Israel Lifts Bethlehem Blockade, But Arafat Still Held Prisoner
The Israeli army withdrew between Thursday and Friday from its positions surrounding the historic town of Bethlehem, allowing some degree of freedom of movement to resume. However, Israel still insists it will not allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to go to Bethlehem, keeping him a virtual prisoner in Ramallah.
In an official communiqué, the Israeli army stated that it was withdrawing from Bethlehem under orders of the political leadership, which wanted to ease Christmas travel for the many worshippers. However, the Israeli army left no one in doubt of its priorities, stating also that it would ease restrictions on the Palestinian population subject to maintaining the security of Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers. Giving added emphasis, Israeli troops and tanks stayed in the vicinity of the town, ready to resume their stranglehold on the Palestinians.
Despite the easing of some Israeli measures against the Palestinians, President Arafat is still being denied permission to travel to Bethlehem, and is a virtual prisoner in his offices in Ramallah. Arafat has attended both the Western and the Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem every year since he returned to Palestine, but this year Israel has kept him away, in a move seemingly calculated to damage his leadership. The Israeli insistence on barring Arafat from Bethlehem has faced intense international criticism, even the Vatican and the United States calling on Israeli to revoke its decision to no avail.
The Israelis are apparently not content with the relative calm that has settled over the Palestinian areas since President Arafat ordered an end to all attacks against Israel. They are now demanding that Arafat arrest men Israel has accused of complicity in the assassination of Israeli tourism minister Ze’evi before they ease the chokehold they have placed upon the Palestinian leader. As the New Year approaches, it looks as if President Arafat will spend the Orthodox Christmas looking at Israeli tanks outside the windows of his Ramallah offices. (www.albawaba.com)
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