1) The Bloody Battle of Bethlehem (by Robert Fisk)
2) U.S. Renews Truce Effort With Arafat (AP)
3) 2 Palestinian Militia Leaders Killed (AP)
4) Suspicion and fear stalk streets of Bethlehem (Reuters)
5) Protesters across Mideast vent anger at Israel, US (Reuters)
6) Egyptians protest against Israel at Friday prayers (Reuters)
7) Thousands of Jordanians stage anti-Israel protests (Reuters)
8) Lebanon protests back Palestinians, blast Arabs (Reuters)
9) Thousands join Bangladesh protest over Middle East (Reuters)
10) Heavy West Bank death toll as Bush plea ignored (Reuters)
11) BRINGING NON-VIOLENCE TO THE WEST BANK (alternet)
12) VIOLENCE AND EXCUSES IN THE MIDEAST (alternet)
13) THE MADNESS OF ARIEL SHARON (alternet)
14) A RIGHTWING BLUEPRINT FOR THE MIDDLE EAST(alternet)
15) UNDER SIEGE (DemocracyNow!)
16) U.S. ENVOY ANTHONY ZINNI MEETS WITH YASSER ARAFAT (DemocracyNow!)
17) THE GREAT EQUIVOCATOR: PRESIDENT BUSH CHANGES COURSE -- OR DOESN'T HE? (DemocracyNow!)
Jerusalem: Rotting bodies in Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers surrounding Palestinian civilians and militiamen in the place of Christ's birth, unburied corpses in Ramallah - Israel's latest war is turning into a human and political tragedy on a vast scale as the last physical symbols of the Oslo peace agreement are destroyed.
For two days, the suicide bombers have been silent. But the coming weeks will decide the future of the Holy Land for years to come.
If the Church of the Nativity is now a battleground, what is sacred any longer? The details are as indistinct as the smoke that still rises close to Manger Square, but Christian officials speak of at least 100 Palestinian civilians seeking the sanctuary of the church that marks the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born in a stable.
With them, it seems, are at least 10 Palestinian militiamen from the Tanzim movement. The Israeli army has surrounded the church with tanks. According to the Israelis, the Tanzim men have opened fire on the occupying soldiers. The Palestinians denied it.
But no one can deny the carnage elsewhere. Take the phone call I received from Sami Abda yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday, he told me, Israeli soldiers arrived at his house in the centre of Bethlehem and, despite being warned by a neighbour that his home was filled with women and children, opened fire on the building. The Israelis claimed that "terrorists'' were in the house.
Sami Abda was crying as he spoke to me and these are his exact words: "They fired 18 bullets through our front door. They hit my mother, Sumaya, and my brother Jacoub. My mother was 64, my brother was 37. They both fell to the floor. I called everyone I could to take them to the hospital. But there was no one to help us. They were dying. When an ambulance came, an Israeli officer refused permission for it to enter our street. So for 30 hours, we have lived with their bodies. We put the children into the bathroom so they could not see the corpses. Help us, please.''
But that insistent question - What is sacred? - could be asked again by anyone who read The Jerusalem Post this week: a whole page of tiny photographs of the dozens of Israeli civilians torn to pieces by Palestinian suicide bombers in just one month. One teenage Israeli girl was the same age as the Palestinian girl who destroyed her life. It was a page of horror and misery.
And, yes, war compounds human tragedy. Even as Sami Abda was trying to shield his own children from their grandmother's and uncle's blood, a young female doctor was shot dead inside her home in Jenin as 30 Israeli tanks smashed into the northern West Bank city to be met by fusillades of gunfire from Palestinians.
They invaded Salfat, too, and hundreds of tanks last night invaded the ancient city of Nablus, with its Palestinian Authority officers and kasbah of narrow streets.
In Ramallah, the hospital authorities - tired of waiting for Israeli permission to bury the dead - interred the corpses of 25 Palestinians that had been decaying in the mortuary for four days.
Palestinians are demanding an inquiry - there will be none, of course - into the killing of five policemen gunned down by Israeli soldiers in a tiny Ramallah room. A gun battle, said the Israelis. But the bullets that killed them all appeared to have been fired at close-range and at least two of the men were in their mid-50s.
