The Muslim month of Ramadan began on July 20 with an estimated 100,000 worshippers flocking to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday noon prayers. Israeli military checkpoints, especially the Qalandiya checkpoint were clogged up with West Bank Palestinians eager to cross into Jerusalem. Israeli authorities earlier announced they would ease restrictions on Palestinians during the month of Ramadan including allowing Palestinians over the age of 40 to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque area on Fridays and on Laylat al-Qadr, while men and women between 35-40 would require a special permit.
Furthermore, Palestinians will be allowed to visit relatives of first and second degree inside Israel including children under 16, while up to 200 people will be allowed to travel abroad via Israel’s international airport.
And while Palestinian Muslims began their month-long fast between sunrise and sunset, Akram Rikhawi, the diabetic prisoner who is protesting his continued imprisonment in Israeli jail, hit 100 days without food. Rikhawi was arrested in 2004 and has served eight of a nine-year sentence. According to Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe on July 20, that Rekhawi is in mortal danger after losing more than 33 kilograms. He currently weighs only 40 kilograms, according to Qaraqe.
Also perhaps as one of Israel’s “good will gestures”, the Israeli roadblock at the northern entrance to Jericho which was set up 12 years ago was removed on July 21, said governor of Jericho and the Jordan Valley Majid al-Fityani. Al-Fityani said Israeli bulldozers removed the cement and dirt barricades near an-Nuweima village allowing Palestinian vehicles to use the road.
Israel was certainly not all about good will gestures though. On July 18, Israeli occupation authorities demolished a Silwan building dating back 100 years belonging to Muntasir Sirhan under the pretext of not having the proper licensing. Another room in the house was used for sheep and birds, which were all confiscated by Israeli forces. On July 19, an Old City resident demolished a room in his home with his own hands to avoid Israeli municipality fines if they were to demolish it.
On July 17, Palestinians were up in arms over statements made by Israeli legal advisor Yehuda Feinstein, who said Al Aqsa Mosque was part of Israeli territory. He said the mosque should be subject to Israeli law, including antiquities laws and laws regarding building and planning, something which Palestinian and Muslim officials call a provocation and dangerous precedent, saying the Aqsa has always been and will remain a holy Muslim site as determined by God.
This week also saw meetings between Palestinian officials and newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi. On July 18, President Mahmoud Abbas met with Mursi, briefing him on latest developments in the peace process with Israel and discussing Palestinian reconciliation efforts. Mursi expressed his country’s willingness to aid the process as much as possible, saying the Palestinian cause was a national interest for Egypt too.
On day later, on July 19, Mursi met with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal. The latter hailed Mursi’s election as the start of a “new era” for Egypt and the Palestinians. Meshaal and Mursi discussed the reconciliation, the siege on Gaza and ways to ensure that Gaza gets the gas and petroleum it needs.
“We have entered a new era in Palestine’s relationship with Egypt, the big sister and the leader of the Arab nation,” Meshaal said.
Back in Palestine, Israeli authorities released PLC Speaker Aziz Dweik on July 19 along with Hamas leader Jaafar Izz Ad-Din, who spent 56 days on hunger strike.
The two were met bet by Palestinian citizens and lawmakers at the Beit Sira checkpoint where they were dropped off by Israeli prison services. Israeli forces detained the Dweik in January at the Jabaa checkpoint while he was leaving Ramallah and placed him under administrative detention for six months.
On a more positive note, however, relatives of 26 prisoners from Gaza were allowed to visit their sons in Israeli prison for the first time in six years. The visits come as part of the deal between prisoners and Israeli prison services that resulted in the end of the mass hunger strike in May.
Israel took a blow on July 18 when six Israelis and one Bulgarian were killed in a suicide bombing on a tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, injuring dozens of others. Israel is pointing fingers at Hizbullah and Iran. The United States has come to the same conclusion with Pentagon source saying that although they have no certain proof, the operation bears the “hallmarks of Hizbullah.” A day later, US President Barak Obama did not lose time in supporting Israel in the aftermath of the operation. “I want everybody here to know under my administration, we haven’t just preserved the unbreakable bond with Israel, we have strengthened it,” he told an audience in Florida, during his campaign trail.
“This is a moment of great uncertainty in the Middle East. Now is the time to make sure that we do everything we can to protect Israel’s security,” he said.
Apparently that means strip searching Palestinian journalists at press conferences. On July 16, a group of Palestinian journalists refused to attend a press conference by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem after Israel’s Shin Bet security service demanded they be strip searched. The journalists said the same measures did not apply to Israeli or international journalists. The US consulate gave a feeble explanation to the complaint, saying the measure was upon insistence by Israeli security, which they could not overrule.
On July 17, to the condemnation of the PA and several rights organizations, the deposed government in Gaza executed three men convicted of murder. The PA says the executions were in contravention to Palestinian law, which requires the personal approval of the President, something which Hamas did not acquire.
Finally, on Saudi 16, Saudi Arabia pledged to transfer $100 million to the PA treasury. The money is to be used to alleviate the PA financial crisis including paying PA employee salaries.