Israel and the West Bank

Israeli curfew ruins bride’s dream wedding

July 11, 2002
Dheisheh Refugee Camp — Israeli tanks rumbled in the distance as Jala Abu Ajamia flicked a drop of gritty coffee from her white satin wedding dress, straightened her bustle then left the kitchen to join dozens of women who came to wish her well. It was hardly the wedding of her dreams.

More than half of her invited guests failed to show up; there was no food to serve to the Palestinian party-goers because shops were closed or out of stock; and the gold or cash customarily given to the couple never came as most of the wedding guests were either out of work or out of savings.

“Today is my wedding day and I want to die,” said 16-year-old Abu Ajamia who married her 27-year-old first cousin on Sunday during a curfew that all but cleared this West Bank enclave’s dusty streets. Read more >>

Israeli troops reoccupy northern Gaza Strip

March 8, 2003
JERUSALEM – Two Palestinian gunmen dressed as Jewish seminary students barged into a sabbath dinner Friday, killing a husband and wife before being shot dead themselves. The attack came hours after Israeli troops reoccupied a northern chunk of the Gaza Strip.

The soldiers in Gaza surrounded Palestinian houses, set up military posts in abandoned buildings and dug trenches in the most significant reoccupation in 29 months of fighting.

Also in Gaza on Friday, three Palestinians were killed after firing at a convoy of Jewish settlers, the army said. Soldiers escorting the convoy returned fire, killing the assailants, which the militant Islamic Jihad group claimed as members. Read more >>

Israel forms hard-line government

February 27, 2003
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended weeks of political bargaining Wednesday with an agreement establishing a coalition government dominated by fierce opponents of Palestinian statehood, clouding hopes for any peace initiative.

In a last-minute surprise, Sharon appeared to have sidelined Benjamin Netanyahu — a former prime minister and rival in the Likud Party — by offering him the less prestigious finance portfolio. Netanyahu had said he would only stay on as foreign minister and initially turned down the offer, but still could change his mind.

Sharon could present his Cabinet to parliament for approval as soon as today.

Sharon reached coalition deals with three parties in recent days, and on Wednesday signed “coalition guidelines” cementing the deal.

Sharon has already offered the foreign affairs portfolio to outgoing Finance Minister Silvan Shalom — a 45-year-old Likud stalwart with little diplomatic experience and aspirations of succeeding Sharon. Read more >>

Israel remains on high alert against possible Iraqi strike

March 28, 2003
JERUSALEM — Israel is staying on high alert against an Iraqi strike despite a British assertion that coalition forces have disabled Saddam Hussein’s ability to launch missiles from western Iraq, an Israeli government official said Thursday.

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank, pleading with Saddam Hussein to strike Israel with missiles and chemical weapons. In the 1991 Gulf War, the Jewish state was hit with 39 conventional Scud missiles, which caused heavy damage and hundreds of injuries but few deaths.

“We have disabled Iraq’s ability to launch external aggression from the west,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday in a joint news conference with President Bush.

Western Iraq is the part of the country closest to Israel and the launching point of the missiles fired in the previous war. Read more >>

Israel Arrests a Hamas Founder in Raid

March 3, 2003
Israeli troops arrested reclusive Hamas ideologue Mohammed Taha on Monday in a deadly raid, signaling a change in Israeli strategy that until now had not targeted the Islamic militant group’s leadership.

Backed by attack helicopters and tanks, troops blew up Taha’s home and three others in the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Eight people died in the raid, and besides the 65-year-old Hamas co-founder, his five sons _ all Hamas activists _ were arrested.

The arrests, part of a two-week-old offensive in Gaza, marked the first attack on a Hamas leader since the latest Israel-Palestinian conflict erupted in September 2000. Israel had focused its efforts on rank-and-file militants and on the security forces of the Palestinian Authority itself.

The shift comes as Israel’s new hard-line government, sworn in last week, promised more crippling blows to militant Islamic groups and as global attention turns toward U.S. action in Iraq. Read more >>

U.S. Congressmen meet with Arafat amid clashes in West Bank, Gaza

April 18, 2003
JERUSALEM — A U.S. congressional delegation met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the newly appointed Palestinian prime minister yesterday, smoothing the way for a U.S.-backed peace plan that envisions a Palestinian state.

It was the first high-level meeting between U.S. officials and the embattled Arafat since President George W. Bush effectively boycotted him in June, conditioning Palestinian statehood on Arafat’s departure.

The talks, however, were not sanctioned by the State Department.

The three congressmen said Arafat assured them he would give designated Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, real power to lead Palestinians — a key demand for the peace plan to move forward.

“Arafat agreed,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. “He has to give Abu Mazen the freedom and authority to lead the Palestinians.” Read more >>

Dispute delays naming of new Palestinian government

April 10, 2003
JERUSALEM — The newly appointed Palestinian prime minister delayed naming his government Wednesday because of a dispute with Yasser Arafat over who should be in charge of the region’s security forces.

Prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas’ delay came as five Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, were killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip. The two events were not related.

The choice for the post of interior minister could determine the credibility of a new government, which Western mediators and Israel hope will crack down on Palestinian militants.

Abbas favors former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who also is backed by international mediators and is seen as likely to try to rein in militants. Read more >>

Israel closes off West Bank, Gaza as Passover begins

April 17, 2003
JERUSALEM — Israel sealed the West Bank and Gaza Strip to protect against Passover attacks yesterday, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to invite his Palestinian counterpart for talks as soon as he takes office.

Sharon also pledged not to miss an opportunity for peace created by the Iraq war but set a string of conditions the Palestinians would have to meet for negotiations to succeed. He was evasive on whether he would dismantle dozens of illegal outposts set up in recent years by Israeli settlers.

Dismantling the outposts is one of the first steps Israel is asked to take as part of a U.S.-backed “road map” that envisions a Palestinian state with provisional borders.

Sharon has expressed major reservations about the plan, and his chief aide, Dov Weisglass, met this week with U.S. officials in Washington to lobby for changes. Read more >>

Arafat insists he won’t resign

July 13, 2002
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Refusing to buckle under U.S. pressure, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yesterday said he won’t step down. But in an interview at his wrecked Ramallah offices, he said he had not yet decided whether to run in January elections.

“This has to be decided in our senior leadership,” Arafat told The Associated Press and Bahrain television. “It is not only up to me. It will be up to many people.”

Arafat insisted that it would be cowardly to leave office. “I have been elected by the people. I am not a coward. I’m not ready to betray the people who elected me,” he said after sharing a meal of rice, kidney beans, toasted pine nuts and watermelon in his sparse office. Much of his compound has been destroyed under Israeli file.

He refused to give more specifics, repeating only that he didn’t intend to bow out. The Palestinian leader is often vague in interviews and avoids being drawn into politically delicate subjects. Read more >>

Palestinians Struggle With Donations

July 12, 2002
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Echoes bounce through Mohammad Shtayyeh’s cavernous office compound, empty except for himself, a man making mint tea and an accountant who grimaces as he hands Shtayyeh the latest unemployment figures.

As director of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, the main agency in charge of drumming up aid for Palestinian projects such as hospitals, schools and roads, Shtayyeh has seen the Palestinian economy crumble and promises for international aid broken.

Now, with almost a million Palestinians under Israeli curfew and aid workers unable to get to their jobs, comes another frustration: U.S. hints that future aid will be made conditional on far-reaching political and economic reforms.

“Without international aid everything _ including the Palestinian Authority _ will collapse,” said Shtayyeh, standing next to a cork bulletin board featuring a cartoon of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nailed to a cross and two pie charts of poverty levels. “Palestinians are being collectively punished.” Read more >>