Israeli, Palestinian groups respond to deepening crisis

Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, has issued a statement charging the Israeli government is responsible for the new round of violence in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. The group said, “The renewed cycle of bloodshed has begun with the decision of the Israeli political and military echelons to implement – in the middle of the Hudna (cease-fire) – a series of ‘targeted liquidations,’ knowing full well that that act would lead to retaliation bombings and to the breaking of the Hudna.”

Gush Shalom also said last week’s bus bombing in West Jerusalem and those responsible were in areas under Israeli control, Nablus and Hebron. The statement continued, “In none of these places does the Palestinian Authority exercise any measure of real control, and its police has no ability to operate there. The real, immediate solution is to remove the Israeli Defense Forces from the Palestinian territories and hand over full control to the Palestinian Authority, as was laid out in the Road Map.”

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in its weekly report also condemned the escalation of violence that threatens to end negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that had been in progress since a cease-fire at the end of June. The PCHR documented continuing human rights abuses due to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The PCHR report said, “Since Aug. 20, Israeli occupying forces have escalated their illegal military actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), following an Israeli government decision taken in the aftermath of the bombing that occurred in West Jerusalem on Aug.19.”

The most recent Israeli military actions were initiated a few hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz decided to escalate military operations against Palestinians, including a continuation of the policy of assassinations, a policy which had been halted since the conclusion of a security understanding between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

The PCHR statement said, “Israeli forces have also imposed a total siege on the OPTs, raided Palestinian houses and arrested more Palestinians.”

PCHR human rights workers report that the Israeli army continued to shell Palestinian residential areas in the Gaza Strip, especially in Rafah and Khan Yunis. A number of houses were damaged and widespread fear of attacks persisted among Palestinian civilians, especially children. The report said, “Such tactics represent the use of a system of terror inflicted on the general population of the OPTs by Israeli authorities.”

The PCHR report also says, “In violation of international humanitarian law, especially the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Article 33, which prohibits punishing any protected person for ‘an offense he or she has not personally committed,’ Israeli forces took retaliatory measures against the families of Palestinians, Israel alleges have ordered, facilitated, or carried out attacks against Israeli targets by destroying three Palestinian houses in Nablus.”

Though the Israeli army has been using military action to respond to bus bombing, it is also interfering in the right of Palestinians to earn a living. The PCRH report says, “Israeli occupying forces have restricted the access of Palestinian fishermen to the sea, and Palestinian workers continue to face humiliating measures at ‘Erez’ (Beit Hanoun) crossing in the northern Gaza Strip on their way to work in Israel. Israeli occupying forces have continued to restrict the passage of goods through commercial crossings of the Gaza Strip. The Rafah terminal, on the border with Egypt, has recently witnessed a growing humanitarian crisis.”

In the West Bank, Israeli occupying forces have maintained a strict siege on Palestinian communities. They have restricted movement of Palestinians at military checkpoints, despite Israeli claims that a number of military checkpoints were dismantled. They re-closed a number of roads and erected dozens of roadblocks. On Aug. 20, after Israeli occupying forces had allowed dozens of Palestinian civilians to cross Israeli military checkpoints erected at entrances of Palestinian towns and villages, they closed these checkpoints and prevented the civilians who had crossed the checkpoints from returning to their homes.

The Gush Shalom report is available at www.gush-shalom.org and the PCHR report at www.pchrgaza.org