France, US to discuss Palestinian conflict as Israel steps up security
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his US counterpart John Kerry were due to discuss the worst unrest the Palestinian territories have seen in years on Wednesday as the Israeli government announced the creation of roadblocks and deployment of army reinforcements. Intended to stop attacks on Israeli civilians, the new measures have raised doubts over whether they can contain the anger of Palestinians.
“France asks that there is action, not only from the two countries Palestine and Israel, who need to work together, but an international framework to negotiate peace,” Fabius said ahead of talks with Kerry.
Following an all-night cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced measures including security checkpoints and roadblocks around Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and army reinforcements around the country.
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said a number of Palestinians who allegedly attacked Israeli civilians would have their residency rights cancelled.
“Nineteen attackers from east Jerusalem – I think that is the number more or less – will have their residency cancelled,” Shalom told public radio. “They are no longer residents of Israel and will not be able to receive all the privileges.”
Other cabinet ministers added proposals to bar families of alleged attackers from receiving welfare benefits and to ease restrictions for Israelis to possess firearms.
Seven Israelis and 31 Palestinians have died in two weeks of violence including stabbing attacks, shootings and security crackdowns.
Palestinian officials denounced the government’s strongest clampdown in a decade as collective punishment for acts of a very few.
Human Rights Watch said the roadblocks around Palestinian neighbourhoods were a “recipe for harassment and abuse” that would “infringe upon the freedom of movement of all Palestinian residents”.
“Certainly police have to protect Israeli civilians,” said Sari Bashi, the group’s Israel/Palestine country director. “But they need to find the measures tailored to address the threat, and do not affect tens of thousand of people, most of whom need to travel through different parts of Jerusalem and Israel for work, services and family visits.”
Human Rights Watch fears that the new measures will have a detrimental effect on Palestinians in general.
“This kind of uprising is something many have been worrying about for years,” Bashi said. “I am in no way justifying it: the attacks against Israeli civilians need to stop. But at the same time, we also need to take a look at the root causes.”
The current unrest grew out of last month’s heated protests at the city’s al Aqsa mosque compound, which Palestinians believe Israel is seeking to appropriate, and has now boiled over into violent confrontations between angry Palestinians and Israeli security forces around the West Bank.
There are also concerns the security measures will only add to deep-seated frustration among Palestinians, who have seen years of peace talks fail to deliver statehood and put a stop to settlement building in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“I think the realisation that Oslo is a complete failure has finally sunk in,” said Lubnah Shomali of the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, in reference to the Oslo Accords, which were to provide a framework for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate an end to the conflict.
“More lands are being taken, more colonies, illegal settlements are being built, more human rights violations and war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians are being committed by the Israeli regime,” Shomali said. “Oslo has done nothing to stop now or even diminish from it, so the situation now is much worse than it was in the early Oslo years.”
Shomali was one of thousands of people who attended the funeral of Moataz Zawahra, a 28-year-old resident of the Dheishes refugee camp who died in clashes in Bethlehem on Wednesday.
“What I saw at the procession […] was that there would be no more tolerance for the spill of Palestinian blood, and that it’s time for Israel to be held accountable for what it has done and what it is doing,” Shomali said.
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