EGYPT ATTEMPTS TO RESUME FRONTIER CONTROL – as Israeli forces invade Bethlehem

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Egyptian security forces attempting to resume control of the Egyptian frontier with the Gaza Strip began using barbed wire to close gaps in the border wall on Tuesday morning.

Since Wednesday last week, hundreds of thousands of Gazans crossed the newly-opened Egyptian-Gaza border, mainly to shop for supplies made scarce by the Israeli blockade of the territory.

Most of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents have been trapped inside the Gaza Strip for almost seven months, until Palestinian fighters blew holes in the border wall last Wednesday.

On Tuesday Egyptian security officers had closed 11 openings in the wall and only two remained open, near the so-called Brazilian neighbourhood and Tal As-Sultan.

The Egyptian city of Rafah has virtually run out of goods, while Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuwaid have been shut down by Egyptian security forces.

More than 1,500 Palestinians stranded in the Egyptian city of Al-Arish announced on Tuesday that they would begin a hunger strike from yesterday if the Egyptian authorities did not allow them to leave the Egyptian territories to other countries where they have study or business commitments.

The stranded Palestinians, currently staying in two mosques in the city which borders the Gaza Strip, say their living conditions are dire due to cold weather and a lack of basic daily necessities.

Many of them are suffering from chronic diseases, others are students who study abroad and the rest are employees who work in different Arab and foreign countries.

They have been protesting in front of the Egyptian interior ministry’s offices in the Sinai district since last Wednesday, demanding the Egyptian authorities let them pass to the international airport in Cairo so they can fly to their destinations.

Meanwhile the chief of the Gaza Strip’s union of fuel companies, Mahmoud Al-Khizindar affirmed on Tuesday that the fuel companies have refused to receive the fuel shipment from Israel to the Gaza Strip, save the natural gas and the fuel for running the electricity generating station.

He pointed out that Israel has reduced the fuel supplies to 10 per cent of the needed amounts of fuel.

As a result, all gas stations in the Gaza Strip are closed and cars remain dependent on fuel brought in from Egypt after the border walls in Rafah were opened by force.

So far Israel has shipped 2.8 million litres of diesel over the past 12 days to the power generating station, and they were supposed to ship 2.2 million litres per week. As a result, the station could not operate to its full capacity.

Over the past 12 days, Israel has been sending 50 thousand litres of gasoline per day, 10 thousand of which goes to the UN.

The Gaza Strip usually consumes 120 thousand litres per day, and that reduction coerced the fuel companies to abstain from receiving the fuel supplies.

As for diesel, the Israelis have been shipping 350 thousand litres per day, while the Gaza Strip needs 700 thousand litres per day.

The funeral of a 17-year-old boy, killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, took place on Tuesday.

Qusay Al-Afandi from Duheisha refugee camp, died from bullet wounds sustained in clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli military forces during an Israeli army operation.

Israeli forces invaded the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem on Monday afternoon in a rare daylight incursion.

They withdrew seven hours later, after killing Al-Afandi and wounding seven other civilians.

One resistance fighter was also seized.

Nineteen-year-old Abdulkareem al-Atrash, from Duheisha refugee camp, was shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet, Yousef Abu Srour, from Aida refugee camp was wounded in his leg, in addition to 29-year-old Salem Al-Orouj, from nearby Tiqua village who was wounded by live ammunition that penetrated his knee as he was walking home from work.

Thirteen-year-old Mohammad Za’areer was hit with a live bullet in his head and a rubber-coated steel bullet in his arm. His condition was described as serious but stable after surgery in Beit Jala hospital.

Witnesses reported that a number of Israeli military jeeps, bulldozers and armoured vehicles entered the area amid gunfire, tear gas and sound grenades.

Israeli soldiers blocked a number of roads and broke into Palestinian houses.

A confrontation ensued between the invading Israeli soldiers and approximately 100 stone-throwing youths in Bethlehem’s Al-Madbasa area.

Shots were fired by the Israeli forces, and five Palestinians were injured, medics said.

Qusay Afandi was hit by a live round to the stomach and died from his injuries.

Twenty-one year-old Ibrahim Abdul-Qadir was hit by a live round to the foot.

The target of the incursion was a three-story house in the Wadi Ma’ali neighbourhood belonging to Islamic Jihad activist Mohammed Abda.

During the five hour attack, the Israeli army used bulldozers to demolish part of Mohammad Abdeh’s home. He was apprehended by the troops before they left Bethlehem.

Witnesses said the Israeli soldiers evacuated the residents of the house by force.

Abda’s father, a haemophiliac in his seventies, remained in the house because he is bedridden.

Though Abda was not present at the time of the incursion, Israeli forces remained in the area for several hours.

At 7pm, witnesses said Israeli soldiers were seen eating dinner in the streets of Bethlehem, as if preparing for a long operation.

An Israeli military spokesman claimed the invading forces responded to ‘rioting Palestinians’ by shooting at the ‘lower bodies of the central rioters’ and said that Palestinians had thrown Molotov cocktails.

l The head of the Palestinian union of public sector employees Bassam Zakarna reported on Tuesday that all governmental workers would be on strike on Wednesday and today.

Employees in all government ministries were stopping work to protest against the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure to meet the union’s demands, including food subsidies, helping workers with transportation, and a new PA rule enforcing the collection of old utility bills.

The Secretary General of the union of Palestinian teachers, Jamil Shahada, had announced earlier that teachers would be on strike on Monday January 28th, Thursday January 31st, Tuesday February 5th and Wednesday February 6th, also in protest of the new PA rule.

As a part of a new policy of fiscal austerity, the PA, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank economist, is forcing all West Bank residents to pay old utility bills by the end of January.

Those who do not pay cannot be issued any government document, including ID cards, birth certificates, passports, and driver’s licenses.

The majority of Palestinians, who live below the international poverty line, cannot afford to pay old electricity and water bills at once.

The move has angered Palestinian labour unions.

Shahada added that the general secretariat and the union will meet on February 9th to discuss a possible escalation of labour action if the PA has not met their demands by then.

The PA is the largest employer in the occupied Palestinian territories.