command and leadership to kill as many Palestinians as possible and not only to disperse them." (Xinhua)

The IDF maintained a tight siege on Nablus for a second day. Palestinian sources said the IDF troops were still surrounding a six-storey building. The troops shelled the building and stormed the neighbouring buildings and evicted their residents. The IDF said the operation was aimed at searching for Palestinians who were wanted by the Israeli security services. (Xinhua)

The IDF had blown up a Palestinian-owned building south of Gaza City, Palestinian sources said. An Israeli force comprised of three tanks and three bulldozers raided the area from the nearby “Netzarim” settlement and evacuated the three-storey building occupied by a Palestinian family before blowing it up completely. Israeli sources, however, said that the IDF had demolished a building that had been previously occupied by the IDF soldiers and used as an Israeli watchtower. (Xinhua)

Israeli security forces evacuated the “Hazon David” settlement outpost near Hebron for the seventh time. Six settlers were arrested, and Israeli authorities knocked down a wall of stones meant to serve as part of a synagogue. A barbed wire fence was then erected around the entire site to prevent the settlers from re-building the outpost. (Ma’ariv, AP)

In the Gaza Strip, about 3,000 Palestinian workers demonstrated at the "Erez"/Beit Hanoun crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Workers said they were upset about the lengthy and humiliating security checks, especially body searches. The IDF said the checkpoint was open and many workers had gone on strike. (AP)

Israel's Shin Bet security service said it had foiled an attempt by Palestinian militants to carry out a suicide attack using a bomb laced with HIV-infected blood during the Passover holiday. The plot was exposed after the arrest of a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Nablus, a Shin Bet spokesperson said. "The terrorist cell apparently planned to obtain contaminated blood from some Palestinian hospitals but they had not passed the preliminary stage in their preparations," she said. The Fatah movement said in a communiqué "the Israeli reports are mere lies," as "the Fatah doesn't adopt such behaviours." The communiqué accused Israel of making up those allegations while Prime Minister Sharon was visiting Washington: "These allegations aim at providing pretexts for the continuous siege imposed on Palestinians and their leaders, as well as justifying the occupation of the territories and its aggressions carried out against the Palestinian people, its leadership and its movements," it said. (AFP, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Xinhua)

A Palestinian was wounded and two Israelis were detained for questioning at the protests against the construction of the separation barrier near the “Har Adar” settlement, north-west of Jerusalem. Border police dispersed the demonstrators using tear gas. (The Jerusalem Post, Israel Radio)

Responding to a journalist’s question regarding the upcoming meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “We've all agreed to a Road Map, a Road Map of the Quartet, including the US, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. I am aware of the Prime Minister's decision to withdraw from Gaza, but that I hope is a first step because there is also the question of what happens to the West Bank. And I hope whatever withdrawal is done in the context of the Quartet's Road Map, and is not something that will impede the future creation of two states, a viable Palestinian State living side-by-side with Israel in peace.” (UN News Centre)

Commissioner-General of UNRWA Peter Hansen said the Agency had resumed food supply to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. "It has been a month since we started asking the Israeli Government to facilitate our staff's movement, as well as allowing food and medicine containers to enter the Strip," he said. (Xinhua)

14

Some 18 people were wounded during clashes between Israeli Border Police and protesters demonstrating against the separation barrier under construction between the villages of Biddu and Beit Ijza, some 10 km north-west of Jerusalem. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Ten Palestinians were hurt, including a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was seriously injured after being hit in the head by a rubber-coated bullet. Two Israeli protesters were also lightly hurt in the legs. (Ha’aretz, UPI, Ma’ariv)

Some 3,000 Palestinians attended a rally in Gaza City, calling for the release of imprisoned West Bank Fatah leader and Palestinian Council member Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian prisoners. (Ha’aretz)

IDF troops in Nablus for the second time blew up a house of the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber. (Ha’aretz, AP)

Palestinians attacked an Israeli military base near the settlement of “Netzarim” and opened gunfire on Israeli military patrols. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack in a leaflet. The IDF confirmed the attack, but asserted the attack had not caused any injuries among Israeli soldiers. The Brigades said the Palestinians returned safely to their bases. (Xinhua)

Palestinian leaders held an emergency meeting to discuss Prime Minister Sharon's meeting with President Bush. A statement issued by PA President Yasser Arafat's office and on the Palestinian leadership's behalf said United States assurances on the West Bank settlement blocks and the refugees would ruin future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “The Palestinian leadership warns of the dangers of reaching such an accord, because it means clearly the complete end of the peace process,'' the statement said. “This deal which Sharon is seeking will take place at the expense of the Palestinian people and without the knowledge of the Palestinian people's legitimate leadership,'' the statement said. The assurances would also lead to a “cycle of violence and end all the signed agreements'' between the Palestinians and Israel, the statement added. (AP, Reuters)

During a joint press availability with Prime Minister Sharon at the Cross Hall of the White House, President Bush, commenting on Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan, said: “These are historic and courageous actions. If all parties choose to embrace this moment, they can open the door to progress and put an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.'' On the subject of Palestine refugees, Mr. Bush stated: "It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian State and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than Israel." On the settlements issue Mr. Bush also stated, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the Armistice Lines of 1949.'' On the separation barrier, Mr. Bush stated it should be “a security rather than political barrier. It should be temporary rather than permanent, and therefore not prejudice any final status issues, including final borders.” A Statement by the President was released by the White House following the press availability. (AP, AFP, Reuters, www.whitehouse.gov, CNN, BBC)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, commenting on President Bush's statement, said: "Bush is the first US President to give legitimacy to Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. We reject this, we will not accept it." Mr. Qureia told reporters, "Nobody in the world has the right to give up Palestinian rights. We call on the Quartet - the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia - to hold an international conference to discuss the neglect of Palestinian rights." (Reuters, AFP, DPA, Ma’ariv)

Secretary of State Colin Powell called PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to explain President Bush's statement and contacted PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath. (AFP)

15

An Israeli helicopter opened fire during an IDF incursion into the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, leaving 20 Palestinians wounded, medical sources and witnesses said. Bulldozers razed two houses and a third house was dynamited. The sources added, militants and Israeli soldiers exchanged heavy gunfire. Israel Army Radiosaid the operation was aimed at destroying a tunnel used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. (AFP, Xinhua)

The IDF had arrested 12 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during raids and house-to-house searches, Palestinian sources reported. (Xinhua)

Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for blowing up three Israeli military vehicles. There was no confirmation from Israel. (Xinhua)

The IDF evacuated two settler outposts, arresting seven settlers. The settlers hurled stones at soldiers, dismantling an outpost near Hebron and injured one officer. Soldiers also demolished a smaller outpost near Nablus. (Reuters)

PA President Arafat said in a televised speech from Ramallah, "Peace cannot be established without the total end of the Israeli occupation and the settlements. Our destiny is to defend our land, holy sites, Jerusalem and our right to freedom, independence and the right of refugees to return to their homeland. The Palestinian people will never give up its target of achieving freedom, independence, and national sovereignty in the independent State of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital." He pledged to “protect our land, the holy mosques and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland”. Mr. Arafat added that “The fanatic leaders in Israel are making a mistake and so are their supporters.” (Ma’ariv, BBC)

PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath urged the other members of the Quartet to press the US to withdraw its support for Prime Minister Sharon’s plan. "We would like the members of the Quartet to tell the Americans that this cannot lead to any positive effect," he told AFP.Also in a BBCinterview, Mr. Shaath said, "I'd like very much to see Mr. Blair continue to explain to the Bush administration the folly of going into this present situation and the dangers that it contains not only for Israelis and Palestinians but for all the Middle East”. Speaking to AFPin Sofia, Mr. Shaath said Mr. Bush's letter to Prime Minister Sharon caused "great anxiety and dissatisfaction among the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Government and the Arab people. He is adding unilaterally, without even consulting with us, his conditions and concessions that Sharon can annex some parts of the West Bank on which he built illegal settlements and that refugees have no right to go back to their homes they have today in Israel. These two serious conditions pre-empt our negotiations on the permanent settlement, and violate the resolutions upon which this whole peace process is based. [This] is a source of difficulties, instead of moving towards matters [of] peace, it simply moves matters towards the worst conditions and towards more escalation, unfortunately." (AFP, BBC)

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said in a telephone interview with the Associated Pressthat Prime Minister Sharon would use President Bush’s endorsement as a cover “to launch more aggressions against the Palestinians and more assassination attempts against Palestinian leaders.'' He said Mr. Bush’s statement “dropped any betting on an honest US stand or possibility of improving it, even partially, in the interest of the Palestinian people. Bush's speech was not a surprise to us. It was a step backward, especially as regards to the settlement issue. It was a deadly bullet against the Road Map with all its negative aspects.'' (AP)

Speaking of Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Interfax news agency, "It could be constructive - not as a single step, but as the start of the Middle East peace process outlined by the Untied Nations”. “Mr. Sharon's initiative to withdraw Israeli troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip is a step in the same direction as the Road Map and should be followed by other moves in the framework of pertinent Security Council resolutions,” he pointed out. (Interfax, Xinhua)

Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the 15 EU Governments said “The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.'' Mr. Cowen said the EU Foreign Ministers would discuss the issue during their two-day meeting in Tullamore, Ireland, starting on 16 April. Mr. Cowen also said the Road Map, in which the EU was a partner with the United States, stressed that any settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "must include an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue." (AP, Ma’ariv)

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana welcomed Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a chance to restart the Road Map and insisted on the need for a negotiated accord on borders and refugees. "EU heads of State and Government recently indicated that they would not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," Mr. Solana said. (AFP)

Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's spokesman said Prime Minister Sharon's plan was “an important step on the way to bringing about the two-state solution as foreseen in the Road Map. But only a solution agreed by both sides and respecting the interests of both sides will be able to guarantee lasting and stable peace and security in the Middle East. That applies particularly to questions that, under the Road Map, are subject to final status negotiations between both sides - for example, territorial decisions and refugees' right of return.'' (AP)

President Chirac of France rejected any unilateral moves to change borders in the Middle East. "I have reservations about the unilateral, bilateral questioning of international law," Chirac said, adding such moves would set an "unfortunate and dangerous precedent." (Ma’ariv)

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa said President Bush's stance was “negative and very regrettable because it cancels all frameworks and it represents dangerous developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict.'' (AP, MENA)

The Organization of the Islamic Conference would hold an emergency meeting on developments in the Middle East at the request of PA President Arafat, Malaysia Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the Bernamanews agency. Plans for a meeting on 4 May to discuss Iraq and the Palestinian issue would be brought forward in view of the major policy shift announced by President Bush. "We want to organize the meeting earlier because we now feel the urgency of the new development," he said. "I think the original Road Map, which was agreed upon will be derailed and I don't think the new proposal will add value towards achieving peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," he added. (AP)

