Israel was set to allow a thousand Palestinians to return to their jobs in its territory on Monday, April 9, in a rare easing of the crackdown in the occupied territories, despite continued violence. A violent weekend ended with an exchange of missiles Sunday, which left five injured as Israel responded to Palestinian mortar fire with rocket attacks.
Two rockets, fired from Israeli territory, targeted a Fatah office and police station in Beit Lahia, a town situated near the green line separating Israel from the occupied territories, an official said. Four civilians, including a 10 year-old child, and a Palestinian policeman were injured, when two houses were destroyed in the attack, the official said.
Yet there was some sign of a slight easing of the crackdown, with an Israeli military spokesman announcing that a thousand Palestinians would be allowed to return to work in Israel on Monday. "It is a first contingent aimed at easing the sanctions imposed on the Palestinian population," Yarden Vatikai, spokesman for the coordination of Israeli activity in the Palestinian territories, said.
Israel has decided to allow a first batch of 3,200 Palestinians to return to work in its territory, but the Palestinian authority has so far only passed on a thousand names to the military administration. "As soon as we get a full list we will issue the necessary permits," the spokesman said.
The Palestinians authorized to return had a work and visit pass for Israel before the outbreak of the Intifada at the end of September. They must also be aged over 35, married and with children. "But this does not constitute a guarantee. We are taking a risk, as there have been cases of Palestinians matching these security criteria nonetheless committing terrorist acts," the spokesman said.
Before the start of the unrest, some 120,000 Palestinians went to work in Israel every day, half of them with permits the others without. But since the blockade imposed almost from the start of the Intifada, all Palestinians have been stopped from visiting Israel. According to police estimates, about 20,000 still manage to come clandestinely to work.
On the diplomatic front, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was in Egypt Sunday, meeting President Hosni Mubarak. Later he met Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid. After that meeting the two called for a UN meeting to ensure the Palestinians protection from Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, whom the league branded a "war criminal".
Meguid said after the talks with Arafat that "contacts will start with the UN" for an "urgent meeting of the Security Council to take a decision which would guarantee the international protection of the Palestinian people".
Arafat also talked by phone Sunday with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Palestinian WAFA agency reported. "President Arafat and the American Secretary of State spoke mainly about the military escalation and Israeli aggressions against Palestinian civilians and efforts undertaken by the international community to save the peace process," said Arafat advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina, according to the agency.
The Palestinian leadership asked the United States last Monday to resume its role as a leader and mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to abandon its current policy of "unconditional support" for Sharon.
In Gaza City, close to 1,000 Palestinians marched to the local UN office on Sunday, vowing to continue their half-year uprising against occupation and demanding international protection against Israel's crackdown.
Earlier Sunday, six Palestinians were injured near Bethlehem, including an 18-month old baby girl, amid sporadic clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army had fired upon stone-throwers with live rounds and rubber bullets in the village of Al-Khader by Bethlehem, medical sources said. The infant, Amani Ghuneim, was found near her home close to the site of the incident with a wound from a rubber bullet. Medical sources said her condition was stable.
In other incidents, an Arab man suspected of assisting Israel in the West Bank was killed at a street stand in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem, witnesses said. The man was shot dead by three hooded gunmen who attacked him at the stand in downtown Tulkarem, the witnesses said.
A previously unknown group called Unit 77, which claimed to be part of the Al-Asifa wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the killing, in a statement sent to AFP. — (AFP, Jerusalem)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)