More than 1,000 prisoners have now been taken away by the Israelis and, except for a dozen or so, no one knows where they have been taken or if they are alive. A group of several dozen were transported to a Jewish settlement before being taken away yet again.
So is the State of Israel crushing any hope of a state of Palestine? A tiny flower of hope came in the cold and rain at the Kalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah yesterday, when Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and a few of the Western protesters, whose courage has gone sadly unrecognised, arrived to demand peace and an end to Israeli occupation.
There is life after war. But will there be a Palestine? Will
the world, through this Israeli reoccupation, see Palestine as it saw Bosnia
or Kosovo or East Timor?
Hanan Ashrawi, one of the few credible Palestinian figures, is also one of the few sane voices in the war. Exhausted, bags below her eyes, keeping herself awake with scalding coffee, she spoke to me with an air of resignation in Jerusalem.
"The Oslo agreement is being deconstructed, deliberately," she said. "Sharon is being obsessively consistent. He always said he wanted the destruction of the Oslo agreement. This reoccupation was planned many months ago.
"But Sharon lacks the ability to assess the ramifications of his actions. His attempts to destroy Arafat have backfired. He has made Arafat more legitimate among Palestinians.
"Everyone - the left, the right, the centre, the radicals, the Islamists - have now rallied behind him. So don't expect anyone to propose another Palestinian leader.''
Could this be true, that Yasser Arafat's weakness is turning
into his strength, that Ariel Sharon's military power is turning into a weakness?
For if the Israeli army is achieving the astonishing success it claims, why
does it not want journalists to witness this great victory? As the Europeans,
the UN Security Council and the Arab League were all deliberating on this
turning point in Middle Eastern history, the world's last colonial war - between
a settlement-planting nation and an occupied people - was entering its gravest
RAMALLAH, West Bank (April 6) - Breaking Yasser Arafat's isolation, a U.S. envoy met with the Palestinian leader at his tank-encircled headquarters Friday on the bloodiest day of fighting since the beginning of the week-old Israeli military offensive.
At least 40 Palestinians - including the suspected mastermind of a Passover attack that triggered the offensive - died Friday and early Saturday as gunmen and Israeli forces fought in Nablus, Tubas and Jenin in the West Bank. At least two Israeli soldiers also died.
In advance of a planned visit to the region next week by Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah for a 90-minute meeting with Arafat at his battered, encircled compound.
Arafat has been confined to a few rooms in his headquarters by Israeli troops since last Friday. Zinni was the first senior American official to meet with him during his confinement.
Arafat told Zinni that the Palestinians support a cease-fire deal negotiated last year by CIA chief George Tenet, according to his deputy Mahmoud Abbas. Israel and the Palestinians have been at odds over the timetable for implementing the agreement.
Ramallah has been declared a closed military zone by Israel, and Israeli troops fired stun grenades from close range at about two dozen journalists who were outside Arafat's compound trying to cover the meeting.
Jerome Marcantetti, a cameraman with the LCI news channel of French broadcaster TF1, was slightly injured when he said an Israeli soldier fired at him after ordering him to leave an area 200 yards from the Church of the Nativity where he was filming Israeli armored personnel carriers. Marcantetti said X-rays showed a bullet fragment in his right thigh.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops and tanks pushed into Tubas in the northern West Bank on Friday despite a strongly worded appeal by President Bush on Thursday to stop the offensive. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer vowed, ''We are finishing the operation we started.''
Some intelligence officials have said the operation could last eight weeks, while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has said the offensive would run about three to four weeks. However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has insisted the campaign was open-ended.
New violence on the northern border with Lebanon raised concerns that Israel could find itself bogged down on two fronts. The Lebanese government, trying to stem intensifying clashes along the frontier, said it seized a ready-to-fire Katyusha rocket and arrested nine Palestinian militants.
The day's heaviest fighting came in the northern West Bank town of Nablus, where smoke from burning vehicles and buildings filled the air as Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships fought pitched battles with hundreds of Palestinian gunmen. Houses in the Balata refugee camp and the winding alleyways of the casbah, or old city, were peppered with heavy machine gun fire.
