Israel promises to continue brutal offensive against Palestinians

Israeli military death squads assassinated two members of the Fatah-aligned Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Ramallah and Jenin on May 29. The public executions, which resulted in at least seven Palestinian civilians injured in Ramallah, were part of Israel's escalating campaign of assassinations and military assaults in the West Bank and Gaza.

During the second half of May, after the latest Israeli offensive against the Palestinian population began on May 16, more than 50 people died and more than 200 were injured in attacks by Israeli war planes and targeted assassinations. According to a report by the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, during this period, 71 houses were destroyed, and 47 security installations, 47 commercial premises and 13 vehicles were targeted by Israeli occupation forces.

Israel also kidnapped at least 33 Palestinian lawmakers and mayors, and dozens of other Palestinian citizens. On May 29, Israeli occupation forces kidnapped Fatah parliamentarian Jamal Tirawi, while on May 24, Palestinian Authority education minister Nasser Eddin al Shaer was taken. A further 17 Palestinians were kidnapped in dawn raids on May 30. Israeli occupation forces also carried out assaults on the Palestinian cities of Tulkarem, Nablus and Hebron, raiding houses, shops and cafes, as well as raiding charities and parliamentary offices.

According to a May 29 report by the Palestinian National Information Centre, as part of the Israeli military escalation, during May 22-28 Israel installed a further 109 roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank, using its military arsenal against the Palestinian civilian population. The report also stated that Israel had exercised arbitrary measures and collective punishment policies against Palestinians, including constant road closures and economic blockades, shelling of civilian population centres and incursions.

Israel has sought to use the death of two Israeli citizens in Sderot from homemade Qassam rocket attacks to justify its escalated assaults on Gaza and the West Bank. However, Israeli army radio revealed on May 27 that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced during his weekly cabinet session that "Israel will continue striking Hamas, whether they cease their fire or not". Olmert was also reported as saying, "we are not carrying out our operations according to what Hamas do or if Hamas fire at us or not, firstly we have to be ready for a long-term confrontation".

Palestinian prime minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Israeli and Palestinian media that the Israeli air strikes were aimed at undermining the national unity government. According to the May 28 edition of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Haniyeh said that the attacks were intended to undermine certain elements in the Palestinian political landscape, for the purpose of installing other Palestinians who do not support Hamas.

On May 27, Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas proposed a ceasefire agreement and announced he would meet with Olmert the following week. The proposed agreement will be discussed by the different Palestinian factions at a meeting in Cairo in early June. But Olmert and the Israeli security cabinet have already rejected outright the proposed ceasefire. Reuters reported on May 29 that Olmert told Israel's parliament: "We have no intention of reaching any kind of settlement, neither with Hamas nor with Islamic Jihad. We will hit them and continue to hit them."

According to the Palestinian news agency Maan, the 10-point ceasefire advocated by Abbas calls on all Palestinian factions to halt the launch of homemade projectiles and for Israel to cease its air, sea and ground operations and its policy of target assassinations. The plan also states that in response to the cessation of hostilities, the Palestinian Authority will deploy national security forces along the north and eastern borders of the Gaza strip. The plan calls for all checkpoints to be removed throughout the West Bank.

On May 30, Haniyeh, who had been in hiding for several days after Israel had threatened to assassinate him, announced that despite Israel's rejection of a ceasefire, the "national unity" government would implement a new security plan. Haniyeh said the government "agrees with a comprehensive and mutual truce, in order to protect the people's interest ... the ball is now in the Israeli court".

[Kim Bullimore works in the West Bank with the International Women's Peace Service. Visit her blog at http://livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com.]

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