Speaking at Rice University, President Mubarak of Egypt said, “This issue should be discussed between both sides and accepted by both. To impose anything, they are going to object. That's why there is a lot of criticism going on.'' (AFP)

Israel's Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz ordered a freeze on funding for settlement construction, saying the Government broke a promise not to divert money to unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank. He ordered Government ministries to stop funding of all construction in the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, fearing the money is being transferred to outposts, the Justice Ministry said. Mr. Mazuz imposed the freeze until an oversight committee was formed to monitor the flow of funds. (AFP)

A poll commissioned by Israel Army Radioshowed growing Likud support for the disengagement plan. It said 57 per cent of Likud voters plan to vote in favour and 35 per cent against in an upcoming Likud referendum. Earlier polls had given Mr. Sharon barely 50 per cent support. Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu conditioned his support for the disengagement plan on the Government taking a decision prior to the Likud referendum, stating that construction of the separation barrier around West Bank settlement blocks would be completed prior to a Gaza withdrawal. Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption Tzipi Livni announced that she would support the disengagement plan. (AFP, Ma’ariv)

The UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories by a roll-call vote of 27 in favour, two against, with 24 abstentions, in which it stated that the settlements were a major obstacle to peace and to the creation of a Palestinian State. It urged the Israeli Government to reverse its settlement policy in the occupied territory and to prevent any new installation of settlers. The Commission also demanded that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the separation barrier, including in and around Jerusalem, which was in contradiction to relevant provisions of international law. On the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, in a resolution adopted by a roll-call vote of 31 in favour, seven against, with 15 abstentions, the Commission reaffirmed the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation and strongly condemned human rights violations of the Israeli occupation authorities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The Commission also strongly condemned the Israeli occupation of the territory as being an aggression, an offence against humanity and a flagrant violation of human rights. It strongly condemned the construction of the separation barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory. (www.unhchr.ch)

President Bush signed a memorandum allowing the Palestine Liberation Organization to keep its offices in Washington for a further six months and to use the funds it raised in the United States. (www.whitehouse.gov)

Asked about the Secretary-General’s reaction to the proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Secretary-General’s spokeswoman said that he welcomed the possibility of such a withdrawal. He continued to believe that such a withdrawal should be complete and represent the end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza. He hoped that such a step would spark the renewal of the diplomatic Quartet’s Road Map to peace. She added that the Secretary-General reiterated his position that final status issues should be determined in negotiations between the parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions. He strongly believed that they should refrain from taking any steps that would prejudice or pre-empt the outcome of such talks. (UN News Centre)

The United Nations International Meeting on the Impact of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, opened in Geneva. The meeting was being held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to facilitate further discussion by all actors of the international community of the far-reaching humanitarian, legal and political implications of the construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank. Its focus was the impact of the construction of the wall on the situation on the ground, as well as on international efforts to stop the construction. Experts would assess the scope of the project and its effects on the Palestinian population, and would discuss the Palestinian and Israeli reaction to it, as well as the response of the international community. The text of the Secretary-General's message addressed to the meeting, delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva, follows:

(UN press release (SG/SM/9257)

A Palestinian woman carrying a bag containing a 25-kilogram explosive device was arrested outside the settlement of “Ariel”. According to the IDF, a preliminary investigation revealed that 28-year-old Fatan Dararmeh was not meant to serve as a suicide bomber but rather to transfer the explosive device to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. (Ha’aretz)

President Lahoud of Lebanon denounced the US rejection of the right of return and appealed to Arab leaders to call for an emergency special session of the General Assembly in order to “emphasize the illegitimacy of the US stand.” (AP)

Secretary of State Powell said at a State Department news conference: “The President did not endorse any particular outcome. He did not endorse any settlements yesterday”. Nor, he said, did President Bush take positions different from those of previous administrations that "modifications, adjustments, changes will be required" along the armistice line. Mr. Powell added, “Frankly, the Palestinian refugees should return to the new State of Palestine, which is what it was created for, not Israel". (Ma’ariv, www.state.gov)

Speaking at a press encounter with Prime Minister Blair and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Blair said, “In respect of the Road Map I think there is confusion here. I don't see the Road Map as sidelined at all." Until we manage to get in place the basic elements of security so that we can then start, if you like, a cooperative, bilateral approach that the Road Map sets out, then inevitably we are going to be looking for other things that can in the meantime allow us to make some progress.” Mr. Annan stated, “The withdrawal from Gaza should be seen as a first step because we also have to deal with the issue of the West Bank and I would hope that what has happened does not foreclose the movement ahead and working through the Road Map and ensuring that two States living in peace side by side, Israel and Palestine, is established.” (UN News Centre)

16

A 17-year-old Palestinian was killed by rubber bullets fired by IDF soldiers during a demonstration against the separation barrier near Ramallah. Several others were injured during the protest. According to IDF sources, the youth was shot while attempting to throw a firebomb. According to an AFP photographer, he was throwing stones. (AP, AFP, Ha’aretz)

Some 3,000 Palestinians gathered in the town of Beit Lahia, north of Gaza City, and marched to the neighbouring Jabalya refugee camp in a protest against President Bush’s support for Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, which was organized by Islamic Jihad. Similar numbers turned out at a Hamas-organized protest in the “Shati” (Beach) refugee camp, on the outskirts of Gaza City. Palestine refugees also demonstrated in Lebanon, with some 1,500 people protesting in Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, near Saida. (AFP)

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa, commenting on the US approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, said: "We cannot accept ideas which are in contradiction to the Road Map toward peace in the Middle East and to the dozens of Security Council resolutions concerning Israeli occupation in Palestine." (Xinhua)

A Saudi Arabia Government spokesman told Saudi Press Agency that Saudi Arabia hoped the United States would help avert a "total collapse" of the Middle East peace process by reconsidering its support for Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan. "Convinced of the impact of America's attitude towards the chances for peace in the region, Saudi Arabia hopes that it reconsiders the situation and does the necessary to prevent a total collapse of the peace process," he said. The spokesman added that "no one has the right to make these concessions, in the name of the Palestinian people, concerning our just rights. If [President Bush’s] ideas materialise, they will complicate the chances for peace and hinder the peace process on which the international community based its hopes", he added. (AFP)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, speaking after a meeting with PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath in Moscow, said that a meeting of the Quartet would take place in the near future. Asked whether the Russian Federation and the United States had significant differences over the implementation of the Road Map, Mr. Lavrov said: "I would not say that they do. We will clear all of this up at a meeting of the Quartet." EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, on arrival for a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Ireland, said that a meeting of the Quartet was "called for around the 28th, probably in Berlin". (AFP, Interfax, www.mid.ru)

Speaking at a joint press conference with President Mubarak in Hanover, Chancellor Schroeder said that "Palestinians have a right to expect that decisions are not made over their heads." Both leaders welcomed Israeli plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, saying they added a new impetus to efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East. President Mubarak warned that “The abandoning of the Road Map initiative could lead to a worsening of the situation and also to terrorist measures. We welcome the withdrawal of forces; we welcome the withdrawal from Gaza. But we would like this withdrawal to be coordinated with the Palestinian side, because the Palestinian side must take over responsibility for order there.'' (AFP, AP, DW)

An explosion killed a Palestinian and wounded two other people in the Askar refugee camp, near Nablus. Israel radio said the blast occurred while the Palestinian man was preparing a bomb. Islamic Jihad acknowledged in a statement that one of its members had been killed in a “holy war action,” but did not spell out exactly how he died. (Reuters)

17

Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi, 56, was killed when an Israeli helicopter missile struck the car he was in. Mr. Al-Rantissi was rushed to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in critical condition after the attack. Sources said he had been wounded in the head by shrapnel. Two of Mr. Al-Rantissi’s bodyguards were also killed. Hundreds of Hamas members and supporters swarmed around the wreckage of the car. “Israel will regret this. Revenge is coming,” according to senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said, “Israel … today struck a mastermind of terrorism, with blood on his hands.” (AFP, Reuters)

Tens of thousands of Palestinians calling for revenge took to the streets in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after the killing of Mr. Al-Rantissi. Thousands also gathered outside the Al-Shifa hospital. Thousands also took to the streets in Ramallah, where they told shopkeepers to pull down their shutters in a sign of mourning. In Tulkarm, Jenin and Nablus, gunmen fired volleys into the night sky. Residents of Al-Amari and Qalandiya refugee camps blocked the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem with burning tyres. (AFP)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Israel’s assassination of Mr. Al-Rantissi was a “direct result” of US support for Israel. “This Israeli terrorist offensive is a direct result of America’s encouragement and total partiality in favour of Israel, backing its plans and offering it political cover to usurp Palestinian land,” he said. Mr. Qureia called the assassination “a dangerous Israeli crime.” (AFP, DPA)

An Israeli soldier died from his wounds after a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown himself up at the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Two other soldiers and an Israel guard had been wounded in the attack. IsraelArmy Radiosaid the explosion occurred at a terminal near the "Erez"/Beit Hanoun Industrial zone where thousands of Palestinians were employed. A man who telephoned the AFP office in Gaza City said the attack had been carried out by the armed wing of Hamas, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The man who carried out the attack, Mr. Fadi al-Hamudi, 22, was a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, according to the caller. (AFP)

A five-year-old Palestinian girl was shot and seriously wounded, as Israeli troops fired at a car in Tulkarm. The girl had been hit in the chest, while another passenger in the car had been lightly wounded. Israeli military sources said soldiers opened fire with rubber bullets at a car that was “trying to escape.” (AFP)

A planned trip to Washington D.C. by PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath was put off indefinitely because of President Bush’s declared support for Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan, Palestinian Radiosaid. “In view of the American positions, the Palestinian Authority needs time to determine a new strategy,” it said. Mr. Sha’ath had been scheduled to meet senior US officials, including Secretary of State Powell. (AFP)

At an urgent meeting in Cairo, the Arab League issued a statement rejecting the new American position, which it said would destroy the Middle East peace process. It further said, “Such a (US) position encourages Israel to [continue] its aggression against the Palestinian people and threatens regional security and stability.” Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa said the US decision represented a “stab” at international laws. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Moussa said the Arab countries were conducting “intensive contacts with all countries, in addition to the UN and the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Quartet countries,” to discuss the issue. PA delegate to the Arab League Mohammed Sobeh said President Bush’s declaration was considered “a message of aggression and violation of the peace process and international law.” These policies which we condemn are exactly those that throw the region into extremism, prejudice and tension. It is these policies that are responsible for the deteriorating situation in the region,” Mr. Sobeh said. Mr. Moussa, on the same day, condemned what he said was “state terrorism” by Israel in its killing of Mr. Al-Rantissi. “The continuation of such acts on the part of Israel constitutes a serious threat to peace and security and is a sign that the spiral of violence will continue,” he said. He also called on Palestinians to “maintain their unity in this painful situation.” Mr. Moussa announced that the Arab Summit would take place on 22 May in Tunis. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz)

