Abbas’s warning came after Israel freed 26 prisoners earlier in the day, as part of US-brokered peace talks, which Kerry hopes to reinvigorate during his visit.
But as Kerry geared up for his 10th visit since March, an anticipated announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of further settlement construction looked set to cast a new cloud over the talks.
Abbas warned the Palestinians would take action to halt any such construction in territories they expect to form part of their promised state.
“We will not remain patient as the settlement cancer spreads, especially in (annexed East) Jerusalem, and we will use our right as a UN observer state by taking political, diplomatic and legal action to stop it,” he said.
“These actions show a lack of seriousness on the Israeli side in the negotiations and threaten to destroy the two-state solution.”
Kerry has been pressing the two sides to agree on a framework for a final peace agreement ahead of an agreed late April target date for the talks to conclude.
The prisoners were the third batch of 104 detainees that Netanyahu pledged to release in four stages when the peace talks were revived in July. All were imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo accords, which launched the Middle East peace process.
The freed prisoners were welcomed back to Ramallah in the West Bank, with others to East Jerusalem and the remainder to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Hamas hailed the prisoner release, but reiterated their rejection of the peace talks and slammed the notion that freeing prisoners justified Israeli settlement expansion.
“The release of any prisoner is a gain for our people,” Gaza’s Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said.
“But we reject negotiating with the occupation (Israel) and we do not accept that settlements should be expanded in exchange for that.”
Netanyahu meanwhile criticized the hero’s welcome given to the released prisoners, who had served 19 to 28 years after being convicted of killing Israeli civilians or soldiers.
“While we are prepared to take very painful steps in an effort to try and reach an agreement … they, along with their highest leadership, are celebrating,” he said.
“Murderers are not heroes.”
A senior US State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity described the release as “really painful, difficult on the Israeli side”.
Tuesday’s release was expected to be accompanied by an announcement of new construction plans for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as the previous two prisoner releases were.
Such a move is likely to infuriate the PLO and the international community, providing a further challenge for Kerry, whose intense shuttle diplomacy managed to revive the talks after a three-year hiatus.
But Netanyahu has come under strong pressure from hardliners both within his rightwing Likud party and its more hawkish coalition partners to take a stand.
Kerry will also have to quell tensions that rose after an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday gave initial approval to a bill annexing Jordan Valley settlements, a largely symbolic move expected to be shot down by the government.
Abbas reiterated total rejection of Israel’s demand to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley, which forms a third of the occupied West Bank.
“We have said that the Palestinian people is the one most in need of security, and is the one who needs guarantees of protection against the aggression of the occupation and the settlers.”
By Jafar M Ramini
During a Tuesday meeting with a committee representing Palestinian prisoners from areas inside Israel, Abbas said an agreement was in place stipulating that veteran prisoners from “1948 areas” would also be released in conjunction with the current set of peace talks, the statement said.
The list of those to be released was approved by Israel and the United States mediators, Abbas was quoted as saying.
The statement said that Palestinian negotiators phoned the American mediators to discuss remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning veteran prisoners who hold Israeli citizenship.
The Americans confirmed that all prisoners detained before Oslo would be freed, including those with Israeli citizenship, the statement said.
Israel agreed to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners who have been in custody since before the 1993 Oslo Accords as part of a plan to resume peace negotiations after talks were halted for more than two years.
Seventy-eight prisoners have been released since peace talks began, 26 of whom were freed early Tuesday.
Relations between the European Union and Israel have been tense recently, but look to be getting a lot worse, as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced he is “outlawing” Belgium-based non-profit the Council for European Palestinian Relations(CEPR) on “national security” grounds.
The CEPR has organized several delegations to Israel and the occupied territories including top European Union MPs. Ya’alon said his “outlawing” of the group means that not only will Israel seize any of its assets, but they may also arrest the European MPs for being linked to a banned organization.
Ya’alon’s statement justified the ban on the grounds that the CEPR had publicly opposed Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and Israeli media outlets dutifully accused that of meaning the group was “lobbying” for Hamas.
CEPR leaders criticized the ban, saying the group has no affiliation with any political parties anywhere in the world, and intends to challenge the Israeli ban through any legal means available.
(Source / 01.01.2014)
Samer Issawi back home in Issawiyeh on 28 December 2013.
There was a distinctly different ambience at the home of the Issawis this time around. It would be the first time that we were visiting expecting to meet Samer Issawi himself.
This visit was not about offering solidarity and support, an act we undertook repeatedly when Samer was in prison. This time the visit was not to participate in a demonstration calling for his release.
This visit was a celebratory and congratulatory one.
Finally, a week after her son’s release, it was possible to look Leila, Samer Issawi’s mother, in the eye and smile incessantly, free from the anxiety and agitated hope that saddled our hearts when we met her previously. In Palestine, moments of collective joy and triumph are so rare that we feel like we snatch them from the jaws of our occupiers.
