Wednesday 30 May 2001

Rajoub vs Arafat

Palestinian leaflet may reveal rift

Statement accuses security chief of U.S.-endorsed plot to oust Arafat

By Matthew Kalman

30 May 2001 - Page 7A

JERUSALEM -- The powerful Palestinian security chief in the West Bank was accused late Wednesday of heading a U.S.-Israeli plot to overthrow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Col. Jibril Rajoub, 54, commander of the Palestinian Preventive Security force in the West Bank, was denounced in a signed leaflet issued by a faction of his own political group, the Fatah movement, which reports to Arafat and has the loyalty of most Palestinians.

The leaflet could be the first sign of a serious split within the highest ranks of the Palestinian Authority, which governs some parts of the Palestinian territories and seeks an independent Palestinian state.

The leaflet alleges that there is an ''Israeli plan based on assassinating brother Abu Amar (Arafat) or deporting him from the homeland to create an alternative leadership that would be prepared to succumb to America and Israel.''

It names Arafat's deputy Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a co-conspirator with Rajoub in the alleged plot to overthrow Arafat, citing ''the recent visit of Abu Mazen to America and his meeting with (Secretary of State) Colin Powell, who proposed to him the American plan.''

The statement calls on Rajoub's estimated 10,000 armed loyalists to rise up against him. The men who back Rajoub represent a significant portion -- perhaps as much as 20% -- of the armed Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Rajoub's men are the only Palestinian security agency that has not been accused by Israel of participating in the current uprising, which has claimed more than 550 lives. Contacted by telephone late Wednesday, Rajoub called the leaflet a ''shameless forgery.''

He said, ''Fatah has nothing to do with such a big lie. It's not published by Fatah.''

But sources within Fatah, which is divided among various factions, confirmed the leaflet's authenticity.

Some Israeli politicians have openly talked about the need to replace Arafat with a more pragmatic leader willing to sign a peace deal.

This is not the first time Rajoub has been mentioned as a potential successor to Arafat, 72. Four years ago, the Palestinian leader formally dismissed Rajoub after the younger man made a high-profile visit to the USA and was touted as a possible heir to Arafat. But Rajoub was soon reinstated.

Since then, Rajoub's power has grown and he has played a central role in diplomatic negotiations and security coordination with Israel and the United States. Many of his men have received CIA training as part of the CIA's security coordination effort.

Analysts were surprised that such a document would surface, and some expressed doubts about the leaflet's authenticity. They agreed, however, that many Palestinian activists are concerned that a deal to end the eight-month intifada, or uprising, without tangible gains is in the works.

''There are certainly fears that Israel and the United States are trying to undermine Arafat, but I would be extremely surprised if these fears would be expressed in a document like this,'' said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland.

David Schenker, an expert on Palestinian politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also expressed caution about the document.

If it is authentic, however, the leaflet reflected ''splits that until now have been below the surface,'' Schenker said.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met in Gaza late Wednesday for the second time this week to discuss security. Both sides said the meetings would continue next week.

Tuesday 29 May 2001

Kidnappings in Gaza

U.S., British citizens targeted in Mideast

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

May 29, 2001

JERUSALEM — Palestinian forces intensified their attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday as diplomats made progress in efforts to renew negotiations to end eight months of violence. In the Gaza Strip, Newsweek bureau chief Josh Hammer, an American, and British photographer Gary Knight, were kidnapped and held for five hours by a group loyal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Hammer, Knight and a Palestinian driver and translator were kidnapped by the Fatah Hawks in the Gaza Strip.

They were told their detention was a "symbolic" kidnapping to protest British and American support for Israel in the current Palestinian revolt.

Hammer and Knight had gone to Gaza to interview the Hawks as the militia members fired mortars at Israeli settlements.

The group released them unharmed, but warned that U.S. and British nationals would be targeted in the future. "We have no other choice but to strike at and threaten American and British interests," the Hawks said in a statement. The group also denounced U.S. and British "bias" in favor of Israel.

Hammer said Palestinian officials told him Arafat was outraged over the kidnapping. Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Palestinian security chief, quoted Arafat as saying, "This isn't the Palestinian way."