The EU issued a statement on the Middle East peace process after their informal meeting in Tullamore on 16 April. The EU reaffirmed its commitment to a negotiated two-State solution agreed between the parties. It noted that the refugee question and the manner in which the right of return might be realized is also a final status issue and that the Road Map stated that a final and comprehensive agreement must include an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to this question. It welcomed the prospect of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and further stated that such a withdrawal could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the Road Map provided it is carried out in accordance with certain conditions. The withdrawal should be properly orchestrated with the international community to ensure an orderly situation in Gaza permitting the maintenance of security as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction. (http://www.eu2004.ie)

18

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Washington knew nothing of Israel’s plans to kill Mr. Al-Rantissi. “It is important for Israel to defend itself, that everyone understands that Israeli is in a war against terror,” Ms. Rice told FoxTelevision. “The Israelis of course don’t tell us that they’re about to do something. And the United States had no advance knowledge of any sort of thing of that kind,” she said. Ms. Rice also defended President Bush’s decision to back Mr. Sharon’s plan, saying “The President is endorsing a plan that he believes will lead to peace and to a two-State solution in the Middle East.” She added that while Mr. Sharon’s plans were “not technically under the Road Map … they are not doing anything inconsistent with the Road Map. This will strengthen the Road Map. For all the negotiations, for all of the special envoys, for all of the trying, the Israelis have not given back essentially a kilometre of land in the occupied territories. Now we have an opportunity for an Israeli Prime Minister … to begin to remove settlements, to take Israeli armed forces out of the Gaza, to do so in a small portion of the West Bank, and to leap-frog in many ways a lot of the careful steps that had been anticipated on the way to peace.” (AFP)

Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had received approval from the US for a future Israeli annexation of West Bank settlement blocks under the disengagement plan. Asked on Channel Onetelevision news programme whether the blocks would be under Israeli jurisdiction and whether President Bush had given his approval during talks in Washington with Prime Minister Sharon, Mr. Netanyahu said, “De facto, yes.” (Reuters)

Following Israel’s assassination of Mr. Al-Rantissi, Jordan's Prime Minister Faisal Al-Fayez returned home late in the day, cutting short a visit to the US, where he had been accompanying King Abdullah II. “We condemn and denounce the criminal act that took the life of the martyr, Dr. Abdel-Aziz Rantissi,” he told Petranews agency. “We in Jordan believe that violence will only breed violence. Jordan supports the Palestinian people, who are suffering daily under Israeli occupation. We hope that the efforts being made by King Abdullah will contribute to a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause, leading to Israeli withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian State,” he said. He called on the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations and urged the international community “to intervene to put a halt to the Israeli violations that will only lead to more violence.” (AFP,http://mfa.gov.jo)

Pope John Paul II said, “I am following with great sadness the tragic news coming from the Holy Land and Iraq. The shedding of blood by brothers must end. Such inhuman acts are contrary to the will of God.” The Pope did not mention Mr. Al-Rantissi by name, but Vatican authorities said he had been referring to the killing of the Palestinian leader. (AFP)

Following the conclusion of the annual Asia-Europe Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, a Chairman’s Statement was issued. On the Middle East peace process, it said Ministers were committed to a two-State solution to peace between Israel and the Palestinians with a “viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian State." They agreed that the Quartet Road Map represented the only route to achieving such an outcome and called on both sides to resume negotiations on the peace process without delay. Ministers condemned the assassination of Hamas leader Al-Rantissi by Israeli forces and the earlier Palestinian suicide bombing. They reminded the Israeli Government that extrajudicial killings were contrary to international law” and urged both sides to refrain from violence. (AFP)

The EU said the killing of Hamas leader Al-Rantissi showed the need for an early high-level meeting of the Quartet to put the Middle East peace process back on track, and insisted that the Road Map must be pushed to the forefront in the Middle East. “We cannot have a situation where people continue to view the problem there through the prism of politics of the last atrocity,” according to Ireland’s Foreign Minister Brian Cowen at a press conference concluding an EU-Asia meeting in Straffan, Ireland. Mr. Cowen and the EU External Relations Minister Chris Patten called the missile strike against Mr. Al-Rantissi a violation of international law. Mr. Patten said he regretted the US Administration had not reacted similarly. Spain’s new Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said such killings “prevent creation of a climate of peace and harmony” and a resumption of talks on the Road Map, and the assassination was “a counterproductive initiative that does not help recover dialogue and confidence in the future.” (AFP, MSNBC, Xinhua)

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the assassination of Mr. Al-Rantissi was unwise and would inflame Palestinians. Speaking to Channel Seven,he said, “No, we don’t condone it. As we said with the killing of Sheikh Yassin a few weeks ago, who was his predecessor, this isn’t going to do anything to ease the tension. This is only going to inflame Palestinian opinion. We don’t think that by assassinating the leaders of Hamas that it’s going to help ease the situation, which is ultimately what we want to see. At the end of the day, it’s unwise to be assassinating, successively, the leaders of Hamas. It’s likely to inflame.” (AFP)

Swedish Prime Minsiter Göran Persson described Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Al-Rantissi as “illegal and repulsive.” “I feel great sorrow and despair,” he told Swedish news agency TT. While criticizing the US for its support for Israeli settlements, which he said “in a way undermines the basis for the peace process,” he added that he did not believe that Israel had carried out the attack of Mr. Al-Rantissi because of that support. “I strongly doubt that. This isn’t the first time Sharon and his Government do this. It has rather become a pattern. On the other hand, I don’t think that the discussions held in Washington in any way contributed to bringing this to an end.” Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds also condemned Mr. Al-Rantissi’s assassination. “I condemn the illegal Israeli execution of the leader of terrorist organization Hamas, as well as today’s Palestinian suicide bombing,” she said. “Today’s events show yet again the parties’ inability to break the deadlock in this conflict ... The seriousness of the situation implies that the international community must increase its efforts all the more to make the parties realize that the violence cannot continue.” (AFP)

Norwegian Prime Minister Jan Petersen said, “we strongly condemn the killing of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi. It is worrying that Israel carries out such illegal executions. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, but that does not justify the kind of actions Israel has now carried out. This will just contribute to raising the level of violence in the Middle East. I urgently appeal to the parties to return to the Road Map for peace. I repeat my warning to Israel not to direct a similar attack to the Palestinians’ elected leader Yasser Arafat,” he said. (AFP)

19

A 24-year-old Palestinian died of bullet wounds sustained the previous day in confrontations with Israeli soldiers in Biddu, north-west of Jerusalem. He was shot in the chest and was seriously injured when protestors confronted Israeli army bulldozers uprooting trees and preparing the ground for construction of the barrier. Thirty people were injured in the clashes, mainly from tear-gas inhalation and rubber bullets. (DPA)

One settler was injured when a Qassam rocket hit the settlement of “Nisanit” in the northern Gaza Strip. Several rockets, anti-tank missiles and mortal shells had been fired at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip overnight. An Israeli was moderately injured when Palestinians threw a bomb at his car as he was driving near Nablus. The Israeli sustained head injuries and was being evacuated to Beilinson hospital. (AP, Ma’ariv)

President Chirac called “positive” Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza, but said it must meet certain conditions. Addressing journalists in Paris after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Chirac said the Gaza withdrawal must be carried out “within the framework of the Road Map, in concert completely with the Palestinian Authority, (and) be a step toward the creation of a viable Palestinian State.” In addition, vital questions, such as the borders of a Palestinian State or the status of Palestine refugees, must be part of negotiations and not be “judged in advance,” he said. For his part, President Mubarak condemned the killing of Mr. Al-Rantissi, calling it part of a “process of provocations organized to assassinate the leaders of Palestinian organizations.” He warned of “chaos” if Israel weere to go ahead with its unilateral plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and keep several West Bank settlements. “The actions of the Palestinians must not be underestimated, because they are a people who have lost their land - they are desperate and anything could happen,” he said. (DPA)

France and Germany said Israel and the United States alone could not bring peace to the Middle East, reiterating that there was “no alternative” to the internationally-agreed Road Map. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said it was essential that Palestinians also be involved. “You cannot make peace in the region only with Americans and Israelis, you have to integrate the Palestinians. A retreat from the Gaza Strip is not enough on its own,” Mr. Barnier said. Mr. Fischer said the Gaza withdrawal had to be in accord with the Road Map. “We have to bring the conflict parties to the negotiating table," he said, and added that a “solution from the outside” would not bring peace." (AFP)

The African Union condemned Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Al-Rantissi, stating it would lead to an escalation of violence and undermine peace prospects in the Middle East. “The killing of the Palestinian leaders will incite more violence and undermine any prospect for dialogue and peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” according to the Chairman of the African Union Commission Alpha Oumar Konare. “Such actions, which are illegal and in violation of international law, only serve to compound the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity and despair, especially among the already brutalized Palestinian population.” He urged the international community, especially the UN, Russia, the US and the EU, to step up efforts to put the Middle East peace process back on track. (AFP)

A Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire in Hebron. The man was not armed and was not carrying identifying papers. (Albawaba.com)

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

(SG/SM/9261)

The Security Council met to consider the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, and in particular the assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi. The meeting was held at the request of the Permanent Representative of Egypt, in his capacity as Chairman of the Arab Group for the month of April, and on behalf of the League of Arab States (S/2004/303). Forty-two speakers took the floor. (S/PV.4945)

Former US President Clinton welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but warned that a negotiated settlement remained the only viable path to lasting peace in the Middle East. “I still think it’s only good if it works to reengage the Israelis and the Palestinians and the larger Arab community,” Mr. Clinton said at a panel discussion on the Middle East peace process in New York. “It’s no good making a deal with the United States. We don’t live in the Middle East,” Mr. Clinton said. “Otherwise we have the United States and Israel adopting a position that we are in for a long, cold, grim winter of discontent … and we will all be perfectly miserable because we have abandoned the underlying logic of the peace agreement … that the future has to be shared.” (AFP)

20

Two Palestinians were shot dead in the Gaza Strip by Israeli fire. Mr. Mutasam Rafiq Nassir, 18, was killed in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Medical sources said he had been hit by bullets in the head. Another civilian was moderately wounded in the shoulder. The shooting came during an Israeli raid in the area. Another Palestinian died of wounds he had sustained a few hours earlier when Israeli forces stormed the Al-Nada residential buildings, west of Beit Hanoun, medical sources said. They said that Mr. Khaldon Abu Jarad had been shot by a live bullet in the head. At least 25 Palestinians were wounded. (AFP, Albawaba.com, AP, Ha’aretz)

