Gaza ‘withdrawal plan’ aimed at entrenching settlements – warns Erekat

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Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will hold a summit meeting in Damascus on Thursday, 7th July, adviser to the Palestinian President for national security affairs, Brigadier-General Jibril al-Rujub, announced last Saturday.

Al-Rujub said that the summit comes within the framework of consultations and coordination between the two sisterly countries.

Al-Rujub held important talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar’a in Damascus last Thursday, when the two sides discussed the situation in the Palestinian territories and stressed the need for strengthening the Palestinian unity.

The announcement followed a warning from Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, last Saturday, about the seriousness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statements in which he said that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip aims at enhancing settlement activities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Erekat said that these statements expose the Israeli schemes aiming at implementing the ‘Gaza first, Gaza last’ plan.

He added that the international community and the Quartet Committee, comprising the US, UK, EU and Russia, are required to set up mechanisms to implement the roadmap, work towards making the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip part of the roadmap, and urge Israel to return to the negotiating table to discuss the final status issues.

Palestinian Planning Minister Dr Ghassan al-Khatib has said Saturday that Israel had so far not responded to the six points presented by the Palestinian National Authority with regard to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Al-Khatib said that James Wolfensohn, the Quartet Committee’s envoy in charge of coordinating the withdrawal from Gaza, talked about an Israeli readiness to discuss these points when a date is set to discuss such a matter.

He added that the US and European diplomatic efforts did not succeed in making Israel stop its measures on the ground – the settlement activities, the construction of the wall, and the continuation of sieges.

He also called for a stronger international pressure on Israel to stop these policies, which would torpedo the peace process.

Meanwhile, commenting on last week’s clashes between extremist zionist settlers and Israeli troops, Israeli President Qatsav said: ‘The extremists have indeed crossed the line.

He added: ‘These actions may lead to bloodshed.’

But asked to give his opinion of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, Qatsav said: ‘His statements reflect sincerity and responsibility. I think he is an honest man, but at this juncture, a leader should also show determination, responsibility and leadership.

‘That we are yet to see. Abu-Mazin (Abbas) has the capability: he has about 40,000 soldiers, while Hamas has 3,000-4,000.’

Qatsav claimed: ‘The expectation of further withdrawal without negotiations is unrealistic and unreasonable.’

Meanwhile, a Palestinian citizen was critically wounded last Friday night when Israeli occupation forces fired a tank shell at him in southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli sources claim the citizen was approaching the security fence set up around the Morag settlement in the Rafah Governorate.

The Israeli occupation forces fired their heavy machine guns at citizens’ houses in the Al-Namsawi district in western Khan Younis at dawn today, damaging a large number of them.

The occupation forces assaulted five citizens, two of whom, both women, were arrested in Yatta, south of Hebron, last Friday night.

Citizens said that the forces caused extensive damage to a number of private and public vehicles after stopping them at military checkpoints, breaking their windows and assaulting the drivers.

Also Saturday, Nida al-Quds Network carried a statement signed by the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, in which it claimed responsibility for an attack on an Israeli military jeep.

The statement said: ‘The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, claims responsibility for the qualitative and heroic operation that targeted a Zionist jeep near the Atzmona settlement in the southern Gaza Strip.

‘At exactly 0925 (0625 gmt) on 26 Jumada al-Ula 1426 Hegira, corresponding to 2 July 2005, the Martyr Mujahid Muhammad al-Udwan Group, affiliated with the Al-Quds Brigades, detonated a 30 kg explosive device which targeted a Zionist jeep travelling near the Zionist Atzmona settlement constructed on citizens’ lands in the southern Gaza Strip, scoring a direct hit.

‘A video of the operation will soon be distributed to the media.

‘The group of mujahideen returned safely to their bases.’

The statement added that the operation ‘comes as part of a series of continuous retaliation operations against the continuous arrests of our mujahideen and cadres in the steadfast West Bank, and the failed attempt on the lives of a group of mujahideen in the valiant Abu-al-Rish Brigades’.

The statement concluded by saying that the ‘option of resistance and jihad’ is the only option in the face of the ongoing ‘Zionist aggressions’ and that it will continue to be so until the ‘liberation of our lands from the filth of the occupation’.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad Movement’s prominent political leader, Khalid al-Batshah, affirmed that his movement will not be, in any way, part of the national unity government advocated by Palestinian National Authority (PNA) prime minister Ahmad Qurei last week.

‘Qurei’s call was positive for those who want to participate in the government; however, our stand in the movement is clear and we will not enter into a government still under the Oslo agreement and present settlement projects,’ al-Batshah added.

However, he advised that forming a national unity government must be discussed between the PNA and other Palestinian factions and not via television space channels.

Meanwhile, Hasan Yusuf, an official in the Hamas Movement, has said that the movement will seriously and responsibly study the Fatah Central Committee’s call for forming a national unity government, adding that it will respond to this call soon.

Speaking on Palestinian radio last Saturday morning, Yusuf said that the Hamas Movement would be in one of the government’s ministries.

He added that the movement would continue its efforts and coordination with the government and the national and Islamic factions even if it did not participate in the government.