Abbas suggests early elections to resolve stand-off with Hamas, Gaza

Haaretz has reported that “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Hamas Islamists on Monday to agree to early elections and to open a ‘new page’ by ceding control of the Gaza Strip and holding reconciliation talks with his Fatah faction. Reviving talk of early Palestinian elections for the first time in several months, Abbas said in a speech to mark the anniversary of the founding of Fatah that any vote should be held in agreement with his Hamas rivals. ‘I renew the option of early elections … and I pledge that I will do my best to ensure this election will be the product of a deep and brotherly understanding’, Abbas said. ‘I urge all, Fatah and Hamas movements and all other Palestinian factions, to study this alternative and not to rush, as usual, to reject it’. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, prompting Abbas to sack a Hamas-led unity government and appoint a Fatah-backed administration in the West Bank. The rift helped pave the way for U.S.-backed talks with Israel. Abbas said after Hamas’s Gaza takeover he wanted to call early elections. But it has been several months since he talked publicly about holding a ballot although his aides have raised the possibility of snap parliamentary and presidential polls. Hamas, which won a Palestinian parliamentary vote in 2006, opposes holding elections before they are due in 2010, saying it would be unconstitutional”.

Haaretz added that Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said about Abbas’ speech that “It is full of incitement and words calling for divisions … There is no new initiative or practical step in this speech that can pave the road to start an immediate dialogue.”

The Haaretz report on Abbas’ speech on the occasion of the 1 January anniversary of the founding of Fatah is here.

YNet reported that “Abbas also took a newly conciliatory tone toward his Hamas rivals, calling for a ”new page’ in relations between the bitter enemies. ‘There is no way for any party here to be an alternative to the other, and there is no room for terms like coup or military takeover, but only for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue’, Abbas said, referring to the Islamic militant Hamas’ violent rout of his Fatah forces and takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Abbas maintained his position that Hamas must restore power in Gaza to an elected government. But he urged reconciliation and called for new elections in an effort to end the suffering the Palestinian people have endured as a result of the takeover. ‘I renew my offer for early elections here, as a way out of the hell that was imposed on us’, Abbas said Monday”… The YNet report is here.

Bush expected to visit Ramallah and Jericho on (9), 10, 11 January

It’s not yet clear what U.S. President George W. Bush will do, exactly, when he visits Israel — and the Palestinian Authority — in ten days’ time.

PalPress news agency reported from Ramallah on Sunday that “The local Palestinian newspaper Al Quds reported today that President Mahoud Abbas will send Member of the PLO Executive Committee Yasser Abd Rabo and Akram Haniyah to Washington ahead of Bush’s scheduled visit to the Palestinian territories. The newspaper pointed out that the aim behind this visit is to confirm on the Palestinian national constants regarding several issues most important of which is ceasing settlement activities which are considered the main obstacle in the way of any peace negotiations.  The two Palestinian envoys will clarify the stance of the Palestinian issues over several other issues (such as prisoners, barriers, IDs, etc) in addition to other issues expected to be discussed during Abbas – Bush meeting. Al Quds newspaper revealed that the US President George W. Bush will arrive to Israel on the ninth of January and he is scheduled to meet in the next day with President Abbas in the headquarters of the [Muqata’a] Compound of Ramallah. Bush is also expected to visit Jericho and Hisham castle, he will also inspect the Municipality Library a US sponsored project.”

Did Gazans shoot "projectile" at Israeli helicopter?

If it is found to be true that a ground-to-air attack was launched at an Israeli helicopter participating in operations over Gaza, the ramifications could be significant.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that :”On Thursday, a helicopter was almost hit by what appeared to be a projectile fired from Gaza. OC IAF Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy has assembled a team of aviation and missile experts to study the incident and try to determine whether there was a projectile – and if so, what exactly it was. Officials said the helicopter pilots had not noticed anything out of the ordinary, but televised footage of the incident showed a trail of smoke passing fairly close to a helicopter that participated in IDF operations in Gaza on Thursday”. This news was included in a story published by the Jerusalem Post here.

Uri Avnery on Yossi Beilin

Uri Avnery in his latest weekly column has taken Yossi Beilin apart, with the greatest sympathy, writing that: “MEPHISTO, the demon who bought the soul of Faust in Goethe’s monumental drama, describes himself as ‘a part of that force which always wants the bad and always creates the good’. Yossi Beilin, who resigned this week as chairman of the Meretz party, is Mephisto’s opposite: he always wants the good and all too often creates the bad”.