Israeli soldiers arrested several Palestinians and imposed a curfew on Silwad village, north of Ramallah. According to the WAFAnews agency, the Israeli army stormed into the village, closed all its entrances and imposed a tight curfew. Troops began a door-to-door search campaign and arrested several men, leading them all to an undisclosed location. In Jenin, Bethlehem and Nablus, Israeli soldiers arrested a total of eight Palestinians. (Albawaba.com, IMEMC)

PA President Yasser Arafat was planning to hold municipal elections for the first time since 1976 in response to the current political impasse, according to a PA official. “It is a way of responding to the frustrations of the people in the face of the Israeli assassinations and the plans of Sharon,” the source added. PA Local Government Minister Jamal Shubaki said any municipal elections would be held in stages in different towns and villages in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “It is important to have political elections which can signal the entrance onto the scene of new forces such as Hamas”, he said. (AFP)

The PA leadership was weighing the possibility of abolishing the position of prime minister in protest against the closer ties developing between the United States and Israel, and giving the responsibilities back to PA President Yasser Arafat, according to a report in the Al Hayatnewspaper. PA Minister of Youth and Sports Salah Al-Ta’mari told the newspaper that the Palestinian leadership and the Government headed by Prime Minister Qureia planned to take what he called “fundamental steps” with reference to the growing feeling that the position of prime minister, forced on the Palestinians by international pressure, should be cancelled. Mr. Al-Ta’mari added that major changes had been introduced into the Palestinian political structure, in accordance with the pressure applied by the Americans and other international sources, aimed at finding a Palestinian “partner.” Mr. Al-Ta'mari said that the time had come to take a bold decision, that the Palestinian partner was Abu Ammar (Mr. Arafat), and he in effect had signed the agreements with them and he was the elected President, and "we have delegated the authority to him." The issue came up at meetings held to crystallize the Palestinian position on the enthusiastic American support for Israel, and the attitude to be taken towards the guarantees President Bush gave Prime Minister Sharon, according to Mr. Al-Ta’mari. (Ma’ariv)

A memorandum of understanding, issued by the leadership of Palestinian prisoners in Israel led by Mr. Marwan Barghouti, called for a total end to the armed struggle emanating from the Gaza Strip if a series of conditions were met. The conditions detailed in the document or “proposal,” sent to Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, included: complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, including the “Philadelphia Route”, full Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip, including the seaports and airports, and the release from Israeli prisons of all Gaza residents. According to the document, in exchange for fulfilling the conditions, “the armed forces in Gaza will be obligated not to conduct any armed actions from Gaza.” (IMRA)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has postponed talks this week with US President Bush and Secrtary of State Powell until the first week of May, US officials said. The monarch had been set to meet with Mr. Powell today and with President Bush at the White House on 21 April. Plans had been put off after Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi. A US official told AFP that the meetings “were postponed at the King’s request due to the current uncertain situation in the region.” Jordanian Government spokeswoman Asma Khader said, “We consider the latest developments dangerous. These developments will have repercussions not only on the Paelstinian people and the occupied territories, but [they] will also affect the entire region.” (AFP, AP, www.mfa.gov.jo)

At a press conference in Jerusalem UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen referred to the “serious humanitarian situation” in the West Bank and Gaza. He said Israel was “not even facilitating our work, not even carrying out its obligations as an occupying power.” “We felt we could not tie our tongue and blind our eyes … when humanitarian gates are closed,” he said. Reacting to President Bush’s recent declarations that Palestine refugees had to forgo the right of return, Mr. Hansen said he hoped this issue could be addressed in further negotiations. “If there is any way to bring negotiations forward – and there were many references to that in his statement that haven’t been noticed – we welcome that,” he said. “But if there is no solution in sight, it will indeed be difficult and mean a longer future for UNRWA than we had hoped for,” he added. (AFP)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found there was more of a longer-term economic breakdown than short-term humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as it criticized Israel for hampering their work and failing to provide relief. “We have huge problems of employment, education, water and food but nobody is dying of hunger in the territories,” Mr. Stephane Odeja, a legal adviser with the ICRC told a press conference in Jerusalem. He said his organization, however, decided to stop its emergency assistance programme late last year because “a long-term economic breakdown cannot be addressed by humanitarian aid organizations.” “Humanitarian organizations cannot and should not act as a substitute for occupying powers," he said, referring to the Fourth Geneva Convention. (AFP)

Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said the US Administration has reassured Jordan that it was committed to the Road Map. Following talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington D.C., Mr. Muasher said, “I was very reassured by what the Secretary and the US Administration have stated regarding the need not to prejudge final status issues but to leave that to the parties themselves.” The Minister dismissed as “untrue” reports that King Abdullah’s decision to postpone talks with President Bush was “to vent anger” at his endorsement of the Israeli disengagement plan. “We do not have a problem with the US and we continue to work with it very closely not only on the issue of the peace process but on other issues as well.” Former Prime Minister Taher Masri said, “It was a right step [the postponement of the King’s visit] which will be supported both locally and regionally … Sharon’s policies are not just a threat to the Palestinians but to Jordan and its national interests.” He added that the US should provide Jordan with assurance letters, similar to those given to Israel, guaranteeing the right of return to Palestinians, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State on the 1967 border and other final status issues. (www.mfa.gov.jo)

21

At least eight Palestinians were shot dead, as Israeli tanks, backed by helicopter gunships, raided the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. Two of the victims were identified as Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, Mr. Suhil Abu-Heersh and Mr. Muhammad Abdel Rahman Al-Ajuri. With five killed the day earlier, the Palestinian death toll climbed to 13 on the second day of Israeli incursions. Mr. Mo’aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency at the PA Health Ministry, said all but two of those killed had been civilians, including two children under the age of 10. At least 65 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers had also been injured after the raid had gotten under way. A column of 25 tanks had rolled into Beit Lahia in the pre-dawn hours, as soldiers launched house-to-house searches in a hunt for Palestinians involved in firing rockets on settlements. (Albawaba.com, DPA, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv)

Head of the Palestinian General Security Services in the Gaza Strip Abdel-Razaq Al-Majayda called on the international community to intervene and put an end to the Israeli operation. He said, “This operation is immoral and violates all international resolutions and human rights laws.” (DPA, Xinhua)

The IDF was considering shutting down the Erez Industrial Zone in northern Gaza, finding it hard to protect the soldiers who are deployed there. About 4,000 Palestinians work each day in the "Erez"/Beit Hanoun Industrial Zone. IDF officers believe some 40,000 Gaza Strip residents earn their livelihood from work done in the area. Under the present circumstances, they said, it was hard to justify an arrangement that endangered the soldiers’ lives. (Ha’aretz)

The special meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) scheduled for 22 April at the Putrajaya Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur would address international concern about the Middle East. Malaysia Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said leaders of Islamic countries meeting in Kuala Lumpur would condemn Israel’s plan for unilateral disengagement and demand a greater UN role in Iraq. Representatives of about 20 members of the 57-member OIC would attend the one-day emergency session. At least 10 foreign ministers, including those from Pakistan, Indonesia and the PA, confirmed that they would attend the meeting. Mr. Syed Albar said a statement would also denounce Israel’s killings of two Hamas leaders. “The way to peace in the Middle East is not by political assassinations, is not by way of introducing a new Road Map, but by sticking to the Road Map that has been agreed upon,” he said. “We are drafting the declaration through consensus among member countries. It is not a rhetorical document,” he was quoted as saying by the Bernamanews agency. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said the OIC Ministers would urge a return to the Road Map. “What we’ll have to think of is how do we convince the United States and the rest of the international community that we need to actually stick to the Quartet plan.” (AP, DPA, Reuters, www.bernama.com)

UNRWA recommenced the distribution of emergency food aid to some 600,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip, after it suspended delivery on 1 April due to restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities at the commercial entry point for Gaza. For most of the previous two weeks, the Israeli authorities had operated under workable arrangements, as required by international humanitarian law. They had permitted the Agency to bring sufficient amounts of humanitarian aid into the Strip. The Agency now had enough food in Gaza to provide for the needs of the refugees for the next 30 days. (UNRWA press release HQG/07/2004)

The World Bank was working on a plan for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, which could involve investments of between US$500 million and US$2.0 billion annually, according to World Bank President James Wolfensohn. “Whatever the terms of a final agreement by Ariel Sharon on a withdrawal from Gaza and a part of the occupied territories, the Palestinians will recover around 50 per cent of their territory,” he told the French newspaper Les Echos.“The crucial question is now to bring hope, to go from hostility to stability. The only response is to finance the reconstruction of Gaza and the territories. We are working on such a plan.” He added that the Palestinians urgently needed an airport, and also a port and a free-trade area, which would be established in collaboration with Jordan and Egypt. Managing the current Palestinian administration alone required €400 to €600 million per year, he said. (AFP)

22

Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers. Three of them were shot dead near Tulkarm. Israeli sources said the three men had been carrying automatic rifles. According to the report, the three were “senior Tanzim" members, identified as Mr. Bilal Abu-Amshe, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader in Tulkarm, Mr. Haitam Barame and Mr. Ghanem Ghanem. The incident took place in an open field between Tulkarm and the nearby Nur A-Shams refugee camp. In the Gaza Strip, a 16-year-old Palestinian died from wounds he had sustained earlier in the day when Israeli forces opened fire at him near Balsam Hospital, north of Gaza. Medical sources confirmed that Mr. Mohammed Al-Malfooh was shot with a live gunshot in the chest. He was taken to Odwan Hospital and died later. Three others had been wounded. (Albawaba.com, DPA, Reuters)

Columns of Israeli army tanks and armoured personnel carriers pulled out of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, after a two-day operation in which at least 17 Palestinians had been killed. More than 90 others had been injured, medical officials said, in heavy gun battles between the Israeli soliders, who used missile fire from helicopters in the fighting, and local militants, who had confronted them with roadside bombs, machine-gun fire and anti-tank missiles. The Israeli army, however, kept six tanks stationed near a water reservoir on the outskirts of Beit Lahia’s Al-Nada neighbourhood. They said the army dynamited the Heritage Complex in the Al-Manshiya area, causing considerable damage to the nearly handicapped rehabilitation centre and other adjacent buildings. Residents said the incursion had caused severe damage to buildings, including parts of a PA Education Ministry branch in the village. (DPA, Ma’ariv, www.mopic.gov.ps)

The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine:

(SG/SM/9266)

