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Archive for Saturday, July 20, 2002

Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks Saturday night

July 20, 2002

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— Palestinian and Israeli officials were to meet after sundown Saturday, resuming talks that were repeatedly postponed and then canceled after the Israelis said they needed more time to prepare and because of renewed Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said the meeting would be held in Jerusalem but said progress depended on Israeli willingness to pull troops out of the West Bank.

"I believe if Israel is really serious in the resumption of the political process they have first to immediately withdraw from the Palestinian territories," he told reporters after Arafat met with Russian envoy Andre Vedovin in Ramallah.

Because of the Jewish Sabbath, Israeli officials were not available to confirm the meeting.

A Palestinian human rights group, meanwhile, asked Israel's Supreme Court to block any deportation of relatives of West Bank suicide bombers to the Gaza Strip, saying the move violates international law.

Attorney Hader Shkirat, director of the Law Society, a Palestinian human rights organization, said he filed a motion Friday as a preventive measure after Israeli forces destroyed the homes of two suspects in this week's attacks and arrested 21 of their relatives.

After the arrests, Israeli officials said the Israeli attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, had determined that relatives of West Bank suicide bombers could be deported to Gaza _ but only if they had a direct link to acts of terrorism.

A Justice Ministry spokesman, Jonathan Beker, said deportations could occur "for example, if they (family members) encouraged the bomber to join the terrorist organization or even to volunteer for the suicide attack, or were involved in his recruitment."

Israel made the arrests after back-to-back attacks this week left 10 Israelis and two foreign workers dead _ the first attacks in nearly a month.

Early Saturday, a car exploded in Jaffa, an Arab-Jewish neighborhood south of downtown Tel Aviv, killing the driver, police said. The circumstances of the blast were unclear. The car was near the Hamadia mosque when it exploded.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Israeli soldiers backed by tanks and bulldozers entered the refugee camp and demolished a metal workshop and damaged a house, clashing briefly with Palestinian gunmen, according to Palestinian residents. No injuries were reported.

The high-level meeting Saturday night was initially scheduled for last a week to discuss the easing of restrictions Israeli forces have placed on Palestinians during the West Bank occupation, the extensive curfew for example. When the agenda was enlarged to consider broader issues between the two sides, the Israelis postponed the discussions to better prepare.

The Israeli delegation, led by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, was subsequently banned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from taking up issues that would be part of broader peace talks until the Palestinians halted attacks on Israelis.

The talks were canceled altogether after a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv Wednesday and a West Bank bus ambush the day before killed 13 people, including the two bombers.

The attacks were the first fatal assaults against Israeli civilians since June 20, when Israel sent forces into the West Bank after suicide bombings in Jerusalem.

As Israeli forces rounded up Palestinians earlier in the week, there were reports of a possible Palestinian cease-fire to set the stage for an Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank. The Jordanian and Saudi foreign ministers both spoke of the cease-fire discussions in comments to reporters after meeting with President Bush in Washington.

Palestinians and Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the first stage of the plan would be a halt to Palestinian suicide bombing attacks inside Israel.

After that, the Israeli army initially would withdrawal from Palestinian territory in the Gaza Strip and from one unspecified West Bank.

The deportation issue is sensitive for Palestinians, whose close-knit family relations dictate much of their everyday lives. Deportation to Gaza from West Bank villages and extended families would remove much of the affected Palestinians' social, emotional and economic support systems.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat called the deportation proposal a war crime and violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of civilians in war zones.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States expected Israel to act only based on information about a person's culpability, not personal or family relationships.

"We think that taking punitive actions against innocent people will not solve Israel's security problems and we'll be raising that issue with the Israeli government," he said.

Israeli human rights group B'tselem also condemned the deportation plan and said the punishment of innocent people would constitute "an unerasable moral blight on the State of Israel."

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government had not made a final decision on deportations.

Some believe the deportations would deter future attacks and remove support suicide bombers receive from families, groups such as Hamas and from outside governments, which amount to "bribery to commit mass murder," said Daniel Taub, a legal adviser in the Foreign Ministry.

He referred specifically to the government of Iraq, which sends up to $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers.

The Palestinian Authority also provides a form of social security to families of Palestinians arrested or killed by Israeli forces. The militant group Hamas provides schooling and other needs of the families of its members killed in suicide attacks.

"We've seen mothers appearing in videos of suicide bombers before they go out to commit their atrocities. We've seen families of suicide bombers afterward expressing the wish that their other children will follow suit," Taub said. "We have to try and break this cycle, we have to try and provide a deterrent."

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