Avnery wrote: “THE ‘SETTLEMENT BLOCS’ provide a glaring example. It was Beilin who invented this term a dozen years ago. It was included in the unofficial understanding that became known as the ‘Beilin-Abu-Mazen agreement’. The intention was good. Beilin believed that if most settlers were concentrated in several limited areas near the Green Line, the settlers as a whole would agree to a withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank. The actual result was disastrous. The government and the settlers jumped at the opportunity. The permit of the ‘Zionist peace movement’ was displayed like a Kosher certificate on the wall of a butcher shop selling pork chops. The settlement blocs were enlarged at a frantic pace and became veritable towns, like Ma’aleh Adumim, the Etzion Bloc and Modi’in Illit. For dozens of years, the United States had insisted that all the settlements violate international law. But the approval granted to the ‘settlement blocs’ enabled President George W. Bush to change this stance and approve Israeli ‘population centers’ in the occupied territories. Haim Ramon, who in the past had been Beilin’s partner in the group of ‘eight doves’ within the Labor Party, went even further: he initiated the ‘Separation Wall’, which in practice annexes the ‘settlement blocs to Israel. But Beilin’s brilliant idea did not in the least diminish the opposition of the settlers to a withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank. On the contrary: they continue to prevent by force the dismantling of the settlement outposts, even a single tiny one. Nothing good came out of this idea. The result was totally bad”.

Avnery added: “After the 2006 elections, Beilin had another brilliant idea: to invite Avigdor Liberman to a well publicized friendly breakfast. The intention was no doubt good (even if I can’t fathom what it was) but the result was calamitous: it gave Liberman a ‘leftist’ Kosher certificate which enabled Ehud Olmert to include him in his government. After that, Meretz announced that it would not, under any circumstances, sit in a government that included Liberman. But one cannot return Rosemary’s baby to the womb of its mother. Liberman stays in the government, Meretz remains outside. Now Olmert explains to the Americans that he cannot dismantle even one settlement outpost, nor negotiate about the ‘core issues’ of the conflict, because Liberman would then bring the government coalition crashing down“.

And on and on. Avnery is horrifyingly convincing. His latest weekly column can be found in full here.

Gideon Levy reportage

Haaretz’s champion reporter of the sufferings of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, Gideon Levy, recently warned: “Don’t let the quiet fool you: It is imaginary. While all eyes are on Gaza, the impression has been created, under the aegis of a media turning a blind eye, that the West Bank is quiet. That’s where the ‘good guys’ are in charge, those with whom we went to Annapolis, those who will be getting the money from the donor nations, and life there is great, so it seems. Well, that is not the case. The lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank are also intolerable, blood is being shed there too. For the Israel Defense Forces it is business as usual, with a frighteningly quick finger on the trigger. The spirit of Annapolis and the lofty words of the prime minister do not prevail there”.

Levy wrote: “I have visited quite a few mourners’ homes in the West Bank in recent months. They were all mourning family members who had been killed for no reason. Every week, innocent people are killed in the West Bank, and nobody talks about them. Among the dozens of Palestinians killed recently, not all were Qassam launchers or gang leaders from Gaza. If a new uprising erupts in the West Bank one day, it will originate in these mourners’ homes. The daily routine in the West Bank is also patently inhumane. The night I spent last summer in the Jenin refugee camp brought that home to me: The IDF enters the camp every night, and even when it does not kill, it strikes great terror in the hearts of thousands of families, who are the victims of anxiety. There are few Israelis who can imagine the daily routine of West Bank residents, during the day and even more so at night. And we have not said a word about the poverty, the roadblocks and the home demolitions. The story of the recent killings in the West Bank is not on our agenda, because so far the Palestinians there have not responded with attacks in retaliation for these deaths. But it is not certain that this quiet will continue“.

As he always does, Levy gives several concrete examples:

Adib Salim, paralyzed on his right side, sold lupini beans. When the IDF conducted one of its raids on Nablus he dared to stick his head out. The soldiers killed him. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he threatened to shoot at the soldiers, but the paralyzed bean seller was totally incapable of doing so.