The IDF conducted an overnight incursion into Rafah and destroyed eight houses. At least 25 Israeli armoured vehicles took part in the operation. Sources said that an explosion of unknown origin rocked Deir Al-Balah refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip. It was not immediately known whether there had been any casualties. (AFP)

PA President Yasser Arafat forced at least 20 activists at the muqataa to leave the premises. According to a Palestinian report, the move was in reaction to a threat by Israel to carry out an extensive raid in Ramallah and storm Mr. Arafat’s headquarters to seize the men. “We are hearing that Israel wants to invade Ramallah to arrest some people. They thought it’s better to leave to avoid any harm or tightening the siege on President Arafat,” according to Mr. Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior official of Fatah. (Albawaba.com, AP, DPA, Reuters)

An Israeli group called Rabbis for Human Rights distributed a photograph of 13-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Badwan taken at a confrontation in Biddu between Border Police officers and stone-throwers last week. He ended up on the hood of a Border Police jeep, with at least one of his arms tied to a wire mesh screen that blocked the windshield from incoming stones. “He was a shield for them,” said Mr. Saeed Badwan of his only son. “When I saw him on the hood of the jeep, my whole mind went crazy. He was shivering from fear.” Police said Muhammad’s case had been sent to the Israeli Justice Ministry for investigation. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

At the emergency meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said, “The situation in the region, especially in Palestine and in Iraq, has become extremely alarming. The latest developments are threatening the stability and integrity of both as well as the peace and security of its neighbouring countries.” He strongly criticized Israel’s plan partially to withdraw from parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory while retaining some settlements, adding that the United States recent move deviated from the Road Map and the early establishment of a Palestinian State. “If forced upon the Palestinians, the Israeli plan can literally wreck the entire peace process in the Middle East. It is most unfortunate that the United States Administration has deemed it proper to support Israeli’s unilateral disengagement plan,” he told the delegates. (DPA)

Addressing Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, during a special debate on the disengagement plan, Prime Minister Sharon said the ultimate authority for deciding and implementing policy rested with the Government and the Knesset, although stating at the same time he had the moral obligation to uphold the results [of a recent Likud referendum]. Mr. Sharon’s spokesman later clarified that the Prime Minister was not planning to get around the referendum results. “If the plan is not approved in the referendum, it will not be brought for approval before the Government,” he said. Mr. Sharon said, “Whoever wants wide American guarantees that Israel has the right to defend herself, and whoever wants Israel to initiate and not be dragged along, to lead and not to be led, whoever wants the above, must support the disengagement plan.” The referendum was scheduled to take place in 10 days. (Ma’ariv)

A poll conducted for Ha’aretz indicated that 44 per cent of Likud members said they would vote in favour of the disengagement plan, while 40 per cent would vote against. The poll, conducted by the Dialog agency, had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. Previous polls had given Prime Minister Sharon’s plan a wider majority. (AP, Ha’aretz)

Two Palestinian girls, 4 and 9, were killed during clashes in Beit Lahia. One was killed by a live bullet, the other from tear gas inhalation. Another 30 Palestinians had been shot and wounded. Mona Abu Tabak, nine, died in hospital after being shot in the chest, while four-year-old Asmaa Abu Kleyk, died from tear gas inhalation inside her room, according to Dr. Mahmoud Alaa Assala of the Jabalya Hospital. Clashes erupted after the Israeli army had pulled out most of its troops from the village, but left behind one unit to guard what the army said was an area from where local militants had been launching rockets at nearly Israeli targets. Hundreds of Palestinians confronted the unit, throwing stones and fire bombs at it. The soldiers used tear gas to disperse the crowd, which included young children, according to an army spokesman. (AFP, DPA)

The PA leadership had decided to abolish the position of Prime Minister and transfer all its powers to PA President Yasser Arafat, PA officials announced. They said the decision had been reached after a meeting held at Mr. Arafat’s office in the muqataa in Ramallah. According to sources, the Palestinian Legislative Council was to vote on the decision the following week. (Ma’ariv)

The PA rejected US Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement that PA President Arafat had been undercutting Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. "President Arafat rejected these claims because he deals with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in a trusted partnership way," according to PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath. "President Arafat expressed his opposition to the resignation of Qureia as a Prime Minister, and everything that is said that Arafat is conspiring [against] Qureia is totally untrue and aims at harming President Arafat himself," said Mr. Sha'ath. "The US stand towards the Palestinian Authority is not friendly, and such statements are not helping at all to bring the peace process back on track," he said. (Xinhua)

The final declaration of the emergency meeting of the OIC held at Kuala Lumpur criticized the United States for supporting the Israeli Prime Minister's plan to partially withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but keep settlements in the West Bank. It rejected Prime Minister Sharon’s plan, stating it “breaches the resolutions of international legitimacy.” It also said that support from the United States for Mr. Sharon’s plan was “detrimental to the peace process” because it denied “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.” (www.rferl.org)

UNCTAD issued a study which stated that rerouting Palestinian transit trade could cut costs and boost savings. A press release said that even with the long seacoast of the Gaza Strip, the Occupied Palestinian Territory was effectively landlocked and almost completely dependent on Israel transport facilities for participation in international trade. Building a seaport in Gaza, as agreed in the 1993/1994 Israeli-Palestinian accords, was the only strategic solution for integrating Palestinian merchandise trade with the region and the rest of the world, the study affirmed. However, the continuing conflict and political instability had meant repeated delays in the construction of the port. For that reason, the study considered alternative maritime and overland transport routes through Egypt and Jordan for facilitating the flow of Palestinian trade until Gaza Seaport was operational. (UNCTAD/PRESS/PR/2004/006, www.unctad.org)

23

Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians, including a senior Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader, during a chase in the West Bank and clashes in Gaza overnight, Israel Radioreported. An Israeli army spokesman said an Israeli force entered Qalqilya, in the north-west of the West Bank, to arrest four local heads of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Troops entered the town in a civilian car and a refrigerator truck and opened fire from close range on a group of eight men standing outside a house, witnesses said. Troops killed three of the men, identified as Muhammad Abd Al-Hafizh Nazal, 30, Muhammad Kamel Nazal, 23, and Abd Al-Rahman Wasef Nazal, 22. Troops also seriously wounded Mr. Attef Shaaban, local head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He was evacuated to hospital by a Red Crescent ambulance. A fourth Palestinian was killed in Talouza, north of Nablus. Israeli troops, backed by helicopters, raided the village. Palestinian sources identified the man killed as a bystander named Dr. Yasser Ahmed Abu Limon, 32, who worked as a lecturer at the Arab American University in Jenin. Palestinians also reported Israeli military activity near Ramallah. (Albawaba.com, AP, DPA)

Jerusalem police barred Muslim men under the age of 45 from attending prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. (AP)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen briefed the Security Council under the agenda item entitled “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” (UN press release SC/8071)

The Quartet is scheduled to meet in New York on 4 May to “recuperate trust among the Palestinian people (and) in the Arab world, and recuperate new momentum for the peace process in the Middle East,” according to Mr. Javier Solana, EU Foreign Policy Chief, speaking to reporters after talks with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a day after meetings with US officials in Washington. He said he would consult with Palestinians and other Arab leaders before the 4 May meeting. “The European Union will not recognize any final borders if they are not the 1967 borders and the changes have not been done by consensus, by agreement between the two sides,” he added. (AP, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

The World Bank has agreed to buy the settlements in the Gaza Strip in order to sell them to the Palestinians. Another report said that the Bank was not waiting for the outcome of the Likud referendum [scheduled for 2 May] and had already had the assets valued. (Ha’aretz)

When asked about comments made by UN Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi to France Interradio on 21 April, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Fred Eckhard said that Mr. Brahimi, a former Foreign Minister of Algeria, brought to the table strongly-held and strongly-expressed opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East peace process. However, the official position of the United Nations on such matters was that set out by the Secretary-General in numerous statements issued by him over the past seven years. (UN News Centre)

Prime Minister Sharon said in an interview with Israeli Public Television: “I promised President Bush three years ago not to attack Arafat, but I am no longer bound by that promise, and [Mr. Arafat] no longer has immunity.” (AP, AFP, Ha’aretz)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, said in an ABC interview: “The President made it clear that he would oppose any such attempts against Mr. Arafat, and the President firmly believes that he has a commitment from Prime Minister Sharon that no such attempt will be made.” Israeli Public Radioreported that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had called Mr. Sharon's office with a similar message. (ABC, UPI)

24

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement: “Moscow has with deep concern learned of the April 23 declaration by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he is no longer bound by his earlier promises not to physically harm Yasser Arafat. We would like to reiterate Russia's resolute position on the unacceptability of such threats addressed to the legitimately elected leader of the Palestinian National Authority, whom the international community has recognized in this capacity.” Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa condemned Mr. Sharon’s threat, saying it would have “long-term consequences.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said any attack on Mr. Arafat, “the elected President of the Palestinian people, would be an intolerable crime.” French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said “Murdering people, whether by assassination or attack, is not going to solve the problem.” The UK Foreign Office said in a statement: “We fully expect Israel, and Prime Minister Sharon, to stand by its pledge not to harm Yasser Arafat and would strongly oppose any action taken against him.” (www.mid.ru, AFP, Xinhua, www.fco.gov.uk)

25

Two Israelis were slightly injured in a mortar attack by Palestinians on an Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip, the IDF said. The rounds also caused extensive damage to two houses in the settlement. The settlement “Har Homa” near East Jerusalem also came under automatic weapon fire, but no one was injured. (AFP)

Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli military vehicle near Hebron, killing an Israeli border policeman and wounding three others. The attack took place between the villages of Tarkumiya and Idhna, west of the city. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack. (AFP, AP, Albawaba.com)

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Prime Minister Sharon had no immediate plans to expel or assassinate Arafat. “The Prime Minister doesn't intend to carry out anything next week or today or tomorrow,” Mr. Olmert told Israel Army Radio. President Moshe Katsav told Israel’s Channel Two TV “If the United States asks us not to liquidate Yasser Arafat, I assume that the Government will honour that request.” (AFP, Reuters, BBC)

The Vatican criticized Israel's threats against President Arafat. “We must not have double standards,” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano in an interview with La Repubblica.“If we are to speak of international law, it must apply to Italy, Iraq, Israel and Palestine,” he added. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China “opposed any comments or activities that threaten the personal safety of [President Arafat] and call for the Israeli side to be cautious with its comments and deeds so as to prevent the regional situation from further deteriorating.” (AFP, Xinhua)

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat declined Prime Minister Sharon’s request to campaign on behalf of his disengagement plan in the run-up to the Likud referendum. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