Israeli rockets rained on the city's eastern market district, destroying hundreds of shops and stalls, witnesses said. Gunmen at one point holed up in a small shampoo factory, which was demolished by rockets while civilians living nearby cowered in their homes.
Four more Palestinians were gunned down early Saturday at the Askar refugee camp near Nablus - the West Bank's biggest city - as they were placing explosives on the road to the camp, the military said.
In a failed suicide attack, the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, Nasser Awais, died when explosives strapped to his body went off prematurely in Nablus, said Abu Mujahed, a spokesman of the militia group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Al Aqsa has claimed responsibility for scores of shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis over the past 18 months of conflict.
A 22-year-old man, Jamil Arboudi, blew himself up in a suicide attack that injured or killed four Israeli troops in Nablus, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade said.
In the town of Tubas, the scene of the latest Israeli incursion, Israeli troops trapped six Palestinian gunmen in a house and then riddled their hide-out with tank shells and missiles fired from helicopters, killing them all, witnesses said.
Later, Palestinian sources confirmed reports identifying the six as members of the militant group Hamas. One of them was Qeis Odwan, who Israel TV called the mastermind of a March 27 attack at a Seder, or ritual meal, at the start of the Passover holiday.
Israelis bulldozed the building afterward and made people living nearby leave, witnesses said. Troops left the town soon afterward, they said.
Among the Palestinians killed in fighting Friday was a 14-year-old girl who had gone out onto her balcony in Tubas to look around. After the Israelis left, Palestinian security officials said three suspected collaborators with Israel, who had been held in the local jail for the past several months, were shot dead by Palestinian police.
The Israeli military also retrieved the bodies of five men in Bethlehem, apparently killed by fellow Palestinians as suspected informers for Israel.
Fighting continued to rage in the northern West Bank town ofJenin - where on Friday two Israeli soldiers died and another was seriously wounded in a gunbattle. Shell fire and rockets trapped hundreds of families in their homes and prevented the evacuation of dozens of wounded, witnesses said.
''We can't even look out the window,'' said Jenin resident Noor Mansour. ''My family and I hid in a room in our house. We couldn't move.''
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo was briefly detained Friday by Israeli troops during a search of his home, the minister's wife said. Abed Rabbo was held for about 30 minutes, but not taken from his home.
In addition to the two top militants killed Friday, Israel made an apparent attempt on the life of a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Witnesses said an Israeli helicopter fired missiles on a car in the town of Hebron driven by Ziyad Shuweiki, but he escaped.
Five bystanders, including an 8-year-old boy, were injured, the witnesses said. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.
At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of Christianity's holiest sites, a standoff between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen inside continued into a fourth day. Four of about 60 priests trapped in the church came out Friday and left Bethlehem under Israeli escort, the military said.
In the Gaza Strip, some 10,000 supporters of the Islamic militant Hamas group rallied in the Jebaliya refugee camp. Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas founder, said the group would not stop attacks on Israelis.
International pressure was building on the Israelis to end their offensive. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution early Friday calling on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities and towns ''without delay.''
However, Israeli officials and newspaper editorials noted that Bush did not demand an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank and did not provide a timeline.
''From the outset it was said that we will be in the territories only for a few weeks,'' Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israel's Channel Two. ''I think that the difference between what Bush demanded and the government decided is not great.''
NABLUS, West Bank (AP) - Two Palestinian militia leaders were killed in fighting in the West Bank on Friday, including the suspected mastermind of last week's Passover suicide bombing that killed 26 people and triggered Israel's current military offensive, Palestinian sources and Israel TV said.
The alleged bombing mastermind, Qeis Odwan, headed Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas, in the northern West Bank.
Odwan and five other members of Izzedine al Qassam were killed Friday when Israeli forces shelled their hideout in the West Bank town of Tubas, according to Hamas sources and Israel TV.
Palestinian witnesses in the town said that soldiers called on the men to surrender, but that the fugitives opened fire. Witnesses said helicopters and tanks then shelled the hideout. Soldiers had residents take out the bodies and then flattened the house with bulldozers, witnesses said.
The army had no comment on the raid.