Just before the journalists were released, two Palestinian suicide bombers died near an Israeli settlement in the southern Gaza Strip as they tried to attack an Israeli military position.

One blew himself up as he approached the soldiers; the second man was shot and killed. No others were injured.

In Jericho, a Palestinian was killed by an Israeli undercover unit.

In the West Bank, Palestinians were blamed in separate drive-by shootings. Two women who were citizens of both the United States and Israel were killed in one; an Israeli man died in another.

Israeli officials said there had been more than 100 attacks by Palestinian forces since Israel called a unilateral cease-fire last week.

Meanwhile, according to reports out of a U.S.-mediated meeting of senior officials from both sides in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestinians rejected an Israeli call for a cease-fire.

Friday 25 May 2001

Wedding disaster; 'The floor just opened up ... then I saw my brothers fall'

May 25, 2001


AT LEAST 15 wedding guests were killed and around 300 injured last night when a four-storey hall collapsed in Jerusalem.

Many were trapped under the rubble.

Scores more were taken to hospital after the tragedy in the Jewish half of the city.

Police said the collapse was caused by a structural failure and not a terrorist attack.

'People are trapped, people are dying here,' said one distressed witness.

Some 700 guests were celebrating on the top floor of the building when part of it caved in. Tons of masonry were sent plunging on to the floor below which also collapsed.

Wedding guests fell through the building and huge quantities of concrete and masonry landed on top of them.

'There was no blast,' said guest Yochi Bar-Zani. 'The floor opened up under me. I saw my brothers fall inside and I fell on top of them, burying them.'

'Three floors and the ceiling fell down,' said Shmuel Dimant, 27, blood streaming down his face.

'People were dancing and all of a sudden the dance floor collapsed, and all the tables around it fell through,' said Rami Mordechai, who said he was at the wedding but at a distance from the part of the floor that crumbled.

'People were flying through the air, the orchestra, the loudspeakers, everything fell,' said Efraim Rino, his voice choking as he told Israeli TV that some of the victims were his relatives.

One man described how he fell holding the hand of his ten-year- old son. He said both were rescued from beneath the rubble.

'Daddy, don't be frightened I'm with you,' he said his son told him. 'Then we fell through one floor and another.' Rescue workers used their bare hands to pull chunks of concrete off trapped wedding guests.

The collapse left a gaping hole with metal reinforcement cables hanging at twisted angles from the sides.

The bride was taken to Bikur Holim hospital in downtown Jerusalem, where a doctor said she was not seriously injured The casualty status of a person whose injury may or may not require hospitalization; medical authority does not classify as very seriously injured, seriously injured, or incapacitating illness or injury; and the person can communicate with the next of kin. Also called NSI. See also casualty status. .

Sara Pinhas, a relative of the groom, said dancers had lifted the father of the bride on a chair when suddenly he fell.

'Then we felt the whole building collapse, everything fell down. We managed to climb down the side of the building,' she said.

Dozens of ambulances from as far away as Tel Aviv 40 miles to the west were summoned to the Versailles Banqueting Suite as rescuers laid out the injured on pavements and car parks outside.

Fleets of rescue and emergency vehicles could be heard racing through the streets as every hospital in the city cleared its emergency room and went on to a disaster footing.

Units of the Israeli army who helped rescue victims of the Turkish earthquake and Nairobi bombings searched through the rubble.

Israeli interior minister Eli Ishai said 'at least 15 people were killed'.

Relatives gathered outside the hospitals, desperately seeking news of their loved ones. Some were covered with blood. Others said they helped pull victims out of the wreckage before beingtaken for treatment themselves.

Doctors said there were many children among the injured, including a three-month-old baby.

Dudu Adi, the owner of the hall, stood weeping at the scene. He said: 'The building is 12 years old and we have never had any problems with it.'

Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert said: 'This does not seem to have any links to any political or terrorist act but it is a grave disaster for us. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy.'

