Protests Erupt In Bethlehem

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Israel detained eleven Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, amid protests over restrictions preventing Christians from performing religious rites in Jerusalem over Easter.

Dozens of protesters, joined by international peace activists and Muslim supporters, took to the streets after Sunday prayers held for the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday in the Nativity Church.

articipants performed the symbolic march of Jesus Christ to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, carrying palm branches and banners denouncing Israel’s wall and continued settlement expansion.

The rally reached the Gilo checkpoint, used predominantly by tourists and through which West Bankers can only pass with permission from Israel.

Participants tried to transit the military installation before being barred by waiting Israeli soldiers. Border guards, some donning riot gear, were seen on the opposite side of the barrier.

Israeli peace activist Jonathan Pollack said that protesters managed to transit the checkpoint and enter Jerusalem.

‘Once blocked, the demonstrators, who all remained peaceful throughout the protest, held speeches, and then began heading back.

‘It was at this point that the police staged its unprovoked attack on the retreating protesters.’

Among the detained were Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki and Fatah Regional Office member Marwan Farajeh, who was transferred to an Israeli hospital in a Magen David Adom ambulance amid clashes.

Another detainee was identified as Ahmad Al-A’za, as well as a resident on horseback who was carrying a palm branch. All eleven were transferred to an unknown location.

Pollack added that Israeli forces detained four Israeli citizens, one foreign national, an AP photographer, Fadi Hamad, as well as four members of the local popular committees against the wall and settlements.

Orthodox organisations in Palestine have called on Palestinian Christians to celebrate Holy Fire Saturday in Jerusalem, in spite of Israeli restrictions placed upon worshippers and others wishing to visit the parts of the city occupied by Israel.

The traditional Orthodox ceremony that takes place after Palm Sunday is the transfer of fire, which is said to emanate from Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch via candles and torches.

Meanwhile, more than 20,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem could soon face demolition orders, according to Ahmad Ruweidi, a legal advisor on Jerusalem affairs within the Palestinian President’s Office.

Ruweidi said Israeli courts will soon accuse homeowners of having violated construction restrictions over the past ten years and issue demolition orders on the pretext that they needed renewable licences.

Ruweidi pointed out that the number did not include homes whose owners have already received final demolition orders from Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality or from the Israeli courts.

This means, according to the lawyer, that all owners live in a state of fear that at any moment their homes could be demolished and that they will find their families living on the street.

He described Israel’s policy as intended to force Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to pay large sums to engineers and lawyers in addition to significant fines for so-called violations of construction restrictions.

Ruweidi highlighted that the PA had helped Palestinians in the city with expenses for lawyers and engineers as part of its policy to support the rights of Jerusalem residents.

However, he added, more financial support is needed from Arab and Islamic countries because the PA cannot afford to cover all expenses, which reach millions of shekels, as Israeli authorities keep changing demands and restrictions.

PA President Mahmud Abbas told delegates at the Arab League summit in Serit, Libya on Saturday that Israeli settlements in Jerusalem remained the prime obstacle to returning to peace negotiations.

‘Jerusalem is the jewel in the crown as well as the door and the key to peace. We emphasise that we hold onto every grain of soil and stone in Jerusalem. We are determined to defend Palestine’s capital,’ Abbas said.

The president called on the international community not to recognise unilateral actions in Jerusalem, and demanded that Arab and Muslim support be mobilised in coordination with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to bring a halt to ‘Israeli aggression’ against Muslim and Christian religious sites.

Abbas further told delegates that urgent financial support was needed for the Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem funds, and for a plan to be implemented that would support Palestinian steadfastness in Jerusalem.

l Israeli forces detained a young Palestinian man and assaulted another in separate incidents across the occupied West Bank on Saturday evening that left one hospitalised, police reported on Sunday.

According to a Palestinian police report, a teenager was severely beaten at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. He was identified as 18-year-old Ibahim Shawamra of Ar-Ram, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The report said the teenager was hospitalised, but did not specify which hospital or the nature of his injuries.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces raided the villages of Deir Ghassana and Arura, two Palestinian villages north of Ramallah, the report said. No detentions were reported there.

Police also said a 33-year-old Palestinian man was detained at the Innab military checkpoint near the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. He was identified as Ali Jitawi, 33, from Bal’a, a nearby village.

An Israeli military spokesman said he was not aware of the Tulkarem detention, nor had the Civil Administration received a complaint.

Earlier, the army reported that five Palestinians were detained overnight. Among them was one from Nablus, one in At-Taqaba, southwest of Hebron, two from Bir Nabala, south of Ramallah, and one from Hizma, southeast of Ramallah.

‘All the suspects were transferred to the security forces for questioning,’ a military spokeswoman said.