Abdel Wazir, the 71-year-old cousin of the legendary Abu Jihad, was a retired accountant. He spent a terrifying night in his home: for hours the soldiers fired next to his window, while he sat with his wife on the sofa, both of them incapacitated by fear. When the order to go outside was heard, he left his house and was immediately shot dead.

Jihad Shaar, 19, was making his way from his village, Tekua, in order to register for university. Soldiers killed him for an unexplained reason with cudgel blows and kicks, while he was waiting at the bus stop. The IDF Spokesman said that the soldiers ‘behaved appropriately’.

Mohammed Salah was a Palestinian policeman, after years of working as a tiler in the settlements. On duty, he stopped a suspicious Palestinian commercial van, which had tried to avoid the Palestinian checkpoint in Bethlehem. Salah opened the door, suspecting that the van was carrying stolen merchandise, and the IDF undercover soldiers inside shot him to death. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he tried to shoot at the soldiers, but all the eyewitnesses have rejected this version out of hand.

Firas Kaskas went for a nature hike near Ramallah, accompanied by his brother and his brother-in-law. When they noticed a herd of gazelles running down to the wadi, they stood to watch. The soldiers who suddenly appeared shot him from afar, without warning. The IDF Spokesman claimed that the soldiers thought that he was placing an explosive device in the heart of the nature reserve.

All these people were killed by the IDF in recent weeks, for no reason. Add to them Mohammed Askar from Saida, who was shot at close range during riots at Ketziot Prison; Kamela Kabha of Bartaa, an elderly woman whose son tried to rush her to the hospital in Jenin and was delayed at the Reihan checkpoint for three hours, until she died in his arms, and other incidents of killing, and you will get te true picture of Israel’s ‘peace efforts’.”

Gideon Levy’s reportage in Haaretz is here.

Akiva Eldar insights

Akiva Eldar, a senior correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who appears to spend an inordinate amount of time having discussions at the Palestinian Presidential Headquarters, the Muqata’a, in Ramallah, wrote recently that “On the eve of the trip to the Annapolis summit, a penetrating debate was held at the Muqata on the question of whether Mahmoud Abbas should participate in the George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert show. At the last moment the Palestinians discovered that the Israeli prime minister had retracted his promise that the conference document would address at least one of the core issues specifically, and in a binding manner. The opponents said that they were tired of the Israelis’ empty promises to dismantle roadblocks, evacuate outposts and be more generous about freeing prisoners. They warned that another fruitless peace gathering would be a disappointment that the Palestinian public would not be able to tolerate, and spoke about how Hamas would celebrate the farce in Annapolis. The argument that tipped the balance in the end was that without the conference in Maryland, there would be no donors conference in Paris. Economic distress overcame political distress”.

In the same article, Eldar also proffered this information: “Olmert cited political constraints as his excuse for refusing to mention the June 4, 1967 borders in the Annapolis declaration, and for refusing to commit to a time frame for concluding the negotiations. He explained that Avigdor Lieberman had threatened to take his party Yisrael Beitenu out of the government and to bring about early elections”. Akiva Eldar’s inside insights were published in Haaretz here.

Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade is dead and done for?

The JPost notes today that “Shortly after PA Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya announced Saturday that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades had ceased to exist, the group responded by distributing thousands of leaflets throughout the West Bank scoffing at the claim and vowing to continue the armed struggle against Israel”. This is in a JPost article published

Now, we are being prepared for big American criticism — at least from Rice

We are being prepared for big American criticism of Israel in the coming period.

A week ago, Haaretz reported that “The United States will conduct confidential assessments of whether Israel and the Palestinians are meeting their peacemaking commitments and share the results privately with the parties, U.S. and Western officials said. Israel has sought to keep the U.S. process of judging compliance with the long-stalled “road map” peace plan largely secret. Palestinians say they favour disclosure of judgments on whether Israel is halting all settlement activity and whether the Palestinians are curbing militants as the plan demands”. This Haaretz story added that a senior U.S. official said ” ‘We will conduct this process in confidence … our purpose will be to encourage progress, not to chastise’ the parties. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington will share the assessment results ‘with the parties, probably bilaterally, but perhaps in other formats as well. We reserve the option to be public if need arises’, the official added … A senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel may come into conflict with the United States over increased pressure by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to advance talks with the Palestinian Authority … ‘Their demands from Israel will only increase and it is not certain that we can meet them under the circumstances’, he added. The adviser said that in Vice Premier Haim Ramon’s talks with American officials, he had gone ‘too far in promising them things to please them’. Another senior government official involved in the talks also warned of expected crises with the Palestinians and the Americans. ‘Israel has created a series of far-reaching expectations in the international arena’, this official said, referring to the implementation of the first part of the road map, ‘but this is not going to happen’. ‘There is no political capability either to evacuate settlements or freeze construction in the settlements’, the second official added. According to this official, the problem will be even greater when negotiations begin on the core issues. ‘There are detailed files that include Israel’s position on the day negotiations came to a halt in 2001’, he said. ‘What will happen when they open the Jerusalem file, for example? They’ll find that Israel’s final position at Taba is light-years away from Israel’s opening position today’. ” This Haaretz report was published here.