The release of Samer Issawi on 23 December 2013 was one of those moments of joy that will linger in the memories of all who witnessed it.
On the morning of his release, journalists and supporters of Samer Issawi began gathering at the family’s home. Israeli occupation forces had already raided the Issawis’ home at dawn and the previous night, warning the family not to hold celebrations.
“They raided the house while I was praying at dawn and ordered us to refrain from celebrating,” Samer’s mother told The Electronic Intifada. “But this was out of our hands. We could not control people and stop them from celebrating and we did not want to.”
Neither the intimidation nor the presence of Israeli military forces at the entrance to Issawiyeh could prevent the massive celebrations that accompanied Samer’s arrival.
A group of women of all ages marched from Samer’s house into the streets as Samer, his mother and his sister Shireen were making their way home after Samer was released from Israel’s Shatta prison.
The women and girls created a wedding-like atmosphere, chanting revolutionary slogans, banging on darbuka drums and singing traditional Palestinian songs adapted for the occasion. As soon as the bus carrying Samer and his family made it into Issawiyeh, the crowd erupted euphorically.
Celebratory gunshots were fired in the air, youth climbed atop fences to catch a glimpse of their hero and children kept chanting Samer’s name and the word “freedom.” It was a popular and festive protest, bringing together Palestinians of all ages and political affiliations, something that occupied Jerusalem has not seen in a long time.
Samer’s 16-year-old niece, Leila, had taken part in numerous demonstrations and clashes demanding her uncle’s release. She noted that the arrest of Samer in July 2012 — not long after he had been released as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas— had politicized an entire generation in Issawiyeh.
The extent to which Samer’s arrest and hunger strike have influenced the village was visible. You would see children as young as five engaging in political discussions and leading chants in protests.
“I felt like I was flying”
A protest tent set up by local youth in support of Samer was demolished over twenty times by Israeli occupation forces who subjected the entire village to collective punishment.
That only bolstered Issawiyeh residents’ determination to stand behind Samer.
With Samer surrounded by so many supporters and journalists, it was very hard to greet him and interview him on the day of his release. So we met one week later at his house.
We could not avoid asking his mother the predictable question about what she felt when she hugged her son after his release. “I lost count of the number of times I’ve had to answer this question,” she said. “My feeling could not be described in words. I was so happy that Samer finally got to breathe the scent of freedom and Palestine. I felt like I was flying.”
Samer’s mother has endured a litany of painful experiences. Her son Fadi was shot dead by Israeli occupation forces in 1994 during protests in Jerusalem following the Ibrahimi mosque massacre in Hebron.
“Hardly a moment passes without remembering Fadi. It’s been almost twenty years since his martyrdom but I still remember everything about him: his clothes, his favourite dishes and his smile.”
Entire family jailed
All of Leila Issawi’s other children — five sons and one daughter — have spent time in jail. “At one point in 2010, all of them were in jail: Samer, Medhat, Raafat, Shadi, Firas and Shireen. That was the first time they were reunited in 13 years, but then the Israel Prison Service separated them, jailing each of them in a different prison.”
Before his arrest in 2012, Samer had been arrested four times. He was arrested on 15 April 2002 during what Israel called Operation Defensive Shield, a large-scale invasion of several cities in the occupied West Bank. Samer Issawi was sentenced to thirty years in jail on charges of possession of weapons and engaging in armed activities with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Samer Issawi was among over a thousand prisoners released in the October 2011 exchange deal. But like several other prisoners released then, he was soon re-arrested.
The excuse given by Israel was that he had violated his release conditions, which banned him from travelling in the West Bank. The pretext is all the more ludicrous considering Issawi had only visited the nearby village of Kafr Aqab, which Israel considers to be within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.
In protest at his arrest, Samer Issawi began returning meals in August 2012 in a partialhunger strike that lasted for 266 days. Samer saw refusing food as his only option as he was facing twenty years of imprisonment, yet he believes that hunger strikes can be a double-edged sword.
“Of course, hunger strikes are much more effective when they are mass hunger strikes,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “I think that, for instance, administrative detainees held without charge or trial should go on collective hunger strikes rather than individual hunger strikes.”
“In my case, I had to go on an individual hunger strike because it was in protest at Israel’s violation of the prisoner exchange deal, but I’m aware that there is a big difference between collective and individual hunger strikes. In individual hunger strikes, we can take vitamins and glucose to last longer while mass hunger strikers only drink water. Mass hunger strikes are usually much shorter than individual hunger strikes and garner much more attention and popular solidarity.”
Samer believes that factional divisions among political organizations restrict the scope for mass resistance.
“We have to be honest and not shy away from mentioning our problems. The division along factional lines, particularly between Fatah and Hamas, has damaged the prisoner movement and unless all prisoners unite, we will not be able to improve conditions in jail or achieve freedom for all prisoners.”