Tuesday 22 May 2001

Mitchell Report

Palestinians reject Sharon's calls for cease-fire

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

06/20/2001 - Updated 04:07 PM ET

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Tuesday for a total cease-fire with the Palestinians in response to an international commission's report that outlined a plan for peace talks. "I call on our neighbors to stop the violence immediately and return to the negotiating table," Sharon said. "If there is a cease-fire, we will uphold it." However, Sharon refused to accept the Mitchell Commission's recommendation that Israel freeze construction in existing settlements.

A senior Palestinian official, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, dismissed the offer. "We reject everything Sharon said about a cease-fire," he said.

Soon after Sharon's statement, fierce fighting broke out in southern Jerusalem between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.

Sharon said he accepted the report of a team headed by former U.S. senator George Mitchell that was released Monday and endorsed by Washington.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer ordered the Israeli army to stop all firing except "when life is in danger" and called on the Palestinians to "immediately stop violence and terrorism as a first step toward a return to the negotiating table."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer welcomed Sharon's call for a cease-fire and said President Bush would "welcome a similar statement" from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Sharon said he accepted the formula of the Mitchell Commission: a cease-fire, followed by a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures and finally, peace talks. The commission also called for the Israelis to only use non-lethal force against Palestinians who attack outposts with rocks, and that the Palestinians must arrest the Hamas terrorists who are attacking Israelis.

The report also called for a freeze on construction at existing settlements that house 200,000 or more Israelis. Sharon said Israel would not expand the borders of any settlements. But he insisted that Israel has an obligation to permit new housing within existing settlements to accommodate the "natural growth" of the thousands of families living there. On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the settlement issue "a key element that has to be dealt with" but declined to call for a freeze.

Palestinian leaders say Israel's occupation of Palestinian land must end before they stop the unrest.

"It is the Israelis who are the terrorists — the Israeli occupation, the Israeli policies, expanding settlements, confiscation of land," Palestinian security chief Col. Jibril Rajoub said.

Contributing: Wire reports

Wednesday 16 May 2001

Three minutes free of violence

There was a brief, quiet interlude as Palestinians contemplated Israel's founding, MATTHEW KALMAN says

The Globe and Mail,
Wednesday, May 16, 2001

By Matthew Kalman

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- For three minutes yesterday, Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip stood in silent contemplation to mark the 53rd anniversary of what they call the naqba, the catastrophe of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

On a day otherwise filled with violence, traffic stopped and even children stood at attention.

The exact moment that commemoration was to begin was broadcast over Voice of Palestine Radio, followed by the Palestinian national anthem -- My Homeland, My Homeland.

It looked strikingly like events in Israel last month, when citizens stopped in their tracks -- as they do every year -- to silently mourn the dead of the Holocaust and then the fallen soldiers of more than a half-century of conflict.

Air-raid sirens mark the moment of commemoration on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

The similarity between the two ceremonies was not coincidental. Just as the Israelis place great emphasis on the Holocaust, which proves for them the necessity of an independent Jewish homeland, so the Palestinians want the world to remember their suffering, which they say continues to this day and demands the solution of an independent Palestinian homeland.

For decades, the Palestinian national movement has shadowed the institutions and the symbols of the prestate Zionists and then the Israelis, with each side creating a mirror image of the other.

For Israelis, May 15, 1948, was a day of joy and independence, later to symbolize their victory over the invading armies of several Arab states. For Palestinians, it triggered the flight of more than 600,000 refugees to those same neighbouring Arab countries, most of them never to return.

(Israel celebrated its 53rd anniversary last month, in accord with the Hebrew calendar.)

The gap between such conflicting interpretations of the same events has widened over the years as history itself has become a central motif in the identity of Israelis and Palestinians.

"We are trying to refresh the memory of all that there is another side to this story of 1948 -- the side of tragedy, expulsions and demolishing houses," Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, said yesterday. "We are not only talking about the past. We are talking about a past that is being carried on in these days by the . . . Israeli occupation."

Israeli and Palestinian scholars disagree fundamentally -- and also among themselves -- over the events of the past century.

In Israel, a school of "new historians" has challenged official versions of Zionist history, which barely mention the 400 Palestinian villages destroyed in the 1948 war of independence, or the killings of Arab civilians.

