More IPCRI In The News
February 12, 2003
Violence Follows a Ban on Palestinians' Holiday Travel
ERUSALEM, Feb. 11 — Israeli security forces shot dead an 8-year-old Palestinian boy today when they opened fire on a crowd throwing stones in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Palestinians said. Later, in Bethlehem, an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper as he patrolled near Manger Square, the army said.
The burst of violence came as the army shut Palestinians into their cities, saying warnings of planned terrorist attacks had forced it to rescind a promised easing of already strict travel restrictions during the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha.
Israel said the "complete closure" — a ban on all Palestinian travel through the occupied territories — would last through the four-day holiday, until Feb. 14.
In Qalqilya, forces of the Israeli border police on a raid into the city encountered a mob, the army said. It said the police opened fire after being attacked with stones, bricks and firebombings. A spokesman said the army did not know if anyone was hurt.
Palestinians said the border police surrounded two houses in apparent pursuit of some wanted men, when youths began throwing stones at them. In addition to the boy who was killed, they said, nine other Palestinians were wounded by what they described as random Israeli fire.
In Bethlehem after dark, the army said, soldiers left their vehicles near the Church of the Nativity to examine a suspicious car they thought might contain a bomb. Someone opened fire on them from about 50 yards away, killing the platoon commander, the army said.
Bethlehem was immediately put under curfew, but searches of the area did not yield the sniper. Soldiers subsequently blew up the suspicious car, the army said.
Israeli forces have been operating freely in what by agreement is Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank since June, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 19 passengers on a Jerusalem bus.
On Monday, the Israeli government described its plan to ease restrictions on Palestinians during the holiday in an announcement that gave some sense of how tight the restrictions already were. The government said the curfew would be relaxed in the Gaza Strip, more Palestinians would be permitted to leave the occupied territories to work and worshipers 45 and older would be permitted to pray here at one of Islam's holiest sites, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
The defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, also instructed soldiers "to exhibit extra sensitivity toward the Palestinian civilian population during the holiday," the army said.
But late Monday, Mr. Mofaz rescinded the plan. He said Israel had intelligence reports of planned suicide bombings. "The Palestinian Authority is not making any efforts to stop the waves of terror, and it is in our hands today," he said.
The army said soldiers intercepted two would-be suicide bombers today, one of them with an 18-pound explosive.
Palestinians reacted with dismay and anger to news of the closing, which prevented some from coming here to pray and others from visiting family members in neighboring cities. Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, is the most important feast on the Muslim calendar.
Zakaria al-Qaq, the co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, said that because of such closings, "the holidays are becoming the most politicized days in the Palestinian year."
Instead of a spiritual event or a chance to catch up with family, he said, "it's becoming people talking about the killing, the closures."
Dr. Qaq said Palestinians generally believe that Israel never planned to ease the closing, but only hoped to gain credit internationally from appearing to be willing to do so.
Israeli forces continued scouring the West Bank today for what the army said were wanted people. In all, 18 Palestinians were arrested there overnight Monday.
This morning, in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers found the body of an armed Palestinian, wearing a bullet-proof vest, the army said. The army said soldiers had opened fire on him late Monday after spotting him carrying a rifle in an area off limits to Palestinians. Palestinian officials described him as a member of Hamas.
The new closing and violence followed the resumption of security talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Under a proposed plan, which has failed in the past amid mutual charges of bad faith, Israeli forces would withdraw from what by previous agreement are Palestinian-controlled areas, provided Palestinian security forces prevented terrorist attacks.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, called it "premature to jump to any conclusion" about whether these talks would prove substantive.
"We all know what stage the relations are in now," he said, referring to the breakdown of trust on both sides.
Mr. Erekat lives in Jericho, a city that has remained relatively calm throughout the conflict and where Israel recently announced a substantial easing of its military encirclement.
Jericho is a top destination for internal Palestinian tourism. Restaurants and resorts had geared up for the holiday, anticipating an influx of tourists.
"They bought a lot of food, and they prepared themselves to receive thousands of people coming to Jericho to spend one day, two days, three days," said Abdel Karim Sidr, Jericho's mayor.
Instead, he said, perhaps 200 people arrived today, finding their way on foot around renewed Israeli barricades. No one in Jericho knew why the closing had been imposed, he said.
"Maybe something will change tomorrow," he added. "Really, it's a
People and Politics / A time for testing, and a testing time
The Washington Post published a surprising editorial last Friday,
calling on President George W. Bush to put to the test Ariel Sharon's
intentions and seriousness regarding the prime minister's attitude
toward the president's vision of a Palestinian state. The editorial
proposed that Bush condition the special aid to Israel and the loan
guarantees on a total freeze of construction in the settlements.