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.