Some Palestinian scholars, meanwhile, were deeply embarrassed this week when colleagues attended a seminar in Jordan dedicated to proving that the Holocaust was exaggerated. Many Palestinians complain that even if the Holocaust did occur, it is unfair that Israel was created on their land with the assistance of European powers.

Meir Litvak, a professor of Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, said the Palestinians have drawn on many of the symbols and institutions of the Zionist movement -- from the Palestinian declaration of independence to the creation of a Palestine National Fund modelled on the Jewish National Fund.

"The similarity and emulation is there. It doesn't mean it is not authentic, but there is borrowing -- conscious or unconscious -- from the Israeli example," he said.

"The Palestinian national movement is still in evolution and has not yet completed its nation-building. Part of that process is the establishment of institutions and holidays. . . . This is typical of every national movement."

This sense of national movement has been reinforced in the Palestinian community by the fighting of the past seven months, said Mahmoud Darwish, a prominent Palestinian poet.

"We are not looking back to dig up the evidence of a past crime, for the naqba is an extended present that promises to continue in the future," Mr. Darwish said in a speech broadcast over Voice of Palestine.

"We do not need anything to help us remember the human tragedy we have been living for the past 53 years: We continue to live in the here and now. We continue to resist its consequences, here and now, on the land of our homeland, the only homeland we have."

Of course, many Israelis, convinced that history proves they can live nowhere but in a country with a Jewish majority, express similar sentiments in support of the rightness of their own cause.

Thursday 10 May 2001

Young victims fall in Israel

With killing of two teens, rage escalates in the Middle East

By Matthew Kalman

May 10, 2001 Page 1A

TEKOA, Israel -- The discovery Wednesday of the mutilated bodies of two teenage boys, one an American, in a cave near a West Bank settlement increased outrage over violence here that continues to claim child victims.

Koby Mandell, 13, and Yosef Ishran, 14, had been bound, stabbed and beaten to death with rocks, police said. The walls of the cave in the Judean Desert were covered with the boys' blood, reportedly smeared there by the killers.

Koby immigrated to Israel with his family from College Park, Md., in 1996. They moved into the Tekoa settlement two years ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Yasser Arafat for the killings. He said the Palestinian leader was doing nothing to stop attacks on Israelis.

Violence in the region exploded in September after Sharon visited a site holy to Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. The unrest has claimed more than 500 lives.

Asked about the slaying of the teens, Arafat responded that Palestinian children have been victimized by Israel. He cited a 3-month-old Palestinian girl, Reema Ahmed, who was wounded Wednesday during an Israeli shooting attack on a Gaza refugee camp. The youngest victim of the recent violence -- Iman Hijo, a 4-month-old Palestinian girl -- was buried Tuesday.

Early today, violence in the region flared again as at least seven people were wounded -- six Palestinians and one Israeli soldier -- in a gunbattle when Israeli soldiers bulldozed Palestinian buildings in another refugee camp in Gaza.

The future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is a key issue standing in the way of a Mideast peace accord. About 200,000 Jewish settlers and 3 million Palestinians live in the Palestinian territories. Sharon has vowed to continue to build settlements, further angering Palestinians.

The deaths of children have enraged both sides and possibly jeopardized efforts to renew the peace process.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the killings of the Israeli boys ''horrible, brutal.'' U.S. lawmakers called on the White House to appoint a special Middle East envoy. ''The situation is sufficiently serious that there ought to be a special representative appointed,'' Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said.

Pope John Paul II, speaking in Malta, said he was saddened by ''news from the Holy Land of terrible violence even against innocent young people.''

Israeli police said Koby and Yosef may have been killed in a chance encounter with Palestinians. The boys were reported missing late Tuesday after skipping school to go hiking.

''We began looking in Tekoa valley,'' said Meir Ben-Hayoun, a neighbor of one of the boys. ''And at 7 this morning we found their bodies, beaten, mutilated and stabbed.''

Thousands of people attended the funerals Wednesday. Classmates hugged and wept.

A handwritten sign called on God to ''avenge their blood'' and asked settlers to meet at the murder site tonight to light bonfires. ''We will not forget or forgive,'' the sign said.