26

Israeli soldiers shot dead Musa Al-Muqayed, a 14-year-old boy of Jabalya refugee camp, as he stood near his house. Israel claimed it raided the area to prevent Palestinian militants from launching rocket attacks against southern Israel. The boy was shot in the back by Israeli army fire and died, Palestinian medical workers said. The boy was among several youths who had climbed sand dunes to watch soldiers deployed around the "Nissanit" settlement in northern Gaza. Witnesses and Palestinian security officials said the boys were about 700 metres from an Israeli watchtower when the teen was killed. Military officials said soldiers used non-lethal means to disperse stone throwers near a settlement and did not know about a boy who was shot. (AP, Xinhua)

Israeli military forces raided Ramallah, Hebron and Tulkarm, carrying out house-to-house search campaigns and arresting 10 Palestinians. (Xinhua)

The IDF imposed a curfew on the villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur, both near Bethlehem. Palestinian students clashed with soldiers. Two students were lightly hurt. (IBA)

Japan’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Yukio Takeuchi told a news conference that PA President Arafat was the democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people and “it would be unforgivable for Israel to harm him.” Spanish Foreign Minister Angel Moratinos joined the international condemnation of Prime Minister Sharon's renewed verbal threats against Mr. Arafat. “Like the North American administration and all our European partners, we do not consider these declarations opportune,” he said. “Above all [they are] unlikely to promote a climate of dialogue and understanding,” he added, saying Europe sees Mr. Arafat as “the elected President, voted for in the only democratic ballots which have taken place in Palestine.” (Reuters)

PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said the PA could control the Gaza Strip if Prime Minister Sharon pushed ahead with his plan to withdraw from the area. “The Palestinian Authority will continue running Gaza [and] is fully capable to administer it,” Mr. Qureia told reporters. (AP, The Jerusalem Post)

According to Palestinian sources, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar was elected political leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Ismail Haniyeh was appointed as Dr. Al-Zahar’s deputy, followed in the Hamas hierarchy by Said Al-Siam. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a surgeon, who for many years lectured at the Islamic University in Gaza, is considered one of the movement’s most eloquent spokesmen. He was among the 415 Hamas members expelled by Israel's Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin to Lebanon in 1992. (Ha’aretz)

Three Palestinians were killed when an explosion took place close to the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza Strip near the border fence with Israel. Earlier reports said only two had been killed in the blast caused by a rocket that went off prematurely when the men were preparing it. Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, issued a statement saying two of its militants wearing suicide belts on their way to carrying out an attack were intercepted by two masked men who tried to disarm them. In the statement it was said that one of the militants set off his explosive charge, killing himself and the two masked men. There was no additional information on the identity of the two masked men and the Palestinian security services said they were investigating the incident. (AFP, AP)

A 14-year-old Palestinian boy died in Ramallah from injuries sustained during clashes with Israeli soldiers two weeks earlier. Islam Rizik had participated in a stone-throwing protest in the village of Deir Abu Mashal, north-west of Ramallah, in response to Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi, and was shot in the head by soldiers. (AFP, AP)

Palestinian medical workers said a 15-year-old mentally handicapped girl was seriously wounded after approaching the “Morag” settlement near the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. Military officials said soldiers saw a woman running towards the settlement in an area off-limits to Palestinians, assumed she was attacking the settlement and opened fire after she ignored calls to stop and warning shots. (AP)

PA Prime Minister Qureia stressed in Cairo the importance of a timetable to implement the Road Map. “A timetable is considered the backbone of the peace process,” Mr. Qureia said in statements released after he finished separate talks with President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher. “If there is an adopted timetable guaranteed by the Quartet Committee [on Middle East], there will be credibility on implementing the Road Map, and if the matters remain unclear, as happened in the past days, the situation will remain difficult.” Mr. Qureia further said that not assassinations, but giving back the Palestinians their rights through negotiations was the best way to end violence. Security could only be achieved by showing true and good intention by sitting at the negotiating table. He also denied reports that the PA leadership intended to step down. (Xinhua)

The Saudi Press Agencyreported that the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdul Rahman al-Attiyah, had said the Security Council should take urgent measures to stop the threats against PA President Arafat from Prime Minister Sharon, who “will pursue his crimes and massacres against the Palestinian people and their national symbols” for as long as the UN remained silent. In a press statement, Mr. Al-Attiyah also said the threats against Mr. Arafat would “plunge the region into a cycle of violence” and undermine peace and international security. He stressed the GCC solidarity with the Palestinian people and its “elected leadership as represented by Yasser Arafat.” (DPA)

Hilde Henriksen Waage, Deputy Director of the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in Oslo, said in a 250-page study entitled “Peacemaking Is a Risky Business” that the secret Oslo talks that had led to the Oslo accords were largely dictated by the Israelis and that the outcome lacked essential guarantees and sanctions. Ms. Henriksen Waage argued that non-EU Norway should have stuck to a more informal preparatory role and let the US handle the brokering of peace. “If we had continued on that track, the peace plan might have survived,” she further said, but stressed that it would not have been any guarantee for success. “Israel was the stronger party; it possessed a clear national security agenda and was unwilling to make too many concessions. The PLO, on the other hand, despite its strong vision of a future Palestinian State, was willing to make significant concessions in order to avoid further marginalization of itself and the Palestinian cause,” Ms. Henriksen Waage said. Former Norwegian peace broker, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Rød-Larsen disputed the study’s conclusions, telling Norwegian NRK radio: “The initiative for the Oslo accords was taken by the PLO and we took great care so that there was a balance in all the negotiations that we mediated.” (www.prio.no, Reuters)

Nigel Roberts, the World Bank’s director for Gaza and the West Bank, said the Bank could help with the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank once Israel pulled out, but it needed the PA's approval: “If all the key parties, including the PA, wish us to play a particular role, we are ready to do so.” Mr. Roberts dismissed rumours in the Israeli media that the World Bank could buy the 21 Gaza settlements slated for evacuation and then sell them to Palestinians, saying: “We can’t accept custodianship or proprietorship of the settlements, though we could play a role in evaluating options for their use, and planning and monitoring an orderly transfer from Israeli to Palestinian hands.” Mr. Roberts also indicated that the World Bank would not provide funds to help compensate the settlers’ relocation outside the Gaza Strip and West Bank: “There are certain things we cannot do, though, such as involve ourselves in compensation questions. These, after all, are political matters.” He further suggested the Israeli pullout would not lead to an instant economic revival in the Gaza Strip and said the donors would contribute to the reconstruction only if the Palestinian territories freely traded with the outside world. “Closures are stifling any real hope of investment and trade. Palestinians need to compete in the outside world if they are ever to prosper. The Prime Minister’s disengagement plan describes a continuation of the economic and access status quo in Gaza. Of course there are security reasons underlying this – but it is not a status quo that allows for economic growth, or that will attract donors,” he said. (AFP)

27

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians as they raided the Tulkarm refugee camp. At least four other Palestinians were wounded in clashes, one of whom was taken from his hospital bed by Israeli troops shortly afterwards, Palestinian security sources said. The IDF denied it entered the hospital. Its spokesman said the two Palestinians killed were militants from the Hamas armed wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who were shot dead as they tried to attack soldiers. AP also quoted the Israeli military as saying the three had been involved in attacks on Israelis, including shootings, and that one was a senior Hamas member. (AFP, AP)

Eight Palestinian ambulances carrying patients and doctors were held for more than two hours at an Israeli military checkpoint near Bethlehem, according to medical sources. The ambulances had come from Ramallah, taking patients, including cancer patients in need of chemotherapy, for treatment at a Bethlehem hospital. Israeli troops reportedly refused to allow them to pass, saying they had not received previous authorization. After Western diplomats had intervened with Israeli authorities the ambulances were allowed to proceed. (AFP)

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, senior aide to PA President Arafat, told reporters “the Quartet would hold a meeting on the level of its envoys in London [on 2 May], and then on the level of its Foreign Ministers in New York on 4 May.” He described the meetings as “extremely important in relation to the peace process” and called on the Quartet to re-announce its commitment to the Road Map and work on its implementation, saying that the PA had formally presented the demand and was waiting for the meetings' outcome. Mr. Abu Rudeineh stated that any peace would be out of reach unless Palestinians gained their rights and established their independent State with [East] Jerusalem as its capital. PA Negotiations Affairs Minister Saeb Erakat said the PA was hoping to obtain certain guarantees at the upcoming meeting. That meeting “is very important, it will decide the future path of the peace process,” he said. As for the US endorsement of Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan, Mr. Arafat’s aides said “we reject any partial solutions, and a genuine peace could only be achieved on the borders of June 1967." (AFP, Xinhua)

Ahmad Abdel-Rahman, aide to PA President Arafat, told reporters Prime Minister Sharon’s threats against Mr. Arafat crossed the line and warned that harming him meant annulling Palestinian recognition of Israel. Mr. Abdel-Rahman urged Palestinians to halt “all practices that could provide [Mr.] Sharon with the necessary pretext to target [Mr.] Arafat” and called on Palestinians and other Arabs to develop a unified position on the matter. (UPI)

Prime Minister Sharon defended his disengagement plan in a speech delivered to mark the anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. “The plan offers an exceptional opportunity to reach a breakthrough in favour of peace,” Mr. Sharon said at a ceremony in Jerusalem. He predicted on Israel Army Radiothat the “disengagement” would be under way for the next anniversary celebrations in 2005. (AFP)

Thousands of Israeli settlers protested against Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan in the southern Gaza Strip. The crowd marched with Israeli flags along the beach in a demonstration that coincided with the fifty-sixth anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. The "Yesha Council of Settlements" said 110,000 Israelis gathered in the “Gush Katif” settlement block to condemn the planned withdrawal from the Strip, while Israel Public Radio put the numbers at 60,000. (AFP)

Sweden's Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, after meeting her Jordanian counterpart Marwan Muasher, “We hope we can make the other parts in the Quartet understand that now is the time for the Quartet to take the lead and start to enforce the Road Map … The EU is one of the parties in the Quartet and it has decided to try to make the Quartet take responsibility for the situation and go forward on the Road Map.” Mr. Muasher said a unilateral Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip should be part of the Road Map and said he discussed “ways and means to ensure this” with Ms. Freivalds. (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed an-Nahyan said at the start of a four-day visit to Germany that Israel’s targeted killings in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were doomed to failure. “Security cannot be maintained through guns and assassinations,” Sheikh Hamdan said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Sheikh Hamdan called for a far bigger European role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and noted Germany and the UAE had “identical views” on what had to be done for a just and lasting solution. At the core of such a solution would have to be an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and the creation of an independent Palestinian State with [East] Jerusalem as its capital, he said. (DPA)

Israeli warships opened fire with machine guns off the Gaza coast after nightfall. No casualties were reported and witnesses said there had been no Palestinian fishing boats in the water at the time. The Israeli military said the navy fired two warning shots at a small fishing boat approaching the shoreline of a settlement. (AP)

