On February 16, President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning for the deaths of five children and one teacher in a terrible road accident near the Jaba’ checkpoint outside of Ramallah. The children from the Nur Al Huda kindergarten in Anata were on a fieldtrip to a Ramallah when their bus collided with a passing truck on the Jaba’-Hizma road between Ramallah and Jerusalem. The bus flipped over and minutes later, burst into flames. Thirty-nine others were injured, mostly from burns.
The tragedy, which shocked a nation, also brought into question the shortcomings of safety on roads, the speed in which rescue teams arrived at the scene and the fact that the accident occurred in Area C under Israeli control. President Abbas ordered flags to be flown at half-mast and visited the injured children at the Ramallah Medical Complex, declaring those deceased as “martyrs of Palestine.”
The President received telephone calls and messages of condolences from world representatives, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and the US, British and Russian consuls. Palestinians were taken aback by the publication of racist and hate-filled messages on Israeli websites, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Facebook page. Messages like “Thank God, they are Palestinian…I hope there is a bus like this every day” and “Great news to start the weekend with” were published on various social network pages.
The day of the “Jaba’ tragedy” also saw the death of another child, 15-year old Khalil Hasasneh who was hit by a truck that slipped off the road from bad weather conditions and struck him. The boy died instantly.
On February 18, Egyptian authorities announced that they would provide fuel for Gaza’s defunct power station, which shut down days ago, on February 14. Since then, Gaza has run on no more than six hours of electricity a day, which has put hundreds of patients in life-threatening situations in Gaza’s hospitals. Gaza officials have declared a state of emergency and called on international parties to help end the electricity crisis.
In other news, prisoner Khader Adnan continues with his hunger strike from his hospital bed in Safad, entering his 63rd day. Adnan’s wife, father and two daughters visited him on February 15 and said he was in mortal danger but refused to end his strike. Randa, Adnan’s wife, said she knew her husband would not relent until his administrative detention is ended, saying she expected the worst. Adnan continues to be shackled to the bed and has not been allowed to shower or change his clothes since the start of his hunger strike in mid-December.
A doctor from the Israeli-based Physicians for Human Rights visited Adnan on February 14 said the prisoner was under a direct threat of death because his muscles were deteriorating and his heart and stomach were under threat of disintegrating. The doctor also said his immune system could cease to function and that he could have a heart attack “at any moment.”
Appeals for Adnan’s release have grown louder throughout the week, especially after an Israeli military judge ordered the instatement of Adnan’s four-month administrative detention on February 13. Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe’ called the order an Israeli decision to kill Adnan.
Demonstrations, protests and sit-ins have increased in the Palestinian territories in support of Adnan throughout the week, with a 5,000 strong protest taking place in Gaza on February 17. “We are all Khader Adnan,” the protesters from the main political parties chanted in the demonstration.
On February 17, Amnesty International began circulating a petition in solidarity with Adnan. The petition calls on the Israeli minister of defense to, “Immediately release Adnan and others held in administrative detention, or immediately charge and try them for internationally recognizable criminal offences in full conformity with international fair trial standards.”
The Palestinian Authority has also called for international intervention to save Adnan’s life. President Abbas has ordered urgent contacts with relevant world bodies to convince Israel to release Adnan, who has put Israel’s policy of administrative detention in the spotlight.
In other news, on February 15, Fateh’s Revolutionary Council decided unanimously to nominate President Mahmoud Abbas in the upcoming elections even though the President has said repeatedly that he would not run again. On February 17, the Council’s General Secretary Amin Maqbul said that while the decision was “organizationally binding” the final decision would be Abbas’.
Hamas meanwhile, said it has ended all internal disputes over the Doha Agreement for reconciliation and that the movement will rally behind politburo chief Khaled Meshaal. Hamas was previously split over the agreement with some in the party opposing it including Hamas’ parliamentary bloc, Reform and Change. The bloc said that it’s only request would be to amend the law to allow Abbas to also serve as prime minister in the interim government.
Abbas meanwhile, is dealing yet another card to put pressure on Israel. On February 14, he announced that the Palestinian leadership “could not accept the status quo” of being an “Authority without authority” and said he would send letters to the UN and to Netanyahu outlining his conditions for returning to negotiations. Abbas added that Israel’s actions had made the two-state solution “impossible.”
Meanwhile, Israel is blaming Iran for the string of attacks on Israeli targets on February 13 and 14 in India, Georgia and Thailand while Tehran has vehemently denied involvement.
On the ground, Israeli airstrikes continued in Gaza. On February 16, 11 people were injured including two children. On February 11, 72-year old Abdel Kareem Zaytouna was killed east of Gaza City and 30 injured in Israeli strikes.
Settlers also caused havoc in the West Bank this week. On February 16, Israeli settlers burned a car and wrote anti-Arab graffiti on the walls of the Nabi Elias village near Qalqilya.
On February 11, eight residents of Yatta near Hebron were injured when settlers from the Susiya settlement attacked them while planting olive saplings in 20 dunams of agricultural land near the settlement. The settlers uprooted the saplings and beat the residents who were joined by international and Israeli peace activists.
On February 13, Israeli forces demolished homes in the Hebron district providing shelter for 13 families and leveled a playground in the Silwan quarter of Wadi Hilwah for the sake of the so-called National Gardens.
Finally, on February 12, dozens of Palestinians headed to the Aqsa Mosque to foil an attempt by Likud members to break into the compound. The Likud called on its members to flock to the Mosque to begin construction of the Temple but were stopped by Israeli security services from entering.
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