Hamas sources said Odwan took over as leader of Izzedine al Qassam in the northern West Bank several months ago. The group has carried out a series of suicide bombings in Israel, including the Passover attack on March 27 and a bombing in the northern port city of Haifa on March 31, in which 15 people were killed.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Nasser Awais, leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, was killed when explosives strapped to his body went off prematurely, said a militia spokesman, Abu Mujahed. The Al Aqsa militia is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
At the time, Awais and other gunmen were seeking cover from advancing Israeli troops in the old city of Nablus, a stronghold of militants.
Awais was responsible for scores of shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis in the past 18 months of fighting. He had escaped Israeli troops in the past, including last month when Israel raided the Balata refugee camp near Nablus where he lived.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank, April 6 (Reuters) - Half a dozen Israeli troops marched Ahmed Subeih up a hill in Bethlehem for questioning, making him carry the evidence against him; metal boxes full of bullets.
"We found two boxes of ammunition in the basement of his building," along with petrol bombs, said one of the soldiers.
"See this?" the soldier said, pulling out Arabic newspaper pages in which the bullets were wrapped. "Terrorists."
"I was sitting in my house, when I heard the Israeli soldiers," Subeih, 45, told Reuters. "They told me to come downstairs and carry this."
The Israeli said Subeih was being made to carry the evidence himself to "keep his hands busy."
"He will be questioned. He might be innocent," said another soldier as Subeih was led away.
The Israeli army has occupied Bethlehem and other West Bank towns after a wave of suicide bombings killed dozens of Israelis.
On Friday, soldiers went house to house around the old city as part of an operation to root out militants Israel says carry out or plan attacks on Israelis.
For the Israeli soldiers patrolling the Harat Fawaghri district of Bethlehem's old city, the face of the enemy could be everywhere. It could be Subeih.
For Palestinians, the enemy is more easily identifiable; the troops. They call the invasion a mass humiliation that will never succeed in its goals.
The city was like a ghost town for most of Friday with residents kept inside under a curfew.
In normal times thousands of pilgrims each year pray and light candles in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto in which Jesus was supposedly born.
Now tanks and soldiers patrol the narrow streets and the old stone church houses a very different population.
Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem say there are hundreds of Palestinian gunmen inside the church. Palestinian residents say there are women and children inside. Palestinian men say by telephone there are policemen but not fighters inside.
At night, the rooftop of the church compound is normally illuminated by a huge cross in bright lights. These days there are also flares, fired up high to help soldiers spot the enemy.
Tracer rounds flit across the sky and the blasts of explosives used to blow open doors shatter the still of the night. The Israelis are despised and feared.
"They terrorised us," said Bassim Khamis, holding his infant relative, as he stood inside his house. The door of his home had been marked with an large X by the soldiers, which meant that it had been entered and searched.
"They came in here, looking for weapons. We were detained for nine hours with our hands tied before we were released," Khamis said.
Reverend Mitri Raheb told reporters Israeli soldiers broke several doors of offices in the Lutheran Church compound to search, but did not enter the church itself.
Palestinians were let out to buy supplies when the curfew was lifted for a few hours.
Everyone is a suspect. On Friday, Israeli soldiers in an armoured troop carrier stopped Palestinian medics.
They were told to disembark from their ambulance, lift up their shirts -- to show they were not wearing explosive belts -- and lie on the ground.
Nearby, a Palestinian man was carrying a brown plastic sack. An Israeli soldier, rifle at the ready, peered at him around the corner and shouted at him to stop and show what was inside the the bag.
"These are eggs coloured for Easter," the man said to the Jewish soldier, taking them out one by one. "Jesus," he tried to explain further, and made the sign of the cross across his chest.
MANAMA, Bahrain (Reuters) - From North Africa to the Gulf, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Friday, defying rubber bullets and tear gas to vent their anger against Israel's military offensive in the West Bank.
Protests turned violent in Bahrain, where demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy, some breaking into the compound and smashing windows. Riot police in Jordan used water cannon to disperse protesters marching on the Israeli Embassy in Amman.
In Tunisia, police stormed demonstrators gathering despite a government ban, beating them with truncheons and clubs.
