Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said on Sunday that the latest Israeli military escalation has ‘shot down the efforts to advance the peace process’ after Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip.
And he declared he would not be meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on October 2nd as planned.
‘There won’t be a meeting on October 2nd’ Abbas told reporters. ‘We said no. Why? Because if we want a successful meeting, then we should prepare for it.’
Abbas convened the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday. The PLO leadership said in a statement afterwards: ‘The Executive Committee holds the Israeli government responsible for the Israeli (military) escalation in the Gaza Strip.’ And it called on the Quartet Committeee of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia ‘to uphold its responsibilities vis-à-vis the Israeli aggressions.’
Medical personnel at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City announced Sunday evening that the second person killed in Israel’s savage bombardment of a civilian car on the coastal road south of Gaza City has been identified. They confirmed that the body was that of Nasir Barhum, 35, from the Rafah Camp south of the Gaza Strip.
Barhum had arrived at the hospital in charred pieces as a result the strike, which made it difficult to identify. Shaykh Muhammad al-Sheikh Khalil, 32, from the Rafah Camp, a commander in the Islamic Jihad Movement, was killed in the same operation.
‘With deep feelings of sorrow and national pride, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, Fatah, mourns the death of the great national leader martyr Muhammad al-Shaykh Khalil, commander of Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement in the Gaza Strip and martyr hero Nasr Muhammad Barhum’ Fatah said in a statement. The movement extended ‘to our steadfast people and to the Islamic Jihad Movement heartfelt brotherly and patriotic feelings of condolences over the death of the two men, who were killed by the Israeli aggression by bombarding their cars this evening on the coastal road of Gaza.’
Fatah said it holds ‘the Israeli government fully responsible’ and warned it of ‘the consequences of its military aggression against our people and adoption of the policy of assassination and targeting of Palestinian activists and activist groups.’
Fatah also sounded the alarm to the entire world and called on ‘all regional and international parties to immediately interfere to prevent the deterioration of the situation in the region, and not to allow it to return to square one; namely, violence, counter-violence and reactions, particularly after the failure of the Israeli military option to win the battle.’
The statement added: ‘The Israeli government and its criminal forces stressed that they will continue to kill, destroy and commit bloody crimes and massacres against our Palestinian people and fighters. This bloody escalation is used by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his henchmen in the Israeli Likud Party for election purposes.’
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters on Sunday that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had called upon Washington to interfere and prevent further escalation of violence.
Abu Rudeineh warned that an Israeli decision to revive extra-judicial killings of Palestinian activists would plunge the whole area into a turmoil.
He said: ‘A resumption of Israeli targeted assassinations is very dangerous for the peace process and all situations in this area. This will lead to the destruction of the peace process and stability in the whole region. We are asking the United States, especially, to move immediately and put pressure on Israel to stop assassinations before the entire situation explodes.’
Rudeinah added that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had contacted President Abbas on Saturday evening and stressed to him ‘the importance of self-restraint’ to prevent the deterioration of the situation in the region. Rice had urged Abbas to continue contacts with Israel and the United States, Abu Rudeineh said.
Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei also called on the international community, particularly the United States, to push Israel to stop the escalation of violence. Qurei told reporters in Ramallah: ‘We call on the international community, the Quartet (of the US, UN, EU and Russia) and the American administration to intervene to put a stop to the Israeli escalation.’
Similarly, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called on US President George W Bush to step in to calm the conflict ‘so we can sustain the cessation of violence.’ Erekat said: ‘The Israeli bombing in Gaza and the arrests in the West Bank lead to one direction, and that’s the collapse of the ceasefire, which serves no side’s interest.’
The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have extra-judicially executed seven Palestinian activists in less than a week and detained more than 300 suspects over Saturday and Sunday in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Qalqilyah, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Nablus.
The new deaths bring to 3,933 the overall Palestinian death toll since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada (uprising) against the 38-year old Israeli occupation on September 28, 2000.
On Saturday, Sharon ordered continuous military strikes on Palestinians in response to Hamas rocket attacks made in retaliation for Friday and Saturday’s Israeli assassinations. Sharon’s inner cabinet also decided on Saturday night to resume extra-judicial assassinations of top anti-occupation leaders (suspended since a February truce) and gave the green light for the unprecedented use of artillery.
Sharon added: ‘We aren’t talking about a short-term operation but a policy that will bring an end to the operations of terrorist organizations conducted against Israeli towns.’
The IOF head of operations Major General Yisrael Ziv confirmed that the Israeli military escalation will be long-term. Ziv said: ‘It was decided to launch a prolonged and constant attack on Hamas,’ adding that the attacks would target ‘all faces’ of Hamas. Asked whether the Palestinian anti-occupation leaders were in danger, he said: ‘Let them decide for themselves.’
Meeting on Saturday night, Israel’s security cabinet also ratified ‘Defence’ Minister Shaul Mofaz’s proposal that the IOF be instructed to create buffer zones within the Gaza Strip in areas near the border, allegedly in order to move the rocket launchers away from Israeli communities.
Haaretz reported Israeli sources as saying Mofaz told the cabinet: ‘If necessary, we will create ghost neighbourhoods, we will use artillery to prevent the rocket launchers from entering even at the price of removing civilians from their homes.’
Ahead of Israel’s cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mofaz ordered a ‘number of concrete steps’ after a meeting among the country’s top security officials, the ‘Defence’ Ministry said in a statement. ‘He ordered offensive combat against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and ordered a continuous offensive from the air and a series of operations around the areas used for launching (rockets). He ordered preparations commenced for a ground operation and a concentration of forces in the area north of the Gaza Strip,’ the statement added.