Middle East Crisis Headlines - 1/16/2000
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed peace talks today, after a one day suspension following the killing of a Jewish resident of the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian side expects to receive answers and clarifications as well as maps from the Israelis to questions and reservations" about President Clintonâ€™s peace plan, said Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Korei. Negotiators are trying to hammer out a document that would serve as a guideline for negotiations under the Bush administration. Both sides are playing down chances that the document could be signed before President Clinton leaves office, but according to Rehavam Zeâ€™evi of the far-right National Union party, the sides are planning to sign some kind of agreement on Thursday. He said the accord would include allowing 250,000 Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Also, the Palestinians would be sovereign in Arab sections of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and a bridge would be built to link Judea, Samaria and Gaza Strip. Both sides denied Zeâ€™evi's claim.
Tension remains high in Gaza, after Jewish residents carried out revenge attacks following yesterdayâ€™s killing of one of their own. Enraged by the murder, friends of the victim from the community of Kfar Yam set fire to Palestinian homes, fields and greenhouses. Israeli police arrested two settlers on suspicion of arson, saying residents would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands. The violence sparked renewed overnight gun battles in Gaza. The army said Palestinian gunmen opened fire in a number of areas, including the Neve Dekalim industrial zone, and army posts next to the Jewish communities of Neve Dekalim, Dugit and Gadid. Israeli soldiers returned fire.
The Palestinian Authority is taking the heat for executing two collaborators convicted of helping Israel assassinate Palestinian militiamen. The European Union has now joined Israel and human rights groups in protesting the brutal executions by firing squad, in which one man was tied to a post and pulverized with 47 bullets! Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein defended the executions are a deterrent "to stop the Israeli assassination of our people. We have to protect ourselves," he said. However, in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, the Palestinian Authority offered "amnesty" to collaborators who turn themselves in. But after the shocking executions, it appears that few will take the risk. Another suspected collaborator was found dead today in an apparent settling of accounts by Palestinian militiamen. Officials in Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement said masked men seized the victim from his home last night. It was not immediately clear whether the Palestinian Authority sanctioned the killing.
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon took his election campaign to an area in the Negev desert near the Gaza Strip, that Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered in a land swap to the Palestinians. In exchange for annexing big settlement blocs in five percent of Judea and Samaria, Barak offered the Palestinians an area called the Halutsa Sands, an empty expanse of scrub, rock and dust near the Egyptian border, dotted with dried-out trees, Bedouin shanty towns and flocks of sheep. As farmers applauded, Sharon promised that one of his first steps as prime minister would be to create a series of new settlements to connect isolated Negev villages with each other. "For me, settlement is more important than any political consideration and any political camp. This area must stay in our hands," he said. Playing up his image of Mr. Security, Sharon blasted Barak for making concessions as Palestinian violence continues. "This is a policy of surrendering to terror, this is the policy of Barak," Sharon charged.