Israeli Settlers Burn Farmlands!

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RESIDENTS of Huwwara village, south of Nablus, reported on Thursday that Israeli settlers had set dozens of dunums of farm lands on fire, destroying crops.

Palestinian Authority official responsible for settlement-observation in the northern West Bank, Ghassan Doughlas, said the fields were in the At-Tira area of Huwwara village, and crops were destroyed.

‘Lighting fields on fire is a provocative act perpetrated by settlers seeking to bury the peace process,’ Doughlas said, calling on officials from the Middle East Quartet to ensure that Israel took responsibility for the actions of its settlers.

The fire was the latest in a long string of recent arson and vandalism carried out by the illegal settler population in the West Bank, mainly in the northern area.

On Wednesday, settlers reportedly harvested the olives of Palestinian trees and damaged several of them, while on Monday settlers set fire to a mosque in the Bethlehem-area village of Beit Fajjar.

Israeli police said an investigation had been opened into the latter incident, but no arrests had been made by Thursday, despite calls for action in joint Israeli-Palestinian protests.

One week earlier, witnesses said a settler was behind the wheel of a hit and run in Qalqiliya district. No charges were laid.

Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo said no meeting was planned between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Paris during October.

Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine Radio on Thursday afternoon that no contacts had been planned between the leaders, and would not be until agreements had been reached via the Americans.

Direct talks hit a stalemate two weeks ago, as a moratorium on settlement construction on Palestinian lands came to an end.

Palestinian negotiators said talks could not continue as long as construction did, and Israeli leaders said they did not have the will of the people on their side and could not enforce a further ban.

Earlier in the day, Israel’s Army Radio quoted sources saying President Mahmud Abbas would meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in two weeks in Paris.

The purpose of the meeting would be determined by a decision of the Arab League, the source said, though analysts expect the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee to agree with the PLO and give Abbas the mandate to walk away from talks if Israel does not agree to a settlement construction freeze.

Army Radio said the informed source indicated the sit-down between the two leaders would be an attempt to push the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations forward.

Major General Tawfiq At-Tirawi, former head of the PA Intelligence forces and current director of the Jericho Police Academy, resigned on Thursday as head of the Fatah Popular Organizing Committee.

Appointed to the position in August 2009, At-Tirawi headed efforts to draw up organizational plans for popular organizations affiliated to the party, coordinating intellectuals, politicians, and journalists, as part of the general strategic plan approved by the General Congress, the Central Committee, and the Revolutionary Council during the 2009 Fatah conference in Bethlehem.

The official, who remains on the party’s Central Committee, the highest governing body of the movement, said that his resignation came for personal reasons.

Meanwhile, meetings between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair were held, purportedly as a platform for updates on the peace-talk push and also to review ‘how to increase support for the Palestinian Authority and the ongoing institutional efforts’.

US State Department Spokesman Phillip Crowley said efforts were underway to ensure that the Arab League continued to support peace talks, despite expectations that the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up committee would back a PLO decision from the week before to halt talks if settlement construction continued.

Commenting on whether or not Israel would extend or re-institute the freeze that expired on 26 September, stalling talks, Crowley said both Abbas and Netanyahu ‘feel that they have to be able to demonstrate to their people that there is value in making the difficult but necessary political decision to continue with these negotiations’.

A report in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz quoted Israeli Labour party officials as saying they believed a settlement freeze could be in the works after the right wing in the country had been handed a citizenship loyalty oath law, which would force all residents of Israel to swear an oath to the state before they were granted citizenship.

Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews have called the law racist, with loyalty pledged to a Jewish State, and an excuse to further oppress a Palestinian minority.

In return, Labour sources told the paper, they expected a new freeze in settlement building and a re-launch of talks.

US officials said they remained ‘in touch with the Israelis’, but updates from the State Department focused on talks with Arab world leaders, including a discussion between Clinton and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, where the two reportedly spoke about the upcoming Arab League meeting and possible outcomes.

Crowley told reporters: ‘Our message is clear: these are important negotiations; we’re at a critical state in the process; we want to see the negotiations continue; we don’t want to see the parties step away from this process.’