ISRAEL BLOCKADES GAZA – and steps up assaults in the West Bank and Gaza

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The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) last Saturday condemned as ‘unacceptable’ Israel’s threat to turn the ‘economic siege’ it is imposing on the Gaza Strip into an official blockade.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz for his threats to besiege the Gaza Strip and close all its terminals with Israel.

Meanwhile, diplomats from the Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, met at the UN headquarters in Jerusalem on Friday to examine the ways of kick-starting talks between Israelis and the Palestinians after another week of bloodshed.

The meeting was attended by US Middle East envoy David Welch, EU envoy Marc Otte, his Russian counterpart Alexander Kalugin and the UN special envoy, Alvaro de Soto.

UN spokeswoman Henriette Von Kaltenborn said that the talks focused on ‘implementation of the agreement over movement and access’ between Gaza and the West Bank.

However, Israeli media reported that senior Israeli officials informed the international representatives that Israel does not intend to implement the agreement, which allows bus convoys to travel between the Gaza and the West Bank, until the security conditions improve.

Brigadier-General Eitan Dangot, the Israeli army liaison to Defence Minister Mofaz, and Major General Yossi Mishlav, met on Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv with representatives of the Quartet and informed them of Israel’s decision.

They stated that there is no chance the convoy can start operating on the agreed date (December 15) since ‘Israel needs at least one week to make the needed preparations’.

In violation of the ‘roadmap to peace’ deal, the Israeli cabinet has decided not to implement the agreement, which allows bus convoys to travel between the Gaza and the West Bank, ‘until the security conditions improve’.

Dangot said that Israel has no intention at this stage to renew talks with the PNA.

Senior PNA officials said that they had received similar indications from the US Consul General in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles.

However, Colonel David Welch, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told the Quartet representatives that the US Administration is determined to see the convoys run by December 15 in accordance with the agreement.

Meanwhile the IOF navy shot dead Palestinian fisherman Natheer Yousef Farhat, 37, in the southern Gaza Strip overnight Saturday.

This was less than 48 hours after an IOF warplane launched a missile attack on Thursday and killed Palestinian anti-occupation activists Iyad Nasser al-Najr, 27, and Iyad Qaddas, 21, and wounded six others, including an 11-year-old girl, near the town of Jebaliya in the north of the strip.

The latest deaths brought the Palestinian death toll to more than 3,980 since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada (uprising) on September 28, 2000 against the 38-year old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

In its weekly report on Israeli Human Rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) for the period 1-7 December 2005, the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said that one of the Palestinian victims was extra-judicially executed in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

PCHR reported that 17 Palestinians, including 10 children, were wounded during 8 attacks on the Gaza Strip and 23 assaults in the West Bank.

Separately in the West Bank and in a measure of collective punishment, the IOF closed the Qalandiya military checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah after a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier to death last Thursday.

Yousef Abu Adi, 29, a native of the West Bank village of Nuema in the Ramallah area, was detained by soldiers immediately after the late-afternoon attack.

‘The Qalandiya checkpoint is closed . . . until further notice unless humanitarian cases need to get through,’ an IOF spokeswoman said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat said Israel was imposing collective punishment that leads to ‘more hatred and violence’.

The IOF set up dozens of military checkpoints in the West Bank on Saturday. One IOF roadblock isolated the city of Nablus from the northern West Bank.

Following the Israeli evacuation of military and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, which was completed on September 12, the IOF erected a network of dozens of permanent international-border like checkpoints separating Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and each of West Bank towns and cities from each other, reports the Palestine Media Centre.

Palestinians and some Israeli rights groups say that the new terminals inside the West Bank are part of a long-term Israeli annexation strategy closely linked to the continuing expansion of Jewish colonial settlements and the construction of Israel’s massive Apartheid Wall inside the occupied Palestinian territory – a construction condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in July 2004.

On Thursday, the IOF demolished two Palestinian houses and four shops in the northern West Bank village of Bartaa’a, southwest of Jenin.

In the meantime, the Israeli detention spree is in full gear, the PMC added.

The PCHR said in its weekly report that 42 Palestinians including eight children were detained by the IOF in the West Bank.

On Friday the IOF detained 20 Palestinian anti-occupation suspects in different parts of the West Bank.

The day before the IOF detained 23 ‘wanted’ Palestinians in the West Bank, the Ha’aretz daily said, quoting a military source.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) in a statement marking the International Day for Human Rights, December 10, demanded going to the International Court of Justice in The Hague with the detainees’ file.

‘Israel disregarded, and continues to disregard all interrogational laws and regulations regarding the rights of the detainees who became the victims of military procedures, and violations,’ the PPS reported.

The PPS revealed that 181 detainees died, since 1967, in Israeli prisons as a result of torture, mistreatment and medical neglect; 10 detainees died over the last five years, most of them died as a result of medical neglect.

No Israeli official was ever charged over these serious violations.

The IOF soldiers executed 150 Palestinians after arresting them, since the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, the PPS said.

There are now 950 detainees who are suffering serious illnesses, including 25 detainees who have cancer, and facing deteriorating health conditions as a result of the lack of medical treatment and attention, it added.