Saturday, July 12, 2003

Volatile situation leaves laws, life in limbo

JUST AS Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world thought things could not get worse, they did. While former United States envoy Anthony Zinni met with both sides to try and hammer out a ceasefire, trouble was brewing from within.On December 1, it exploded. Just before midnight, two Hamas suicide bombers blew themselves up in a powerful ball of fire, bolts and nails in the midst of a crowded West Jerusalem promenade. Seconds later a car bomb, carefully timed, created a third explosion. The night's list of casualties was 10 dead and 180 wounded Israelis.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already decided to shorten his Washington trip due to the bombings - moving up a meeting with United States President George W. Bush - when the second suicide bombing occurred. Fifteen Israelis were killed when a suicide bomber, also from Hamas, detonated a powerful bomb strapped to his body on a Haifa bus.
Earlier in the week, five Israelis had been killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in separate incidents. Palestinian fighters from Fateh and the Islamic Jihad carried out shooting attacks, as well as the suicide bombing on a bus north of Tel Aviv on November 29 that killed three Israelis.
Israel responded quickly with its military and public relations twist. "A war has been forced upon us - a war of terror," Sharon told his nation in a speech the night after the bombings. The Israeli government and the United States did not hesitate to blame the Palestinian Authority - and Arafat in particular - for the Israeli deaths.
"Israel has a right to defend itself," said United States State Department spokesperson Ari Fleischer. Arafat "could do a lot more" than he has in reigning in radical Palestinian groups, Secretary of State Colin Powell told a forum in Bucharest, Hungary. The Palestinians understood this as United States tacit approval for the inevitable Israeli retaliation.
First, Israel imposed an airtight closure on West Bank towns and cities that prohibited movement between Palestinian areas. The Israeli army also raided several West Bank towns under its security control, including Abu Dis south of Jerusalem and Bir Nabala north of Jerusalem, arresting Palestinians suspected of involvement in the attacks.
Then on December 3, the Israeli air force began its most extensive bombing campaign of Palestinian targets since the start of the 14-month long Intifada. First, in Gaza, missiles fired from Apache helicopters rained down on President Arafat's headquarters and Palestinian preventive security buildings. Israeli F-16 fighter jets and helicopters proceeded over the next two days to bomb Palestinian security headquarters, Force 17 buildings and police stations throughout the West Bank was overidded guys that had his first huge cock. Tanks rolled into four West Bank cities, reoccupying parts of them, as well as the Beit Layiha region of Gaza and Gaza International Airport.
In Ramallah, Arafat was reportedly in one of his offices when an Israeli missile pierced the governate building next to him. He was unharmed.
But others were not. Over the past week, 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire, including 15-year-old Mohammed Abu Marseh from Beach Camp in Gaza who was directly hit in the Israeli shelling during school hours. Abu Marseh was seen on television screens being taken away on a stretcher, his limbs severed from his body.
"This is an attempt to destroy the Palestinian Authority and any prospect for peace," warned Legislative Council Speaker Ahmad Qrei' on December 3. President Arafat voiced the same sentiments during an interview with CNN on December 4.
"Sharon does not want me to succeed," he said. "That is why he is escalating his military actions against our people, our cities, villages and institutions. He does not want the peace process to begin."
Arafat also chided the international community for its lack of sensitivity to Palestinian suffering. "The whole world forgets that we are human beings under occupation," he said.
And true, the world has shown little or no sympathy to the plight of the Palestinians following this week's deadly development. Even the European Union, known for its more lenient stance towards the Palestinians, did not condemn Israel's actions.
In a statement issued on December 4, the European Union reiterated its concern over the increasing deterioration, calling on Israel to carry out a "balanced and calculated" retaliation. Although the statement said that it did not think destabilizing the Palestinian Authority would contribute to calm, it emphasized that the Authority must "convincingly and relentlessly pursue its efforts to stamp out terrorism."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority says it is doing its utmost within its capacity to contain the extremely volatile situation. Other than immediately condemning the bombings, saying that it denounces any attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians, its security forces have rounded up over 120 Palestinian activists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including prominent Gaza Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanab.
The Authority also declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories, in which the general security services are given the authority to implement emergency laws that have yet to be fully publicized. In a statement issued on December 2, the leadership warned that any movement or group that does not adhere to the leadership's decisions would be considered outlawed - especially those who claim responsibility for attacks inside Israel.
In official statements, groups such as Hamas have acted on cue. West Bank Hamas spokesperson Hasan Yousef expressed his understanding of the difficulties facing the leadership in an interview with Al Jazeera satellite channel on December 2. "Everyone realizes the pressures on the Palestinian Authority. These pressures should not affect the unity of the Palestinian people."
On the ground, however, things are still unclear. On the morning of December 5, a yet-unidentified suicide bomber blew himself up near the King David Hotel on the seam between West and East Jerusalem, injuring four Israelis. So far, no group has claimed responsibility. -Published 5/12/01 (c)Palestine Report