WEST BANK: Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of trying to provoke violence
Three days of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, two days of Israeli military operations in the southern West Bank city of Hebron and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in East Jerusalem have set off alarm bells for the Palestinian Authority.
The authority accused Israel of trying to provoke a violent reaction that might undermine Palestinian efforts to obtain recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations.
"These measures will not deter us or stop us from continuing on our road and just struggle to regain the legitimate national rights of our people,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said through a spokesman Sunday.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the developments would not stop its plan -- opposed by Israel and the U.S. -- to seek U.N. recognition of a state located in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
“The government of Israel will be dreaming if it thinks that this grave escalation is going to get the Palestinian train heading to the U.N. off track,” he said.
Israel was quick to blame Gaza militants for an attack Thursday that killed eight Israelis. Within hours, the airstrikes against Gaza started and in three days claimed 15 Palestinian lives, including three children, and wounded dozens.
The Palestinian Authority, however, has voiced doubt about Gaza's involvement in the attack in southern Israel, which was launched in the Sinai desert across the Egyptian border.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman even went as far as saying the Palestinian Authority bore moral responsibility for the attack.
In the West Bank, in a campaign described as the first in a decade, hundreds of Israeli soldiers in more than 100 military vehicles raided Hebron on Sunday, the largest West Bank city, which is technically under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. More than 100 people from the city, most of them alleged Hamas activists, including one lawmaker, were rounded up.
Local residents clashed with the soldiers, who used tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse stone-throwing Palestinians. At least 50 people were hurt in the clashes.
In Jerusalem, Israeli police restricted entry Friday to Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem’s Old City, allowing only men over 50 years old and women over 40 to enter. The number of Muslims wishing to pray in the mosque multiplies during the Muslim fast month of Ramadan.
Younger Muslims barred from the mosque tried to force their way past barricades set up by Israeli police. Police responded by spraying hot water on crowds gathered outside the Old City gates and beating them with clubs.
When Jerusalem residents tried Sunday night to hold a protest in the city against the airstrikes on Gaza, police again used force to disperse them.
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photo: A Palestinian policeman amid the rubble of a police station in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip after an Israeli airstrike Sunday. Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP/Getty Images