Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met with US State Department official William Burns yesterday to discuss the standoff there and at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The US envoy met Arafat at his compound, where about 300 aides, security guards and foreigners have been confined to a few rooms by Israeli troops since late March.
Israel is demanding the Palestinians hand over five suspects in October’s assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister as well as the alleged mastermind of a large arms shipment to the Palestinian Authority intercepted by Israel. Arafat has refused, saying the six will face trial in Palestinian courts. There’s growing speculation that Israeli forces might try to break in and seize the wanted men.
Even as they met, an Israeli bulldozer destroyed several cars parked outside and began building a rampart, according to foreign activists in the compound.
On Sunday, a group of about 30 international activists gathered at the hospital in Ramallah to plan a march to the presidential compound, as word spread that a siege was imminent. By staging a series of diversions, the activists managed to get a group of six activists inside the compound. Kevin Skvorak is inside the compound.
- Kevin Skvorak, one of six International Solidarity Movement activists inside Arafat’s compound.
The first direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on the three-week standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity ended this morning.
Smoke, gunfire and the thud of sound grenades engulfed the area yesterday, prompting speculation that the three-week siege was heading towards a close.
Only hours before the outbreak of gunfire, 17 journalists, foreign and Palestinian, had their Israeli government press credentials seized by an Israeli army officer close to Manger Square, site of the ancient church.
- Georgina Reeves, Independent Media Center of Palestine.
There’s a new ad campaign in Israel. Recently Microsoft billboards have popped up around Tel Aviv that state: "From the depth of our heart–thanks to The Israeli Defense Forces." Gush-Shalom, the Israeli peace group, recently sent a letter to Microsoft chair Bill Gates complaining about the billboards.
- Adam Keller, spokesperson for Gush-Shalom, the Israeli peace bloc.