ISRAELI SETTLEMENT EXPANSION AND KILLINGS HAVE SCUPPERED NEGOTIATIONS – says Erekat

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Portrait of Yasser Arafat on the Israeli separation wall
Portrait of Yasser Arafat on the Israeli separation wall

RECENT Israeli actions against the Palestinian people indicate that Israel has given priority to settlement expansion and the demands of settlers over peace and negotiations, a top PLO negotiator said on Sunday.

Member of the PLO Executive Committee Saeb Erekat made his remarks during separate meetings with Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, UN envoy Robert Serry and US peace envoy Martin Indyk.

Erekat’s remarks come only a day after Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid on Jenin refugee camp and news that Israel had approved more than 2,000 new homes in six different Jewish settlements across the West Bank.

Erekat said that these practices, as well as the repeated raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the tightening of restrictions against Palestinian worshipers, constitute a ‘systemic’ effort to foil US and international efforts to implement a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

On Thursday, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said in a statement that he was ‘gravely concerned’ by Israel’s new settlement plans.

He added: ‘Settlements are illegal under international law and cannot be reconciled with Israel’s stated intention to pursue a two-state solution.’

‘This development is particularly unhelpful against the backdrop of a volatile situation on the ground and as US-led peace negotiations have reached a critical stage,’ he said.

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians were relaunched in July under the auspices of the US after nearly three years of impasse.

Israel’s government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the talks began.

The Israeli Prime Binyamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that the army would use force against anybody plotting attacks against Israel, after troops killed three Palestinians in a West Bank raid.

‘Over the weekend, our forces struck at a terrorist who had organised attacks on Israelis and was also planning attacks on innocent civilians,’ Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.

‘Our policy is to attack those who attack us and who are planning to attack us,’ his office quoted him as saying. ‘Both were applicable in this case.’

Israeli troops entered the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Saturday in what the army said was an operation to capture wanted Hamas militant Hamza Abu al-Haija, 22.

Clashes broke out resulting in the deaths of Abu al-Haija, 17-year-old Mahmoud Abu Zeina of Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades, and 22-year-old Yazan Mahmoud Basim Jabarin of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Palestinians called a day of mourning and a general strike.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades issued a rare joint statement vowing revenge and accusing Abbas’ Palestinian Authority of complicity in the killings through its security cooperation with Israel.

But Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner defended the operation, saying that Abu Alheja was ‘a ticking bomb’ who took part in shooting attacks and was in ‘advanced stages of the preparation of further attacks.’

The army has killed 60 Palestinians since peace talks began in July.

• At least six people were detained as dozens of protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem on Saturday in anger at the killing of three Palestinians by Israeli forces in Jenin earlier in the day.

Israeli forces beat and detained six Palestinians from Jerusalem while dispersing the protest, and they threw stun grenades and fired rubber bullets ‘indiscriminately’ at demonstrators, witnesses said.

The protest began at Damascus Gate at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, but special forces quickly surrounded the group as they began to march, and subsequently attacked the protesters on the stairs of the ancient gate.

After protesters were prevented from marching again, protesters prayed collectively at the gate. Israeli forces later dispersed the group again, and closed the entrances to Damascus Gate. Israeli forces detained six Palestinians during the protest, including an official of the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

Mofid al-Hajj, a lawyer at the society, said that the detained included the director of the society”s Jerusalem branch, Nasser Qaws, as well as Alaa Haddad, a member of the committee of prisoners’ relatives and detained Jerusalemites, Ahmad al-Ghoul, the president of the Fatah youth movement in Jerusalem, and activists Ahmad Hadil, Nizar Sib Laban, and Adi Sib Laban.

He added that after their detentions, Israeli authorities extended their detentions for 24 hours from the time of arrest without giving a reason.

An Israeli police spokesperson could not be reached for comment. Earlier in the day, Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Locals had gathered to throw rocks at Israeli forces after they stormed the camp to arrest a man, and Hamza Abu al-Haija, 22, Mahmoud Abu Zeina, 17, and Yazan Mahmoud Basim Jabarin, 22, were killed during the raid and the clashes.

More than 10,000 marched in Jenin on Saturday afternoon to mourn the dead. Hamas’ military wing al-Qassam Brigades, Fatah”s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and Islamic Jihad”s al-Quds Brigades threatened a ‘painful’ retaliation against Israel, and accused the Palestinian Authority of complicity in the killings.

• Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Faissal Mikdad said Syria is now more confidant than ever that its current war against terrorism is as much a war for the Golan and Palestine as it is a war with Israel.

The relationship between Israel and the terrorist groups fighting in Syria needs no more evidence, Mikdad told the Lebanese al-Binaa newspaper, adding that there have been enough overt proofs on that relationship particularly in terms of the logistic supplies openly offered to the terrorists across the border and the terrorists being ‘embraced in the arms of the occupation’ and their injured being treated in its hospitals.

Proofs have gone far to having the terrorists’ leaders publically making political offers to Israel that Golan would be conceded if terrorists were able to take over Syria, said Mikdad in the newspaper’s article published on Saturday.

In addition to that, he added, is a potential project to build ‘a security belt’ on the border by terrorists to protect Israel’s security in the pattern of what happened in the aftermath of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

The Deputy Foreign Minister noted that above all those proofs is the favour which the terrorists are doing Israel in terms of destroying the Palestinian camps and displacing their inhabitants in line with the Israeli plan to liquidate the refugees’ right to return.

‘We were quite sure that the appearance of the Israeli hand behind what is taking place in Syria and terrorism as a major element in implementing the plan of war against our country was inevitable sooner or later,’ said Mikdad.

He added Syria, after three years of the war, is forcing its real enemies to come up to stage from the coulisse ‘thanks to the steadfastness of its people, its army’s valour and its leader’s wisdom.’

Mikdad noted that with the American side having been forced to surface and take the cover off its fleets without however using them out of fear of the consequences, Israel found no other way but to repeatedly come to light as a full accomplice in the war through the raids and acts of aggression it launched on various sites in Syria.

He voiced regret there have been some Arab rulers who got involved in the war against Syria in favour of Israel and that the UN and peacekeeping forces have diverted away from their original missions of preventing violations of agreements and turned into a false witness on those violations by Israel and in many times an implicit accomplice and a mediator between the terrorists and Israel.

‘Syria, is winning victories on the battlefield, and is now more confident than ever, about restoration of Golan,’ said the Deputy Foreign Minister.

He added Syria never doubted that the day would not be far when Arab hands involved in a project seeking Syria’s destruction in terms of its economy, construction, sources of strength and social fabric, will come out into the open.’