US officials said President Bush would give Jordan’s King Abdullah written guarantees on his commitment to the Road Map, adding that a new date for the meeting was tentatively set for 6 May. Israel Broadcasting Authority also reported that Mr. Bush was considering giving written assurance to King Abdullah that the issue of Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees would be decided in negotiations. (AFP, IBA)

Prime Minister Sharon said the Road Map was effectively dead. “I would have preferred to negotiate an agreement but several months ago I realized that it is not possible to move the Road Map forward because the Palestinians do not respect their commitments,” he said in an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel Two TV. In another interview on Channel 10 TVfor Israel’s Independence Day, Mr. Sharon defended his unilateral disengagement plan, saying that after a pullout, Palestinians could no longer explain violence by saying that Israel was occupying their land, “and Israel’s responses [to violence] would be much harsher.” (AFP)

A Hamas statement denied reports it had named Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar a new leader and Ismail Haniyah as his deputy, saying, “The movement confirms that reports about the new leadership are not true, and shows that the occupation is confused, and is desperately trying to reveal the new leadership of the movement.” (IMEMC)

In a news release, the World Bank said the “Public Financial Management Reform Trust Fund” was set up with the aim of “sustaining public services in the face of a severe fiscal crisis” in the PA. The Bank’s director for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Nigel Roberts said the fund was established “in recognition of the very positive developments in the Palestinian financial reform domain over the past two years.” (AP, worldbank.org)

28

Four Israeli soldiers were wounded when a vehicle disguised as an Israeli jeep and loaded with explosives blew up near the “Kfar Darom” settlement in the central Gaza Strip. The jeep was camouflaged with an Israeli flag, apparently to make it look as if the driver was participating in Israeli Independence Day festivities. The vehicle attempted to travel a road normally off limits to Israeli vehicles, Lt.-Col. Tomer Golan, deputy commander of the brigade operating in the area, told reporters. An IDF statement said “soldiers approached the suspicious jeep and opened fire at it,” and “as a result, the vehicle stopped and exploded close to the force, moderately injuring an IDF officer and an IDF soldier and lightly injuring two other IDF soldiers.” Hamas took responsibility for the attack, saying the jeep was driven by Tariq Hamid, 23, from the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, who was killed in the explosion. The group said the attack, which used 250 kg of explosives, was in retaliation for Israel’s killing of Hamas leaders Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantissi and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israeli troops then set up security barriers along the main Gaza road, barring thousands of Palestinians from moving between the southern and northern areas of the Gaza Strip. (AP, www.idf.il, UPI)

Israeli police arrested prominent Palestinian peace campaigner Sari Nusseibeh. Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said border police on patrol near Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem chased four Palestinian workers who refused to present their documents. The men fled to the university’s administration building, where Mr. Nusseibeh told the police he was now responsible for the men, Mr. Ben-Ruby said. The police arrested Mr. Nusseibeh along with the four workers. He was not charged and was released on bail after about five hours in custody at the Atarot police station north of Jerusalem. Mr. Nusseibeh later told reporters he had been arrested because police claimed there were illegal workers from the West Bank on the Al-Quds University campus. Mr. Ben-Ruby said: “Nusseibeh was brought in for questioning because he admitted being responsible for hiring four Palestinians from the territories to work at Al-Quds University, although they had not been granted Israeli entry permits. He also provided the four men accommodation on the campus.” Mr. Nusseibeh said he had no knowledge of the Palestinian workers. (AFP, AP)

Israel was to dig a deep trench along the southern Gaza Strip as part of its withdrawal from the territory in a bid to prevent cross-border arms smuggling from Egypt, military sources indicated. A tender was to be issued in May for the trench, which would run 4 km along the built-up areas of Rafah and parallel to a wall already constructed in the border zone. The IDF says the deepest tunnels discovered by its troops in the area ran 15 metres (50 feet) beneath the surface. (AFP)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II issued an official statement after meeting with PA Prime Minister Qureia that said the King told Mr. Qureia about the letter he had sent to President Bush urging him to re-launch Middle East peace negotiations on the basis of international resolutions and the Road Map. “We will soon exert efforts and contacts to stress that the final status issues of the Palestinian issue should be negotiated by the concerned parties and any other solutions that exclude the Palestinians will not be successful,” the Petra(Jordan News Agency) quoted the King as saying. (AFP, Petra, UPI)

Senior Israeli officials and government advisers were quoted as acknowledging privately that many - if not all - of the about 100 West Bank settlements on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier might eventually be taken down, even without a peace deal, if they become increasingly indefensible. Settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein said if the Likud approved the disengagement plan on 2 May, he expected 15 to 20 more West Bank settlements to be dismantled after the completion of the separation barrier. The removal of the first four settlements - “Ganim,” “Kadim,” “Homesh” and “Sa-Nur” - was meant to provide territorial continuity between Jenin and Nablus, in an area that is home to more than 500,000 Palestinians. Two other settlements - “Mevo Dotan” and “Hermesh” - cut into some of that territory, and could be next in line for evacuation. (AP)

“The number of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip employed in Israel is steadily decreasing and will continue to dwindle before eventually disappearing completely after our unilateral withdrawal from the area,” Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli Public Radio,adding: “Of course, this does not mean we will completely isolate the Gaza Strip from the outside world, nor starve its residents, but our pullout from this area will guarantee us a better security situation.” (AFP)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, attending a convention against anti-Semitism held in Berlin, said: “The disengagement plan will not be implemented before the US elections in November.” In response to a question by a correspondent, Mr. Powell said: “The plan will not be implemented before the elections although both events are unrelated.” Ma’ariv Onlinealso reported that Israel would receive no aid for the disengagement plan, but rather guarantees to enable it to obtain loans on favourable terms. (Ma’ariv)

Thaer (Saed, according to IMEMC) Abu Srur, 20, was wounded after opening fire on Israeli soldiers guarding the “Kadim” settlement east of Jenin, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement. He died overnight, medical sources said. An IDF spokesman said the attack targeted a vehicle transporting settlers and added no Israelis were injured in the incident. (AFP, IMEMC)

The IDF demolished 11 structures it said had been built illegally by Bedouins in the Al-Maghar (Al-Moghur) area south of Hebron. The structures destroyed were located in an area that lies between the "Green Line" and three settlements - "Ma'on", "Carmel" and "Susiya" - and included shacks, tents and public facilities erected by the British government's Department for International Development. The separation barrier is to cross the northern tip of the area and due to be built in the coming months. According to AFP,this population has been repeatedly expelled by the IDF over the years and harassed by neighbouring Israeli settlers. In 1999, the Civil Administration evicted several hundred Palestinians from the same region after declaring it a live-fire area. The issue then went to the High Court of Justice, which ruled in 2000 that the evicted had the right to return. At that point, it was agreed to start mediation, but the process has not yet been completed. (AFP, Ha’aretz, IMEMC, Xinhua)

Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference the Road Map was “in distress but not dead” and its sponsors would try in the meeting on 4 May to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal was a positive step in the peace process. Mr. Annan said the Quartet would discuss how the UN and the international community can help with the Gaza pullout. He also said he had approved last week’s proposal by UN Special Coordinator Terje Rød-Larsen for international security arrangements to ensure Israel’s complete pullout and hand over of authority in Gaza to the Palestinians. Mr. Larsen suggested Israel could follow the same procedure it did when it withdrew from southern Lebanon: It asked the Secretary-General to help facilitate the pullout and certify afterwards that the occupation had ended. “The UN worked with the Israelis and the Lebanese Government to ensure that the withdrawal was managed and orderly,” Mr. Annan said. (AP)

In a statement to Al-Ayyam,PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the creation by the World Bank of a fund to support the PA budget, the first time the Bank would support the Palestinian budget. He said: “I foresee that donor countries will start transferring money to this fund in the near future. I predict that Norway will be the first donor country to offer its contribution, which will be US$12 million. I also predict that some aid will come from Britain soon, and also from Canada. There is also a feeling that France will contribute to this fund. We initially examined the question with the Japanese government, and we will follow it up with them in order to obtain Japanese support for this fund. If we can achieve this objective, in addition to some assistance from Arab countries that have made open promises to help us, I believe that it will be possible to fill this year’s budget deficit. If we can reach this goal, we will be able to consolidate our ability to implement the budget in an orderly manner and to respect our commitments related to various needs, particularly in terms of enabling our people to deal with the negative impact on their living conditions of the Israeli policy of siege and closure.” (BBC)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on the subject of the upcoming Quartet meeting, “There is an assumption that it is necessary to move forward in the Middle East peace process along all tracks, be it the Syrian-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli or Lebanese-Israeli ones.” Alexander Yakovenko, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said later that in the meeting, the participants would focus on coordinating their position on Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan: “A coordinated reaction is needed to some new suggestions on ways to make our way out of the dead end that we are facing, firstly, on the initiative of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon for unilateral separation from Palestine, which envisages Israel’s departure from the Gaza Strip.” (Itar-Tass, Xinhua)

The US State Department issued a travel warning advising Americans to avoid all travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and urged Americans now present in Gaza immediately to depart the area. Earlier in the day, Britain issued a similar warning to its citizens. It was an update of an existing 23 March travel warning issued the day Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. IMEMCin this respect quoted a statement from Hamas issued on 24 April, in which the movement said it did not have any intention to attack any American target, and Said Syam, one of Hamas' political leaders, who added that the request of the US Government for its residents to leave the area was “based on false information.” (AFP, IMEMC, travel.state.gov)

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In Jenin and Tubas, Israeli troops killed a 21-year-old Palestinian and wounded three others, Palestinian news agency WAFA said. (Xinhua)

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian in the village of Hares, south-west of Nablus, Palestinian security sources said. Ahmad Kuleb, 22, was shot in the chest during an Israeli raid. Israeli military sources said soldiers had seen a Palestinian on a road outside Hares “throwing a large object” toward a settler’s car, without hitting it. The soldiers had then open fired on him. (AFP)

A 50-year-old Palestinian woman died from the effects of tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers into her home in the Faraa refugee camp near Tubas. Subrieh Abul Badah became ill after the incident and was taken to hospital in Jenin, where she died from respiratory failure. Nine other Palestinians were wounded during an IDF incursion into the camp. (AFP, IPC)

Israeli troops arrested the Ramallah leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ali Barghouthi (a nephew of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti), and his deputy, Labib Barghuthi, in the Al-Am’ari refugee camp. An IDF spokesman only said that two gunmen affiliated with Fatah had been arrested in Ramallah overnight but did not confirm their identities. Ali Barghouthi and 20 of his colleagues had left PA President Yasser Arafat’s HQ in Ramallah last week. (AFP, IMEMC)