Now, Haaretz is warning that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is losing patience with Israel: “The latest point of friction had to do with the conference of donor countries to the Palestinians that took place in Paris last week. Rice wanted to proceed from the conference to Jerusalem, to make sure that the political process hadn’t withered and died after the fanfare in Annapolis. There was a decision already. What made her change her mind and not come? One version has it that she received a message from the White House not to rush things, to give the Israelis and Palestinians some time to work things out without her. Olmert’s bureau denies that Israel intervened to block Rice’s visit. David Welch, her aide on Middle East affairs, who had visited Israel a few days before that, felt that in any event, she wouldn’t be able to achieve much with a lightning visit so soon after Annapolis. The Americans say they don’t want Rice’s visits to become just a worthless routine. It was clear that this time, nothing much could come of it. In private conversations – and as she said in Annapolis – Rice tends to compare the Israeli occupation in the territories to the racial segregation that used to be the norm in the American South. The Israel Defense Forces checkpoints where Palestinians are detained remind her of the buses she rode as a child in Alabama, which had separate seats for blacks and whites. This is an uncomfortable comparison, of course, for the Israelis, who view it as ‘over-identification’ on her part with Palestinian suffering. For some leaders of American Jewish organizations, who weren’t all that fond of Rice to begin with, her use of this image was the last straw. Rice is now marked as an enemy. It’s also easier for them to blame her, rather than the president, for an approach that’s not to their liking. But Rice’s anger at Israel really derives from more current events: She was deeply offended at the height of the Second Lebanon War, while preparing to leave for Beirut to pull together a cease-fire, when the IDF killed Lebanese civilians during the bombing of Kafr Kana. Her trip was canceled at the last minute, the war went on for more than another two weeks, and some who know her say that Rice never forgave Israel for this slap in the face. In recent months, she’s been heard grumbling about Israel’s foot-dragging in carrying out good-will gestures toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The tension became more open in connection with the Annapolis summit, say Israeli sources. Rice changed the title of the event from “an international meeting” to a “summit,” [what??? the last format was “an international meeting”] despite Israel’s express objections. She supported the Palestinian position, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in tandem with the implementation of the road map. Israel balked, and managed to win consent for ‘sequential’ implementation – that is, first a war on terror and then a Palestinian state. When the leaders met with President George W. Bush prior to the official start of the summit, Olmert said that if he had any disagreements with Rice, he would turn to the president. “You’ll get the same answer from him,” Rice said. Olmert insisted on his right to appeal to the White House. Bush listened and didn’t say anything, but officials in Washington advise that one shouldn’t attach too much importance to this silence. Bush likes Olmert, but he likes Rice a lot more. Something very serious would have to happen for the president to override her authority. And she’s smart enough not to clash with Israel without first checking with the president just how far she can go. Israel needs an unofficial channel of communication, a “Rice bypass road,” to the White House. Steve Hadley, the national security advisor, who was Rice’s deputy during Bush’s first term, is very close to her and wouldn’t operate behind her back. And there is no Jewish leader in the Republican Party who, like Max Fisher in the past, has sufficient enough influence to just phone up the president and quietly take care of things. Most Jewish Republicans who have a degree of access to the White House are not fans of the political process, and some are busy promoting the campaign against a division of Jerusalem, an effort that Olmert perceives as a personal campaign against him and in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu. Which basically leaves Olmert as the guy who can communicate with Bush. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is maintaining her own channel of communication with her American counterpart, even if it appears that their initial mutual infatuation has faded. At the Prime Minister’s Office, the focus is now on Bush’s January 9th visit. Expected to top the agenda is the Iranian threat and the ramifications of the American intelligence report that said Iran is not planning to develop a military nuclear capability. On the Palestinian issue, those in Olmert’s circle believe that Bush will make do with some nice words and not bug his hosts with demands to evacuate outposts and remove checkpoints. Rice will have to deal with these troubles after Bush goes back home. And she apparently has every intention of doing so …Rice’s exasperation with Israel’s behavior stems primarily from the gap between expectations and results, and from the fast-dwindling time she has left on the seventh floor of the U.S. State Department. Rice thinks that Israel received a lot and didn’t give anything in return. As she sees it, the Bush administration gave Israel two important gifts in the president’s April, 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon: implied recognition of the settlement blocs, and a demand that the refugees return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. But Israel isn’t responding with the proper counter-gestures. Here, however, they say that Rice received plenty and that she ought to be more patient. After all, within a month, Israel went to the major political event in Annapolis, and then the donor countries agreed to give the PA even more than she asked for. That’s not bad for such a short time. What’s her big rush? The problem is that Rice embarked on this campaign in the belief that she would succeed in cutting the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She hoped that in Annapolis principles would be set down for a final-status accord, but Israel told her that wasn’t going to happen. She thinks that the PA is making satisfactory progress with the reform of its security forces, while officials in Israel say she’s exaggerating and that the reform is still very far from accomplishing anything. She wanted to Israel to make more good-will gestures, but the Israelis remind here that this will be hard to do as long as Qassam rockets continue to fall on Sderot. She wanted to see outposts evacuated, and in Israel they blew her off, citing the danger it would pose to the coalition. Whether Israel likes it or not, it has been cast in the role of the obstacle, as the one putting the brakes on – while Abbas and his prime minister Salam Fayyad are seen as the ones who want to make progress … And still, Rice’s people ask: Not even one outpost? One little pre-fab? Rice is right in saying that Israel is not making good on its commitment on this matter, but in Israel they say that fulfilling the obligation would sabotage more important moves. Will the coalition’s stability endure when the government tries to evacuate outposts, or to make serious progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians? Rice wants to believe that the answer is yes, but no one in Israel is willing to bet on it. The word in Olmert’s bureau is that the coalition relies on the distinction between ‘theory and deed’. As long as we’re only talking with the Palestinians, everyone can sit comfortably in their cabinet seats. But a forceful evacuation of settlers, or far-reaching understandings with Abbas, could upset the partnership with Lieberman and Shas. Olmert is well aware of this, and prefers to maintain the coalition and the government over making any serious moves in the territorie
s. For Rice to understand this too, however, she’ll have to be convinced each time anew”. This article was published in Haaretz here.

