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PRESS RELEASE

Released @ 09.00 hours GMT 29th April 1997

Tensions Raised in the Gaza Strip by Israeli Settler Provocations

Since 23rd April 1997 Palestinian citizens have been confronted with yet another Israeli provocation. An Israeli settler, has been attempting to take Palestinian land in Al Mawasi area, west of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, and he has done so with the protection of Israeli military guard. Since 25th April Palestinian residents of Al Mawasi and Khan Younis have staged a sit-in near the threatened piece of land. This provocation contributes to the already tense atmosphere which exists throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), as a result of a series of provocative Israeli actions and policies and the deadlock in the peace process. The Palestinian Centre calls on the international community to intervene to defuse the situation before it spirals out of control, leading to renewed violence in the region. A massive peaceful gathering has been planned to take place today at the site, which will be attended by thousands of Palestinians from around the Gaza Strip.

Reconstruction of Events in Al Mawasi Area

Around 10.00am local time (08.00 hours GMT) on Wednesday 23rd April, a settler called Amos who resides in Kfar Yam settlement (part of the Gush Qatif settlement complex), used his bulldozer to surround a nearby five dunam piece of land with sand dunes and electricity pilons under the auspices and with the protection of Israeli soldiers who usually guard the settlement.

Palestinian citizens and eyewitnesses immediately informed the commanding officer of the Palestinian side of the Joint District Co-ordination Office (DCO) of the Joint Regional Security Committee, Lieutenant-Colonel Khalid Abu Al Ola, about the settler provocations. Abu Al Ola states that he sought his Israeli counter-part in order to suggest to him that they go to investigate. According to the Oslo Agreements Palestinian security officials cannot go into the Yellow areas (including Al Mawasi), which are under Israeli security jurisdiction, without an Israeli patrol. His counter-part could not be found but six hours later his counter-part’s deputy,

Major Zidan, arrived and Lieutenant-Colonel Abu Al Ola suggested that they go to the scene. Major Zidan refused.

Around 3.00pm on 24th April the Mayor of Khan Younis, Dr Osama Al Farra and members of the municipal council went to the area with two bulldozers and flattened the sand dunes. Israeli

soldiers attempted to prevent them from doing so and scuffles broke out between the soldiers, the Mayor, the council members and citizens of Khan Younis. Shortly thereafter Israeli military reinforcements arrived with six tanks and a number of military jeeps transporting around 200 soldiers, including Major Zidan of the DCO. Major Zidan himself commenced firing at the wheels of the Palestinian bulldozers and succeeded in immobilising them. He was then involved in scuffles with the Mayor of Khan Younis and his deputy. Israeli soldiers fired in the air and near the feet of Palestinian citizens to force them back from the area. Meanwhile an Israeli bulldozer rebuilt the sand dunes around the five dunams of land.

Israeli soldiers subsequently closed the military checkpoint which is situated on the only road between Al Mawasi and Khan Younis, imposing a military siege on the area; a new military checkpoint was established between the Al Mawasi area and the beach. Israeli soldiers prevented the Palestinian residents of Al Mawasi from returning to their homes, including 300 children returning from primary and elementary school. They arrested the Palestinians who drove the bulldozers, Samir Al Majaida and Tawfiq Al Laham.

The Mayor of Khan Younis made contact with the PNA; General Abd Al Razaq Al Majaia and a number of other Palestinian senior officers arrived at the scene and they negotiated with the Israeli side until 21.00 hours local time. The Palestinian side demanded the following:

i. the release of the two bulldozer drivers;

ii. the flattening of the sand dunes and a return to the status quo of before the morning of the 23rd April;

iii. the re-opening of the road between Al Mawasi and Khan Younis;

iv. a cessation in provocative Israeli activities at the checkpoint on this road;

v. the removal of the military checkpoint newly established on the beach.

No agreement was reached and both sides drove to DCO headquarters in Khan Younis; after long negotiations which ended at midnight, the Israeli side agreed to the following:

i. the release of the drivers;

ii. the re-opening of the road to Al Mawasi;

iii. the removal of the military checkpoint established on the beach.

However the causal factor of the crisis, the attempt to steal the five dunams of Palestinian land was postponed until Tuesday 29th April.

On 25th April, Khan Younis municipality councillors and residents of Al Mawasi established a camp and staged a peaceful sit-in close to the five dunams. Israeli soldiers attempted to remove them and but the demonstrators refused to leave. Israeli soldiers then set off sound bombs and fired rounds into the air to scare them. By the date of publication around two hundred Palestinians remain at the sit-in, including the Mayor of Khan Younis, council members, community leaders, members of the Legislative Council and senior officials from the PNA. A large sit-in involving thousands of Palestinians from all over the Gaza Strip will take place during the negotiations for the five dunams today, 29th April.

Background to Kfar Yam

Kfar Yam is located on the Khan Younis beach and was established on public land. In 1964 during the Egyptian Administration, 15 cabins were built on the land by the Khan Younis municipality which gave a permanent leasehold over the cabins to two Palestinians from Khan Younis (one had 10 the other 5) for rental.

In 1971 the Israeli Government took over the land from the municipality and demanded rent payment from the Khan Younis municipality. In 1982 one settler, took control of five of these cabins, with Israeli military protection, and established a settlement over an area of 40 dunams and called it Kfar Yam. In 1983 Israeli authorities refused to renew the leasehold to Khan Younis municipality. Palestinians renting the cabins were informed that they had been rented out to the Israeli Regional Settlements Council and they were ordered to vacate. The Palestinians who had the leasehold over the land went to Israeli courts and sought unsuccessfully to have the land returned to them.

Although Kfar Yam is officially inhabited by less than 10 people, recent fieldwork information states that the settlement is inhabited by one settler only, called Amos, who lives alone and receives visitors from time to time. He owns over 20 dogs which run free in the compound of the settlement acting as guards dogs. The settlement has a strong Israeli military guard.

Conclusion

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights calls on the international community to intervene to prevent further deterioration in the situation in the Gaza Strip. We believe that the Israeli Government bears sole responsibility for any consequences of the forceful taking of Palestinian land for illegal settlement. The Centre warns Israeli authorities against the use of force against Palestinians who are involved in the peaceful sit-in.