PA police chief in the Gaza Strip Ghazi Al-Jabali escaped injury from an explosion before dawn in front of his house that blew off the front door but caused no casualties. A police statement said the attack would not stop its security forces “rounding up all those wanted for justice” but did not hint at who might have been behind it. An aide to PA President Arafat said an investigation was under way and suspects would be prosecuted. PA sources quoted by Xinhua blamed Israel for the blast, while the IDF had no immediate comment. (Reuters, Xinhua)

The IDF demolished two houses in the village of Sarra, west of Nablus, owned by families of two Hamas members, Fadi Diab Odeh and Mohannad Mahmud Abdullah, both in prison for their involvement in an attack on an Israeli settlement that had caused no injuries. Around 10 people lived in each house, Palestinian witnesses said. The IDF destroyed a gas station near the “Mehola” settlement on "road 90", Jericho-Bissan (Beit She’an), after invading the nearby village of Ein Al-Baida’. (AFP, IMEMC, Xinhua)

The IDF in a statement expressed its regret for the killing on 23 April of Yasser Abu Leimun, a 32-year-old lecturer at the Arab-American University in Jenin, who it said had been “accidentally caught in the crossfire between the IDF and two Palestinian gunmen.” In the statement the IDF promised to “draw the necessary professional conclusions, in order to prevent the repetition of this type of event,” but did not specifically admit responsibility and made no mention of possible compensation. Mr. Leimun, a professor of health systems at the university, was apparently watering his garden in the village of Talluza, north of Nablus, at the time of the incident. Palestinian sources said the IDF refused to allow an ambulance to evacuate the wounded to hospital, leaving him to die of his injuries on the scene. (AFP, IMEMC, Ma’ariv)

“Peace cannot be achieved without negotiation,” French President Jacques Chirac said at a news conference in response to a question on Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan. “Only a negotiated agreement can allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side in peace and security. Every other procedure is doomed to failure,” he said. Mr. Chirac also said, “One cannot unilaterally modify international law, nor pre-empt the results of a negotiation which sooner or later will be obviously necessary.” (AFP)

“We believe that a new opportunity has been opened up by the initiative of Prime Minister Sharon,” US Secretary of State Colin Powell said during a brief visit to Denmark. “We can use this initiative, even a unilateral initiative, to get back to the Road Map process. I believe that rather than killing the Road Map, as some have suggested, this gives new life to the Road Map.” (AFP)

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the Road Map as the best way to bring peace to the Middle East. “We affirm our support for the Road Map. We share the positions that are laid out in it,” he told N24TV news station in an interview. (AFP)

After four days of talks in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Campaign for the Arab boycott of Israel issued a statement expressing satisfaction that Iraq had pledged not to trade with Israel and urging Europe to put economic pressure on Israel. The Commissioner-General of the Central Boycott Office, Ahmed Khazaa, read out a statement, saying that a meeting with the Campaign had discussed “Israeli attempts to penetrate Iraq through deals offered by the US-led occupation forces." Iraq “cannot but be against such attempts” by Israel to penetrate its markets, the statement said. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Khazaa said the Iraqi delegation had assured the meeting that the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad was “committed to the boycott rules and will not allow Israel to penetrate their territories in any form.” Sabah al-Imam, the head of the Iraqi delegation, had said on 26 April that there was no known Israeli trade with Iraq, but he did not rule out the possibility that there might be some Israeli companies operating under different names. The statement urged the EU to take steps against Israel and said Arab countries should try to persuade the EU to impose taxes on Israeli products and to suspend business relations with Israel until it withdrew from the occupied territories and ceased military operations against the Palestinians. Mr. Khazaa said the boycott had afflicted losses of more than “$90 billion” on Israel’s economy. (AP)

The Israeli initiators of the Geneva Accord decided to cancel a weekend advertisement campaign supporting Prime Minister Sharon, The Jerusalem Postreported. The decision was made after officials close to Mr. Sharon said the ads would kill his chances of passing the unilateral disengagement plan, with one of them saying the ads were tantamount to “a shot in the head.” According to the report, the ads called upon the members of the Likud party to support withdrawing from the Gaza Strip as a first step to an agreed settlement with the Palestinians that would include additional withdrawals from settlements. (Xinhua)

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A 23-year-old Palestinian man was killed by IDF fire at the “Yakir” junction, east of Tulkarm. Israeli military sources said he was throwing stones at vehicles with Israeli license plates, and when soldiers fired warning shots at his legs, he apparently bent over and was hit in the head. (IBA)

Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded by shrapnel after Palestinians fired a rocket-propelled grenade in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military sources said the incident took place near the “Neve Dekalim” settlement, which is part of the “Gush Katif” block. Palestinian security sources said Israeli armour and two bulldozers entered the nearby Palestinian city of Khan Yunis early in the day and razed five houses and partially destroyed six others. The IDF denied the report, but said Palestinian militants had fired explosives overnight at nearby Gaza settlements, lightly wounding two soldiers. In the West Bank, four Palestinians wanted by Israel were arrested, Israeli military sources said. The same sources said the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to be under full army closure that was imposed after Israel killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on 22 March. (AFP, AP)

IDF forces partially demolished 19 Palestinian houses during a dawn raid on Khan Yunis in Gaza, Palestinian security sources said. The troops forced the Palestinian owners to leave their houses without taking any of their personal effects, the sources said, adding that dozens of Palestinians were made homeless. The IDF claimed that the houses had been used in launching attacks on a nearby Israeli settlement. The same day, an explosive charge went off, hitting an Israeli APC opposite Rafah refugee camp on the southern Gaza Strip border line. Palestinian security and medical sources said that the Israeli forces opened automatic gunfire at Palestinian houses in an area in Rafah, injuring one child. Mohammed Zo’rub was shot in the abdomen and is in serious condition, they added. (Xinhua)

Some 20 armed settlers entered Umm Rihan, the village on the Israeli side of the West Bank separation barrier west of Jenin, and fired shots in the air before briefly taking over the school. The settlers threatened to “expel” the Palestinians, telling the 300 residents of the village, which is surrounded by seven settlements, to go to nearby Ya’bad, on the other side of the barrier. The villagers had tried to contact the IDF about the raid, but to no avail, PA Education Ministry official and resident Faruat Zaid said. Both the IDF and police said they had been unaware of the incident. (AFP)

The IDF closed Abu Houli military roadblock in the central Gaza Strip, splitting the strip into two areas, and demolished several Palestinian houses in a refugee camp, Palestinian sources reported. The Israeli military’s sudden closure of the main road of Salah Ad-Din came after they heavily shelled Palestinian houses in the southern refugee camp of Khan Yunis. The IDF raided the refugee camp under the cover of shelling by tanks and demolished 10 houses sheltering about 250 Palestinians, but no injuries were reported. The Israeli troops also shelled overnight the Tel Al-Zu’rub area, near Rafah, injuring a 12-year-old Palestinian child, who was said to be in a serious condition. Two other Palestinian children were moderately injured late in the day when the Israeli troops in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, opened heavy artillery fire at neighbouring Palestinian houses. (Xinhua)

Senior envoys of the Middle East Quartet met in London to prepare for the ministerial meeting in New York on 4 May. “The Quartet envoys discussed the situation in the region, recent Israeli proposals regarding withdrawal from Gaza and ways to advance President (Bush’s) two-State vision. They also discussed ways that we and the parties can ease the Palestinian humanitarian situation. (We) felt the discussions were very constructive,” US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing in Washington. Fabrice Aidan, the spokesman for UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Terje Rød-Larsen, said the talks had been constructive and would continue over the weekend and on 3 May in New York, adding “There is a good atmosphere and things are going well. They are making headway.” The meeting at the US Embassy in London was attended by Mr. Larsen, US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, EU Middle East envoy Marc Otte and Russia’s Middle East envoy Alexander Kalugin. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will host the meeting at the UNHQ in New York. Secretary of State Colin Powell will represent the United States, while Ireland announced that its Foreign Minister Brian Cowen would lead the EU delegation at the New York meeting. Mr. Annan is expected to read out a statement on behalf of the Quartet at a news conference following the meeting. (AP, UPI)

Nigel Roberts, the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, commented on the two-year trust fund for the Palestinians, which would be submitted to the Bank’s quarterly supervision missions and to the collective oversight of the EU, US and IMF. “The Palestinian Authority came to the Bank to devise a system that would attract other contributors,” he said. The Bank came up with five initial and binding benchmarks for the PA to adhere to, ranging from fiscal transparency to a yearly ceiling in job creation – with at least 90 per cent of PA employees to be hired in social sectors and none in security services. One condition was the transfer of the security personnel’s wages into bank accounts rather than payment through direct cash handovers. The conditions were endorsed by the PA, conditional on the trust fund’s establishment. They would be reviewed, and could be expanded, every six months. Mr. Roberts insisted that the trust fund had not been set up in response to accusations that donor money was being diverted. He said the fact that Israel had resumed in late 2002 transfers of VAT and custom revenues it collects on behalf of the PA was proof that Israel was comfortable with the PA’s handling of revenues. “There were also various investigations in Europe about allegations of diversion of EU money for nefarious purposes ... but so far the majority opinion has indicated no concern,” he added. Mr. Roberts said that his own institution was positive overall about the PA’s current system of financial checks and balances, and added “One of the key objectives for donors is to ensure that the PA remains functional ... and (support) a return to negotiations and hopefully towards the settlement of the conflict. The concern of the international community is reflected in the benchmarks which will help improve the financial management environment.” He said the first contribution was expected the following week, as he already foresaw $150 million in potential funding “that should increase over the year.” Together with other assistance programs, the Palestinians could raise as much as $400 million - still well short of the projected $650 million budget deficit. Mr. Roberts cited as potential donors European countries, both EU and non-EU, the World Bank and possibly the US, which had so far mostly refrained from supporting the PA budget. But he cautioned against the “donor fatigue”, saying, “Clearly, it’s a very tall order to sustain extremely high levels funding that Palestinians are receiving on a per capita basis - 300 dollars per person, per year, which is unprecedented in history, anywhere in the world. When the political prospects of an early resolution of the conflict do not appear that bright, that puts a lot of pressure, this inevitably takes its toll in terms of keeping donors in the ring.” Total donor support to the Palestinian economy averaged $896 million in 2003, down from $1.25 billion in 2002. (AFP, AP)

Ireland was donating an additional €1 million ($1.2 million) in aid to relieve the “ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people,” Development Minister Tom Kitt said. The new funding was announced following a meeting between Mr. Kitt and Peter Hansen, UNRWA Commissioner-General. Mr. Kitt said UNRWA was a stabilizing influence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and offered “hope to many in a region blighted by conflict and suffering.” Ireland had given over €17 million to Palestinian areas in the past four years. (AFP)


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