ARAB states are demanding that the United States clarify the purpose of a planned return trip by US President George W Bush to Israel in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, an Emirati newspaper reported on Sunday.
The Arab League and a number of Arab governments want the American government to explain the nature of the trip, as May will also mark the 60th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, the Catastrophe of the violent expulsion of Palestinians from 1948 Palestine.
The UAE-based Al-Khalij newspaper said that Arab states have communicated their disappointment to the Americans over the divisive plan.
A senior American official told reporters on Saturday that Bush may return to the region more than once in 2008.
Bush is currently visiting Persian Gulf states as a part of a week-long tour of the Middle East. Earlier this week he visited Jerusalem, and the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Meanwhile the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted an anonymous Palestinian official saying that a European country had told Hamas leaders that Israel had decided to assassinate Hamas’ three top leaders, Ismail Haniya, Khaled Mishaal and Mahmoud Az-Zahhar.
According to the source, Israel had delayed the assassination until the end of US president George Bush’s visit to the region.
He also said that Hamas and the de facto government in the Gaza Strip are taking the issue seriously, imposing intensive security to protect their leaders.
In the same regard, Al-Hayat quoted Hamas security sources as saying that they thwarted an explosion in the park where deposed Prime Minister Haniya was honouring the Gazan hajj pilgrims.
They said a young Palestinian man was arrested holding a bag containing three kilograms of TNT, which was designed to kill Haniya.
A very large number of Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military in the last two years.
The Israeli military has killed approximately 1,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip over the last two years, Israeli internal intelligence chief Yuval Diskin told the Israeli cabinet on Sunday.
Diskin, who heads the Shin Bet intelligence agency claimed that all 1,000 victims were ‘terrorists,’ or about five per cent of an estimated 20,000 Palestinian fighters.
Diskin urged the government to ‘change the method of action so that the attrition warfare against Sderot and the Gaza vicinity communities will cease.’
The Israeli military frequently bombs and invades the Gaza Strip in response to a constant barrage of homemade Palestinian projectiles that are fired from the Gaza Strip into neighbouring Israeli towns and military positions, rarely causing any casualties.
Between 2004 and 2006, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported, 14 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian projectiles.
Last Saturday, 12 Palestinians were injured and four detained in the West Bank city of Hebron after Israeli settlers invaded and attacked a private Palestinian home.
Witnesses said that 70 settlers from the Kiryat Arba colony broke into the Abu S’eifan family home, beating the residents with clubs and other objects.
Jamal Abu S’eifan said that the family attempted to defend itself before Israeli soldiers arrived, deploying tear gas.
Abu S’eifan said that this only made it easier for the settlers to attack.
According to Abu S’eifan, three children were injured. He said the Israeli military blocked Palestinian ambulances from reaching the house.
Meanwhile, the United States does not support intra-Palestinian dialogue unless it results in the Fatah-led Palestinian authority re-establishing control over the Gaza Strip, a high-ranking American official said on Saturday.
Speaking to Palestinian officials on condition of anonymity, the official reiterated the hardline American stance towards Hamas.
‘I think what’s important here is to remember that Hamas took over Gaza in an illegal way, and that they are defying the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.
The important thing is that the Palestinian Authority regain control over the West Bank and Gaza.
‘Dialogue is something that, if it doesn’t achieve that, it doesn’t achieve anything.’
Asked if the US would support negotiations between Israel and a hypothetical national unity government along the lines of the 2007 Mecca agreement, the official said: ‘We don’t want to go back to some arrangement that we know didn’t work before.’
The same US official also gave details about the complex process of negotiations, implementation of which the US is overseeing in 2008.
On Thursday, the White House announced that three-star General William Frasier will be in charge of a mechanism to monitor and encourage implementation of the internationally backed Roadmap peace plan.
Frasier’s role, he said, ‘Is separate from negotiations. . . . part of the reason why we’ve set up this trilateral mechanism is to insulate the negotiations from the day-to-day problems.’
General Frazier, along with US diplomats will monitor the implementation of key Road Map requirements, such as a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and the dismantling of Palestinian resistance groups.
This, US officials argue, will free up Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to discuss the troublesome final status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, and Palestinian refugees.
The new multi-track American approach is a reversal of previous rounds of negotiations, in which final status negotiations had been postponed in order to make time for incremental changes on the ground.
The official was less clear about whether the US would exert pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to comply with the Roadmap.
‘We want this process to be something that helps the parties move forward in terms of implementing their obligations. We don’t want to use it so much to issue report cards.’
Meanwhile, the representative of the Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia) and the ex-British Prime Minister Blair has been meeting the leaders of the Zionist settlers movement.
The right-wing officials warned him that the Olmert government will find it difficult to sign a far-reaching diplomatic agreement.
Right-wing figures met on 10 January with Tony Blair, the International Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, and told him that the Israeli public would not support substantive concessions proposed by the Israeli government.
Among other people, the meeting was attended by MK’s Gidon Sa’ar, Efi Eytam and Otniel Scheller, as well as Yesha Settlement Council Chairman Dani Dayan.