Abbas Condemns Settler Violence

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Israeli police used force to break up a demonstration in East Jerusalem on Friday against the eviction of a Palestinian family from their home.

Twenty-one Israeli peace activists were arrested and police said several police officers were lightly injured, when police used tear gas and force to break up the demonstration.

The Israeli protesters had marched to the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem and attempted to enter the home of the Al-Kurd family, which is partly occupied by settlers.

The entry of the settlers into the home followed a court order ruling in early December that the family, which lives in a portion of the house, had no right to move into an addition that they had built onto the house.

The court rejected the al-Kurd family’s petition seeking to prevent the settlers from taking over the building.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, six Palestinians fainted after inhaling tear gas fired by the Israeli military during a protest east of Salfit on Friday.

The mayor of Yasouf village, Abed Ar-Rahim Musleh, said the injured were hospitalised in Salfit.

He described their injuries as light.

Residents took to the streets in the northern West Bank village after Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque the same day.

Soldiers opened fire when the crowd arrived near the illegal Tapouh settlement, which was built on Yasouf village lands.

Musleh said that settlers broke the main gate of the Al-Kabir Mosque at 4am and set fire to the building’s second floor.

He said the fire destroyed copies of the Koran and carpets which were inside.

Settlers also wrote graffiti in Hebrew on the mosque’s floor reading, ‘We will have our revenge’ and ‘We will burn you all’, the village mayor added.

Residents scrambled to put out the fire in the modern mosque at the centre of the village, which is home to 2,000 Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority security forces also arrived and began an investigation.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas condemned the arson as ‘a disgraceful and barbarian crime.’

‘This attack is a violation of religious freedom and to holy sites,’ he added, speaking at a meeting with Israeli MK Ahmad At-Tibi in Amman.

Abbas urged Israel ‘to put an end to the settlers’ lawlessness.’

The head of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, Yoav Mordechai, also condemned the attack.

Mordechai said that the attackers would be tracked down and prosecuted, adding that he had met with Salfit Governor Munir Al-Aboushi and leaders of the security services to discuss the incident.

The Israeli military also issued a statement saying it ‘condemns the vandalism of the Palestinian mosque.’

It added that the Civil Administration received a complaint about the attack, and said Israeli forces were searching for the perpetrators.

Tensions have been high in the West Bank since Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared a partial slowdown on expansion of settlements two weeks ago.

Angry settlers have vowed to resist the ten-month construction ban and also punish the Palestinian population in what they call a ‘price tag’ campaign.

Netanyahu’s construction ban applies only to certain settlements outside Israel’s expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, and only to new buildings, not those already underway when the policy was announced.

But the moratorium has galvanized the Zionist settler movement.

On Wednesday night tens of thousands of settlers demonstrated in Paris Square West Jerusalem urging the expansion of settlements and denouncing Netanyahu.

Netanyahu came under pressure from the US government to freeze all settlement construction in the entire West Bank as a step toward renewing peace negotiations.

The PA, however, dismissed the slowdown as insufficient.

In a separate development, the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank did not react to the European Union’s statement on Jerusalem this week with one voice.

President Abbas said he was pessimistic about the statement because he said it was too vague.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad rushed to welcome and praise the ministerial statement which called for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.

The director of Abbas’ office, At-Tayyib Abdul-Rahim, who is also a member of the Fatah Central Committee, angrily denounced the statement and blamed French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for weakening its language.

Iyad As-Serraj, the Gaza psychiatrist now working with Egypt to compel Hamas and Fatah to resume reconciliation talks, said the statement would help his efforts, despite the fact that the final draft removed a clause calling for Palestinian unity.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, however, dismissed the suggestion that Palestinian official opinion was divided on the EU statement.

He insisted on Thursday: ‘I don’t see any difference in the Palestinian position towards the statement.

‘First of all there is a common ground on welcoming the statement.

‘I would like to thank the counties of the European Union for the important step they took.’

He said the EU’s decision would speed up the PA’s efforts to approach the UN Security Council seeking a resolution supporting the creation of a Palestinian state.

‘Latin American countries, African countries and non- aligned countries all support the decision which will make it difficult for the US to stand in the way of this statement,’ Erekat said.

He added: The statement is very strong as it reaffirmed (the EU’s) rejection of the annexation of Jerusalem, and settlement, considering the 1967 borders as Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which means that Jerusalem is the capital for the two states through negotiations.’

Erekat admitted, though, that Palestinians had hoped the EU would endorse an original draft introduced by Sweden, which had stronger language.

He said: ‘All of these issues are important but we hoped to have the final text to be left as it was submitted by the Swedish minister of foreign affairs.’

He added: ‘In the end Europe does not have one foreign policy but rather 27 – that is where difference came from.’

He noted that Israel did not welcome the statement as a whole, but rather praised the fact that the final version adopted softer language.

Also on Thursday France said it welcomed the EU ministerial statement.

‘As we hoped, this important text calls for the urgent resumption of peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and between the Israelis and Syrians,’ France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

‘The resumption of negotiations as early as possible is the most effective way to successfully establish an independent, democratic and viable State of Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security,’ it added.