West Bank settlement expansion ‘undermines Gaza gains’

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Gate Gourmet pickets on Thursday  condemned the company’s ‘framework agreement’ with the TGWU as a frame-up
Gate Gourmet pickets on Thursday condemned the company’s ‘framework agreement’ with the TGWU as a frame-up

PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo has called on the European Union to take a firm stand against moving the Zionist settlers evacuated from Gaza into the West Bank Israeli colonies.

During a meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday with the EU special representative for the Middle East peace process Marc Otte, Rabbo said: ‘The situation in the West Bank is at its worst since it was occupied by Israel (in 1967).’

He urged Otte to work jointly with the international Quartet Committee to stop Israel’s expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

Rabbo added: ‘Israel continues its plans to expand the settlements, build its Apartheid Wall, isolate Jerusalem from its Palestinian environment, and confiscate more Palestinian land.

‘The Israeli plan to expand the Jewish colony of Ma’ale Adumim undermines the “pros” of the Gaza evacuation.’

The former minister of culture and information and the co-author of the unofficial Palestinian – Israeli Geneva Initiative was referring to Palestinian and Israeli reports on Wednesday that Israel has begun demarcating the radium of the illegal Jewish colony of Ma’ale Adumim on 100 square kilometres of occupied Palestinian land east of Jerusalem, 35 km deep into the West Bank and with a width of 15-25 km.

Abed Rabbo urged the EU ‘to work jointly with the Quartet (of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia) against the Ma’ale Adumim plan, which aims at dividing the West Bank into two parts’.

The main goal of the construction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc is to separate the northern part of the West Bank from its southern part, then to link the north with the south by highways under Israeli control, which would prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, as it would impede territorial contiguity between the southern and northern West Bank.

Abed Rabbo also asked Otte that the EU takes ‘a firm stand’ to stop moving the Jewish settlers who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli colonies in the West Bank, noting that the EU had insisted that the evacuated settlers ‘be moved only into Israel’.

Israeli media reported during the past few days that many settlers who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip had moved into Israeli colonies in and around Jerusalem and Hebron, as well as into the colony of Ariel in the northern West Bank.

All these and other Israeli practices are undermining the ‘pros’ of the Gaza evacuation, Rabbo said.

The Palestinian veteran peace activist indicated to his European visitor that the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip ‘only ends’ when Israel hands over to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) the control of the coastal strip’s border crossings, particularly the international border crossing with Egypt, Gaza’s territorial waters, air space, and provides a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, in accordance with the international law.

For his part, Marc Otte said that the EU supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

Otte also said that the EU opposes any ‘steps that would obstruct the establishment of a contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state’.

In particular, the EU opposes ‘the Israeli settlement expansion plans, moving the Gaza settlers to the West Bank, and isolating the Gaza Strip’ economically and militarily, Otte added.

Otte said that the upcoming meeting of the Quartet Committee on the sidelines of the meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York is ‘an opportunity to jumpstart anew the peace process in accordance with the (Quartet-drafted and UN-adopted) roadmap plan.’

Meanwhile, PNA President Mahmud Abbas has reacted to the killing of five Palestinians on the West Bank.

Abbas held Israel fully responsible for the risks to the truce and the peace process following the extra-judicial assassination by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) of five Palestinians, including two teenagers, in the northern West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem overnight on Thursday.

An official PNA spokesman described the assassinations as ‘an ugly bloody massacre that was committed in cold blood’.

The victims were identified as Adel Abu Khalil, 26, Anas Marouf Abu Zainah, 16, Majdi A’tiyyah, 20, Mahmoud Ismmael Hdaib, 18, and Mohammad Tariq Othman.

The new Israeli crime comes a few days after another massacre that was committed in the northern West Bank Jewish colony of Shilo, when an Israeli settler went on a shooting spree against Palestinian workers and killed four of them, said the Palestine Media Centre.

Abbas strongly condemned the new crime and said that this Israeli policy will recreate tension and threatens the fragile truce.

Separately an Israeli settler was stabbed to death in occupied Jerusalem overnight Thursday and another was wounded.

Israeli media reported that the dead man was a young seminary student from Britain. His name was not released.

Israeli assassinations have often provoked Palestinian retaliations.

Abbas held the Israeli government fully responsible for possible reactions and appealed to the international community to condemn the Israeli terrorist crimes.

IOF soldiers had surrounded a house in the Tulkarem refugee camp and exchanged fire with Palestinians inside and outside, witnesses said.

The bodies of the four dead were brought to the Tulkarem hospital an hour after the incident.

A fifth Palestinian later died of injuries, Israel Radio reported.

Israeli military officials claimed the Palestinian victims were top local leaders of the anti-occupation group, the Islamic Jihad.

The new five deaths brought to more than 3,899 the overall Palestinian death toll since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada on September 28, 2000.