Israel's onslaught against West Bank towns is growing in ferocity
Yesterday Israeli troops, which occupied Bethlehem on Tuesday, continued to lay siege to the Church of Nativity threatening, amid intense fighting, to break into the church where more than 200 Palestinians, including women and children, have taken refuge.
Three Palestinians civilians were killed inside their homes by Israeli shells during the advance on the town. Three armed men belonging to Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades were also shot dead, their bodies, according to witnesses, left stranded in front of the Church of Nativity as troops prevented ambulance cars from reaching the victims. The Israeli army also turned back a group of Christian priests who had tried to enter the town in an expression of solidarity.
Israel began its advance on several Palestinian towns, including Bethlehem, Jenin, Selfit, Tulkarm and Qalqilya, following Friday's occupation of Ramallah and assault on Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Occupation troops are also tightening their siege around Nablus amid growing concern the town might become the site of a massacre.
In Jenin there was strong resistance yesterday to Israel's advance on the town with five Palestinians killed by the time Al- Ahram Weekly went to press.
Despite the week-long siege of his headquarters in Ramallah Yasser Arafat remained defiant. He rejected Sharon's "offer" on Tuesday to provide him with a "one-way ticket" out of Ramallah. "Is it my homeland or his homeland?" Arafat asked in an interview on the Qatari satellite television channel Al-Jazeera. "We (Palestinians) were rooted here even before Prophet Abraham... and I have declared before that I prefer to die as martyr." Arafat also lashed out at Israel for re- occupying Bethlehem and targetting its churches and mosques during the advance. "Can you imagine? Can you believe it? They are attacking the Church of the Nativity and burning and demolishing other mosques and churches.
In the same interview, conducted Tuesday, Arafat insisted Sharon carried out his attack only after receiving a green light from Washington. "The whole world knows that Israel does not act and cannot act without America's agreement," he said.
In Ramallah the Israeli shelling of civilian Palestinian buildings continued, alongside house to house searches. Palestinian sources report more than 700 policemen have been rounded-up by Israel since it occupied the city with at least 100 deported to the Gaza Strip. All those rounded up are stripped, blindfolded and handcuffed before being taken away to detention centres.
Ramallah held an unprecedented collective funeral on Tuesday. Hospital officials, faced with a full morgue, had no choice but to temporarily bury bodies in the hospital's parking lot. While the strict curfew imposed by the occupation troops meant few families could attend the burials as 15 bodies in plastic bags were buried in one grave and two women buried in another hastily dug by a bulldozer, some 200 people did manage to gather at the hospital. They shouted slogans against Arab governments which, in the words of one nurse, "are watching us slaughtered without any reaction." A doctor added he felt "ashamed as an Arab that European and American peace activists are protecting us with their bodies while Arab governments are waiting for the orders they will receive from the United States."
Among the victims in Ramallah on Tuesday were a 57-year-old woman shot dead after leaving the hospital where she was receiving treatment. Israeli soldiers prevented an ambulance car from collecting her body until European peace activists, in Ramallah since Friday, marched in front of the ambulance to the corpse. Two men, one of them wheelchair bound, were also shot by Israeli snipers.
Also on Tuesday Israel's five day siege of the Palestinian Preventive Security headquarters ended with the forced surrender of nearly 200 Palestinians after more than 15 hours of bombardment by US-made Apache helicopters and tanks. Hamas accused Jabril Rajoub, head of Preventive Security, of capitulating to Israeli demands by surrendering the headquarters after earlier vowing to "fight to death" rather than abandon the CIA-built headquarters. In a telephone interview with the Weekly from his home in Ramallah Rajoub defended the decision, saying he had no choice but to order his men to surrender. "I received appeals by the families of women and children who had taken shelter inside the building to surrender in order to halt Israel's ferocious attack." Hamas, who said six of its men, held inside the compound, should have been released as soon as Israel started its advance, was not convinced by the security chief's reasoning.
Meanwhile more than 200 journalists, covering the ongoing war in Ramallah, were confined to their hotels yesterday after several incidents in which journalists were shot at by Israeli troops. Israel has declared Ramallah a closed military zone, and asked all journalists to leave.
Copyright © Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 2002. Reprinted for fair use only
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