This is a very strange argument — why is Rice supposed to understand that pressures from opposition political parties in Israel will prevent the Prime Minister from honestly suing for peace with Palestinians?

Rice would be right if she sees the pursuit of honest negotiations as more important than maintaining the present political configuration in Israel — though the boogeyman threat being held out is that if Olmert goes, whoever comes in, and whatever new coalition will be formed, will be worse.

But this, of course, leads to a damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you-don’t scenario … and in either version the Israeli politicians say they face constraints on sincere efforts to conclude a peace.

Amira Hass: the negotiations are only virtual

Haaretz’ veteran correspondent Amira Hass wrote on Thursday that “The negotiations over the future of our land, from the sea to the river, and the two peoples living in it, are proceeding along two parallel channels. It has been that way since the Madrid and Oslo talks for 17 years now. One channel is between the Palestinians and Israelis – such as Tuesday’s meeting in Jerusalem between chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The other is being conducted between the Israelis and themselves … The Palestinians have declared that they are not retreating from the international resolutions regarding a solution (for example the June 4, 1967 borders), and are demanding an immediate end to construction in the settlements. The Israelis are demanding that the Palestinians fight terror. The talk is the same as it was nine and 12 years ago, which makes the current negotiations virtual only. The real progress is in the intra-Israeli channel. In these negotiations, the future of more than 10 percent of the West Bank has already been decided: the area west of the separation fence/wall … It seems that in the intra-Israeli negotiations the size of the enclaves of the prospective Palestinian state overlap more and more with the land registered as privately owned with the Civil Administration. In the intra-Israeli negotiations, the boundaries of the concessions over Jerusalem have also been drawn: After Israel took most of the available, unoccupied land of the Palestinian villages and neighborhoods to prevent them from expanding and to create its own settlements – called neighborhoods – Israel agreed to relinquish the residents. The land to us, the people to the Palestinian Authority. And the world will glorify Israel for its willingness to compromise and tear from its heart holy parts such as Anata and Kafr A’qab. Despite domestic opposition, the eternal representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and PA – Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qureia and Saeb Erekat – continue to take part in these virtual negotiations. On Tuesday, following a meeting with Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee warned that continued settlement construction is likely to wreck the negotiations. The warning may have been for internal consumption only, but similar alarms were sounded in 1996 and 2000. Israelis dismissed them in the belief that the participation by senior Palestinian officials in the virtual negotiations is what counted. To the Palestinian public, the warnings did not sound hollow. It is impossible to predict how the Palestinian people will interpret the warnings this time around, and whether they will see them as a signal that they have the right to explode in anger once again over their continuing dispossession from their lands and future”. Amira Hass’ commentary on the negotiations is published here.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian negotiator's bodyguard near Ramallah

