Easter in Jerusalem Marred by Settlement Plans
As Christian denominations celebrate Easter this week, Israel is also celebrating, both Passover and the construction of hundreds of new settlement housing units in the city. On April 4, Israel's Housing Ministry published tenders for 827 new houses in the illegal settlement of Har Homa, between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A day earlier, west Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat also said he would revive an old/new plan in the east Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis where Israel would build an additional 230 housing units for settlers there. Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh condemned the decision to continue with settlement construction saying, it "does not encourage the resumption of negotiations," calling on the international community, and the Middle East Quartet in particular, to stop Israeli settlement building. Settlers were in the news a lot this week, with the settler takeover and subsequent evacuation of a home in Hebron’s old city, close to the Ibrahimi mosque. The three-storey home was taken over by some 30 settlers who claim they bought the house legally and took over the third storey. On April 2 the Israeli Civil Administration announced it had given the settlers until the next day to vacate the premises. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally intervened to try and postpone the evacuation until April 25, on April 6 Israeli police evicted 15 of the 30-some settlers from the house. Palestinian security officials said a man identified only by his M.S was arrested for involvement in making the alleged sale to the settlers, which would have been invalid under Palestinian law. On April 5, Israeli occupation forces raided the northern West Bank village of Kufr Qaddum before dawn, arresting 19 people on suspicion of being involved in "violent and illegal" riots in the village. According to the residents, soldiers ransacked several homes and stole jewelry worth JD8000 from Kufr Qaddum resident Ata Shteiwi's home. In other news, two mortar rockets landed in Eilat on April 4, ostensibly fired from the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt denied that anything was fired from its territory. An Egyptian security official in the southern Sinai said the Egyptian-Israeli border was "intensively secured", and no one had detected a flash of light or sound that morning. No casualties or damage were reported in the strike. Also on the 4th, a fuel shipment arrived in Gaza through the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing. Liaison officer Raed Fattouh said around 415,000 liters of fuel were delivered. The shipment follows a deal announced the day before between the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to end the power crisis in the Strip. Hamas spokesman Taher Al Nunu said the de facto government’s energy authority had transferred NIS2 million to the PA to pay for the fuel, purchased from Israel. The deposed government also said they would collect electricity dues from the residents of Gaza, from “those who are able” even if they are expecting a ‘gift’ of fuel from Qatar in the near future. Meanwhile, the reconciliation continues to falter even though efforts are assumedly underway between the two sides to get the Doha Agreement back on track. Independently, President Abbas is planning to deliver his letter to Israeli premier Netanyahu via a delegation headed by Netanyahu’s counterpart, Salaam Fayyad sometime next week. The letter is to outline the Palestinian vision on a solution to the conflict, which entails the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders and the halt of settlements among other points. An actual date for the meeting is yet to be set, which would have to be announced by Israel. On April 2, Abbas, who is obviously not expecting a very positive reaction from Netanyahu to his letter, said he would resort once again to the United Nations should Israel refuse to return to negotiations. Netanyahu said earlier this week that Israel would send Abbas a counter letter in which it would demand recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians have said they would not meet that demand because of its negative impact on the plight of refugees and Palestinians inside the Green Line. On April 1, former hunger striker, prisoner Hana Shalabi, arrived in Gaza after making a deal with Israeli authorities to end her hunger strike in exchange for a three-year deportation to the Gaza Strip. Shalabi, who went without food for 43 days in protest at her administrative detention, is from the village of Burqin in the northern West Bank. Upon her arrival, Shalabi called on everyone to ‘respect her decision’ saying she did not consider herself a deportee, and that she was "among family and loved ones". The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern over the deal and urged Israel "to comply with international humanitarian law, which prohibits Israel, whatever its motives, from forcibly transferring Palestinians to another territory." The Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, with which Shalabi is affiliated, all said they rejected the deportation order, which was in contravention to all international laws and conventions. Shalabi is being followed by other prisoners on hunger strike whose health is deteriorating. On April 4, Omar Abu Shalal, 55, from Nablus was transferred to the Ramleh prison hospital after four weeks of hunger strike according to Prisoner Society lawyer Jawwad Boulous. With Abu Shalal are detainees Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla who have been on hunger strike for 36 days. Finally, Hamas authorities in Gaza executed three men on April 7. According to Hamas sources, two were convicted murderers and one was found guilty of “collaborating with Israel.” One of the murderers it said, was guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering a boy.