snooker - a glimmer of hope......:>)

  1. Yak
    13,672 Posts.
    Palestinians Protest, Blame Militants


    BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (AP) - Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and blocked a main road Tuesday in a rare burst of anger at Islamic militants whom they blamed for prompting Israeli military attacks by using their town to fire rockets into Israel.

    The protest erupted two hours after Israeli troops withdrew from this Gaza town, following a five-day takeover during which they flattened orchards, demolished 15 homes, knocked over garden walls, tore up streets and damaged the sewage, water and electricity systems.

    The Israeli military said much of the destruction, especially of homes and orchards, was aimed at depriving militants firing rockets of cover.

    In an unusual protest, about 600 Beit Hanoun residents blocked a main thoroughfare with trash cans, rocks and burning tires to show their anger at the militants and Palestinian Authority officials.

    "They (the militants) claim they are heroes," said Mohammed Zaaneen, 30, a farmer, as he carried rocks into the street. "They brought us only destruction and made us homeless. They used our farms, our houses and our children ... to hide."

    The Israeli pullback came despite five suicide bombings that killed 12 Israelis in 48 hours and endangered a U.S.-backed Mideast peace initiative. The move suggested that Israel is holding off on large-scale retaliation for now, amid international concern that new strikes would further weaken the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

    President Bush called Abbas on Tuesday to underscore the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to fight terror and resume peace negotiations, the White House said. It was their first conversation since Abbas took office on April 30.

    Abbas is seen as instrumental in implementing the "road map" to peace plan, a three-stage prescription for ending violence and setting up a Palestinian state by 2005. However, Abbas has said he will not launch a crackdown on militias - a crucial step in the first phase - until Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepts the plan.

    Sharon has refused to do so, saying he wants to discuss his objections with Bush. A Bush-Sharon meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday, but Sharon postponed his Washington trip indefinitely because of the bombings.

    During the Israeli takeover, eight Palestinians were killed in clashes - four gunmen and four teens, ages 13, 15 and 17. Three of the teens had been throwing stones at Israeli tanks when they were shot by troops.

    Israeli troops have raided Beit Hanoun seven times in the past 32 months of fighting, in an effort to stop the firing of homemade Qassam rockets from Beit Hanoun at Israeli border towns.

    The Israeli-Palestinian deadlock has left the field to the militants who are trying to torpedo the peace efforts and weaken Abbas. In the past, the Islamic militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have stepped up attacks whenever there was increased hope of progress toward peace.

    An Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank said militants needed no special incentive to carry out attacks. "It's all-out war," said the leader, Sheik Bassam Sadi. "We will only stop if we feel our people are getting tired."

    In the latest bombing, a Palestinian woman, 19-year-old Hiba Daraghmeh, blew herself up at a back entrance of a shopping mall in the northern Israeli town of Afula on Monday. Daraghmeh detonated the explosives as she approached security guards checking shoppers.

    "There was a big explosion and my friend and I were blown over backward," said Etti Pitilon, 19, a border policewoman. "I saw bodies, but I don't want to think about it," she added, crying.

    The blast killed three Israelis, including a guard, and wounded 47.

    Daraghmeh was a 19-year-old English literature student from the West Bank village of Tubas and was a devout Muslim, covering her face with a veil in addition to the headscarf customary among observant Palestinian women.

    Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to the ruling Fatah party, claimed joint responsibility. Daraghmeh apparently was recruited by Al Aqsa, while Islamic Jihad, which gets money from Iran, provided the funding, militia members said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Israeli troops detained Daraghmeh's parents, relatives said, and Israel Radio said the two were taken to Israel's forensics institute to identify their daughter's body. The family emptied its home of belongings, expecting that it would be demolished - in line with the military's practice for the past year.

    Al Aqsa's involvement proved particularly embarrassing for Abbas, who is a senior Fatah official. The militia, founded by Fatah supporters at the outbreak of fighting, consists of bands of gunmen operating without central directive. Some militiamen have said they would resist Abbas' call to lay down arms.

    Abbas has said he wants to disarm militias through dialogue, not force - an approach Sharon has brushed aside, saying he wants to see arrests and weapons sweeps.

    Abbas, who took office April 30, issued a strong condemnation of the Afula bombing, saying it "contradicts our moral values and tradition and only feeds into the hatred of the two peoples." However, Israeli's military operations "contribute to the surge of violence," Abbas added.

    The latest string of attacks began Satvrday evening, just before a Sharon-Abbas meeting, the first Israeli-Palestinian summit since the outbreak of fighting.

    Hamas bombers struck in the West Bank city of Hebron on Satvrday, twice in Jerusalem on Sunday, and in the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, killing a total of nine Israelis and wounding 23.

    Israel continued to blame Arafat for the violence.

    In response, Arafat told The Associated Press he opposes violence. "You know that we are from the beginning against these activities, and we are condemning it from the beginning," he said Monday.

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