HEBRON, West Bank, 7 May 2004 — The Israeli military administration has ordered the demolition of 11 houses and the seizure of Palestinian land in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, a Palestinian source said.
The houses are located in the Wadi Al-Nassara and Haret Jaber neighborhoods between the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Ibrahimi Mosque, a member of the “Hebron Land Defense Committee” told AFP.
The 700 square meters of land slated for confiscation belonging to the Waqf, or Islamic trust, are close to the mosque, which the Jews call Tomb of the Patriarchs, architect Abdel Hadi Hantash said. “These orders are part of an Israeli plan aimed at demolishing as many houses as possible to create continuity between Kiryat Arba and the Ibrahim Mosque,” he charged.
Kiryat Arba’s estimated 6,500 Jewish settlers often walk through Palestinian neighborhoods to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, along a road which has been dubbed the “worshipers trail” and where several deadly shootings have occurred.
In March 1994, settler Baruch Goldstein from Kiryat Arba, gunned down 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat’s bodyguards made barricades out of wrecked cars and cement-filled barrels yesterday, hoping to impede a feared Israeli military push into his compound to expel the Palestinian leader. A senior Israeli official said there were no plans “at this stage” to move against him.
A Palestinian official close to Arafat told Reuters the decision to beef up security in the West Bank compound of Al-Muqata was taken after “foreign friends” passed on information that Israel planned to banish the president to Gaza. Palestinian fears that Israel will expel Arafat, or take more drastic action, mounted after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last month he no longer felt bound by a pledge to US President George W. Bush not to harm him.
At the compound, battered by past Israeli incursions, trucks poured cement into dozens of barrels and bulldozers stacked wrecked cars at a helicopter landing pad and a nearby plaza. The Palestinian official acknowledged the barricades could do little to halt an Israeli thrust.
In another development, an EU-led push to solve the stalemate over peace in the Middle East ended in apparent acrimony yesterday, with the Palestinian foreign minister slamming Israel’s “extremist” attitude during talks in Dublin.
“They were extremist to the maximum,” Nabil Shaath told reporters the day after he and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom joined a working dinner in the Irish capital of Dublin which began the two-day Euro-Mediterranean meeting.
Adding to tensions at the gathering, which was dominated by the peace issue, Shalom later lambasted the EU’s efforts toward the Middle East, labeling the bloc as “partial” toward the Palestinian side, an EU official said. The atmosphere in a meeting between Shalom and an EU troika yesterday morning was “unpleasant”, he told reporters.
The troika comprised EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.
Attempts to breathe new life into peace efforts at the regular gathering, which groups EU members with nine mainly Middle Eastern or North African nations and the Palestinian Authority, appeared doomed from the start. According to the EU official, the Israeli and Palestinian sides swapped distinctly trenchant views during the opening dinner, exchanges he termed “verbal ping pong”.
Shaath said later that the Palestinian side had pressed Israel to heed a call by the diplomatic Quartet of Middle East peace sponsors, who met in New York on Tuesday, to revive the region’s international road map peace deal.