Palestinians protest expansion of settlements

`Day of Rage' marches fall short of expectations

June 04, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DEIR QADDIS, Occupied West Bank -- Ibrahim Katoos doesn't have to look very far to get angry about Israeli settlers encroaching on Palestinian lands. In recent weeks, the hill beyond his house was snapped up in the drive to expand Jewish settlements in the Israeli occupied territories.

Katoos, a 67-year-old grandfather, joined hundreds of Palestinians in "Day of Rage" marches yesterday across the West Bank and Gaza Strip to protest land grabs occurring in the closing weeks of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

"This is a message to the international community, telling them that settlement expansion is undermining any contemplated peace," said Abdul Jawad Saleh, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

At a few of yesterday's marches, Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli border police. But the crowds were less than anticipated and clearly smaller than Palestinian leaders had hoped for. In Deir Qaddis, several dozen Palestinians marched from a rally at the local school to a contested hilltop at the edge of the village. There, stone-throwing youths confronted Israeli border police, who fired tear-gas canisters to disperse the crowd.

Similar confrontations occurred at the Gush Katif junction in the Gaza Strip and in Tulkarm in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip incident, Palestinian police held back protesters who tried to stone Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian leaders have called on Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak to freeze the expansion of settlements when he assumes office in the coming weeks. But Barak, who is in the process of forming his coalition government, has refused to comment publicly on the recent moves by the lame-duck Netanyahu government.

"It's very clear that Netanyahu and his people are in a mad scramble to try and create facts on the ground and to hand Barak a bomb with a short fuse," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and critic of Israeli policy under Netanyahu. "The question is whether Barak can defuse the situation, whether he will have the ability to immediately put an end to these measures or whether he's going to absorb them and move ahead."

In the days before the election May 17, Netanyahu's defense minister, Moshe Arens, approved a request to include a large tract of undeveloped land in the master plan of the settlement of Maale Adumin on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The move would extend the boundaries of greater Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of an independent state.

Israel maintains that Jerusalem, whose eastern half it captured in the 1967 war, will remain its undivided capital.

But the future of Jerusalem is supposed to be decided in final peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

Barak campaigned on a pledge to revive the stalled peace process. He also told his supporters that money earmarked for settlements and ultra-Orthodox Jewish causes should be diverted to improving education. Barak has said that most of the approximately 170,000 Jewish settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty in any final agreement with the Palestinians, but not all of their settlement compounds would remain part of Israel.

Palestinians insist that the peace process cannot go forward if settlements continue to expand.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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