Just hours after a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem, Israeli forces shot and killed Mu’tasem Sharif, a bodyguard of the head of the Palestinian negotiating team Ahmed Qureia (Abu Alaa’) in his home in the village of Beitunia, near Ramallah. Haaretz reported today that “The IDF said that Sharif opened fire on soldiers during an arrest operation, and they responded in kind, killing him … Sharif was suspected of smuggling weapons to Fatah’s military wing” … This Haaretz report is posted here.

Haaretz later posted an updated story reporting that “Israel has been limiting its operations in the West Bank, ruled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as it negotiates a peace agreement with Abbas’s moderate government … Late Thursday, the Israeli military sent a team into a suburb of Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ government, to arrest one of Qureia’s bodyguards, a member of the Palestinian security forces who the military said was implicated in armed activity against Israel and had provided weapons to other militants. ‘He opened fire at troops and they fired back, killing him’, the IDF said. Palestinian security officials denied that the bodyguard, 23-year-old Mu’tasem Sharif fired at troops … The raid went ahead despite Israel’s decision to largely stop pursuing members of Abbas’ Fatah movement, which Israel is seeking to strengthen against its rivals, the Islamic militants of Hamas”. This Haaretz story is posted here.

The Palestinian independent news agency Ma’an reported that “Undercover Israeli forces killed a body guard assigned to protect the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, former Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei, in the West Bank town of Beituniya, near Ramallah on Friday morning. Medical sources confirmed that the victim was twenty-three-year-old Mu’tasim Ash-Sharif, an officer in the Palestinian Presidential Guards, the elite 17 Forces and one of Qurei’s personal guards. Witnesses said the undercover Israeli soldiers stormed Ash-Sharif’s house in Beituniya and shot him. The witnesses said Ash-Sharif did not resist his attackers. Ash-Sharif died in an ambulance en route to the government hospital in Ramallah. Ash-Sharif was not considered ‘wanted’ by Israel”…

Qureia later reportedly condemned the killing — though rather coolly. AP reported that “Qureia, a former Palestinian prime minister, condemned the operation. Israel is trying to hinder progress in talks ‘by doing the opposite of its commitments and pledges to the international community, the most dangerous of which is the continuous assassinations of Palestinian fighters’, he said in a statement Friday”. This AP report is published here.

Before the killing, Ma’an News Agency reported that “Qurei told the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper that negotiations have become possible after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to stick to the Road Map peace plan during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday. Olmert pledged not to undermine the peace process, but stopped short of promising a complete halt on expansion of illegal West Bank settlements. New construction at the Jabal Abu Ghnaim settlement, known as Har Homa in Israel, near Bethlehem, has threatened to derail the negotiation. Qurei said the Israeli pledges were satisfactory to the Palestinians. He also said that Israel promised to consider reopening the closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem gradually. Abbas and Olmert tackled the issue of changing the Israeli standards for the release Palestinian prisoners, Qurei said”. Ma’an reported that Qureia said Israel pledged that it would reexamine rules that prohibit the release of certain prisoners, including those who Israel says have “blood on their hands”.

Hours later, it was announced that Israel had agreed to release 50 armored vehicles donated by Russia to be delivered to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. However, Israel will not permit gun turrets to be mounted on the armored vehicles. Palestinian Information Minister and acting Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that the Palestinians would take the armored vehicles without mounted guns for the moment, and pursue the matter at some more appropriate time in the future.