In Samer’s case, the popular support and media attention he received particularly in the latter stages of his hunger strike proved crucial to put pressure on Israel to release him.
Women played key role
Samer and his mother Leila emphasized the important role that his sister Shireen has played.
“Shireen was the one shedding light on her’s brother case, writing about him on Facebook, speaking to the media and rallying local and international support,” said Leila. “Samer would not have emerged victorious without her efforts.”
Shireen, a lawyer, humbly downplayed her role by claiming she had done nothing special.
But her niece Leila insisted: “The ones who led the campaign to release Uncle Samer were women. Shireen and my grandmother, and so many of those who participated in solidarity protests were women as well, even outnumbering the guys.”
Banishment offers rejected
Throughout his partial hunger strike, Samer Issawi received several Israeli offers to be banished to Gaza but he rejected all of them. “Gaza is definitely part of Palestine, but I felt that accepting a deal that would expel me from my hometown Jerusalem would set a dangerous precedent and would betray the sacrifices of martyrs and prisoners.”
“Issawiyeh is my hometown and I never for a moment thought about accepting such a deal. On the contrary, whenever I was given an offer to be banished, I escalated my hunger strikes by refusing vitamins, for example.”
Buoyed by solidarity
Demonstrations in support of Samer — albeit not always particularly large — took place across Palestine. They included vigils at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City that were violently dispersed by Israeli occupation forces, daily sit-ins in Jaffa’s Clock Square that lasted for over forty consecutive days and protests outside Ramle prison hospital when Samer was held there.
Protests and solidarity actions also took place in Ramallah and Gaza and in many cities around the world.
“My lawyers repeatedly told me about those demonstrations and this definitely buoyed me,” Samer said. “Even at the start when there was little attention I was determined to keep fighting, but of course the support I got from Palestinians in Palestine and the diaspora, as well as all the free people in the world gave me a lot of confidence.”
Yet, ironically, a number of PA politicians have celebrated Samer’s release.
“I know that there were many of them who did not support Samer and they know that, but when they called to congratulate I accepted their congratulations,” Samer’s mother Leila said. “At the end of the day, this is a victory for Samer and for the Palestinian people.”
Samer insisted that it was Palestinian people, not leading politicians, who made his release possible. Asked how he felt about being regarded by many as an icon Samer said: “I don’t care how people consider me, but I will always remain an ordinary man. Nothing will change in my life.”
“I will continue to enjoy spending time with the kids. I’m not an icon but simply a soldier in the fight for freedom and dignity in Palestine.”
(Source / 01.01.2014)
At least 15 Palestinians have died of hunger, since September, in a besieged refugee camp in the Syrian capital of Damascus, according to UN sources.
“Reports have come in over the weekend that at least five Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have died because of malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases to 15,” UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP.
He went on to warn of a deteriorating situation in the camp, where some 20,000 Palestinians are trapped, with limited food and medical supplies.
According to the PNN, most of Yarmouk camp, in southern Damascus, is under the control of the armed opposition, and it has been under siege by Assad loyalists for about a year.
The blockade has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, and the exodus of tens of thousands of the camp’s 170,000 residents.
Furthermore, on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO reported that five people in the camp had died of malnutrition, including an elderly man, a disabled man and one woman.
UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi warned, earlier this month, “If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children.”
Syria is now officially home to nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees, about half of whom have been displaced by the conflict which broke out in March of 2011, becoming refugees for the second time.
More than 126,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
(Source / 01.01.2014)
Tent village demolished
[Wednesday January 1, 2014] A Palestinian minor was shot and injured by Israeli forces, Wednesday, in Aida refugee camp, north of Bethlehem.
The Palestinian News & Info Agency (WAFA) reports that, according to security sources, live bullets were fired toward Palestinian minors in the camp, shooting a 14-year-old in the foot.
He was transferred to a hospital, for treatment, where his condition was described as moderate.
In related news, WAFA reports that the Israeli army has demolished the tent village of Kanaan, on Wednesday, immediately after its construction; eight activists were arrested, according to a local activist.
Hassan Brijiyeh, coordinator of the National Committee against the Wall and Settlements in Bethlehem, said that activists set up a camp in the Jordan Valley, in response to the recent committee recommendation, by Israel, to annex the valley.
He went on to say that Israeli forces attacked the activists, arresting eight.
(Source / 01.01.2014)
Nahshon Israeli forces raided, on Tuesday, Ramon Israeli prison, breaking into Section 2 and assaulting prisoners.
The Palestinian News Network (PNN) reports that, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), the prisoners were transferred to an unknown location; no further details have been disclosed.
The PPS holds the Israeli occupation fully responsibile for the lives of the prisoners who have been abused.
(Source / 01.01.2014)