Rallies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon passed off peacefully, but most demonstrators appeared unimpressed with President Bush's call Thursday for Israel to pull back from Palestinian areas and his decision to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East.
Some Arabs instead lamented Bush's comments lambasting the Palestinian leadership and focused their hostility on the United States and U.S. symbols, burning American flags and attacking McDonalds restaurants.
In Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet, demonstrators hurled stones and petrol bombs at the U.S. Embassy building, others yelled "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."
Riot police dispersed the protesters after about one hour and fired repeated volleys of tear gas to prevent them from re-grouping while helicopters flew overhead.
The demonstration was one of the biggest political gatherings in years in the conservative Gulf Arab state.
Jordan, under domestic and Arab public pressure to sever ties with Israel, banned demonstrations Friday after allowing marches earlier in the week.
But around 6,000 people in and around the Kalouti mosque in the capital, Amman, ignored the order and tried to march on the Israeli Embassy.
Riot police blocked the route of the demonstration and used water cannon and tear gas to halt the crowd. Protesters responded by throwing stones at police, witnesses said. Several were injured and scores arrested, they said.
Tunisia, a staunch U.S. ally but facing increasing public anger over Washington's perceived pro-Israel bias, ordered police out to enforce a ban on protests Friday.
Plainclothes police, backed by riot police, stormed the protesters as they passed through a street in central Tunis, beating them with truncheons and clubs, and chasing them into shops and cafes, witnesses said.
ARAB LEADERS DRAW CRITICISM
In Egypt, the only Arab state apart from Jordan to have diplomatic ties with Israel, protesters gathered at Cairo's famous Al-Azhar mosque, burning the Israeli flag and chanting slogans in support of Palestinians. They were later dispersed by baton-wielding riot police.
One banner waved by a woman bore a picture of dynamite and a slogan directed at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "Sharon, be patient, be patient, in Ramallah you will dig your grave."
Around 2,000 people also defied a ban in Saudi Arabia and held a rally outside the U.S. consulate in Dhahran.
Police surrounded a march by some 2,500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the nearby town of al-Qatif, but there were no reports of violence.
Thousands of Lebanese also took to the streets, some denouncing Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose countries have peace agreement with Israel.
Arab leaders also drew criticism among thousands of Palestinians protesting in the streets of the Gaza Strip. Some 25,000 marched in a "day of anger" in the Jabalya refugee camp, chanting slogans against Arab leaders whom they accuse of doing nothing to stop Israel's week-long incursion into Palestinian cities.
CAIRO, April 5 (Reuters) - Crowds of about 5,000 people demonstrated against Israel at Friday prayers at Cairo's famous al-Azhar mosque, burning the Israeli flag and chanting slogans in support of the Palestinians.
Crowds of men and women chanted "Palestine is Arab!" and "In spirit, and in blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Palestine!" in the grounds of the mosque, but they were dispersed as they left by lines of baton-wielding riot police.
One banner waved by a woman bore a picture of sticks of dynamite and a slogan directed at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "Sharon, be patient, be patient, in Ramallah you will dig your grave."
The imam leading the prayers called on the international community to try to stop Israeli brutality and restore peace.
In another central Cairo mosque, the imam urged Muslims to "take real action in support of the Palestinians." He said U.S. President George W. Bush could not be trusted to defend Muslims and he called Sharon a "murderer."
The peaceful protest followed daily student demonstrations after the latest upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel kept up its week-old West Bank offensive on Friday despite U.S. calls for a withdrawal from Palestinian areas.
EGYPTIANS CYNICAL ABOUT BUSH ROLE
Asked about a key policy speech made by Bush on Thursday, in which he expressed new resolve to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence, many ordinary Egyptians were cynical.
Sayed, a 75-year-old company owner, said Bush merely aimed to calm Arab anger and to win Sharon time to destroy the Palestinian Authority.
"We don't trust the United States any longer, for it has promised Palestinians their own state several times but has never lived up to its promise," he said.
He added that those who died for the sake of their country were not "murderers," as Bush suggested, but "martyrs," who sacrificed their lives for their lands.
Mohamed, a 58-year-old tailor, said Bush did not "have the right to say who should be the leader of the Palestinians."
Commenting on the recent phenomenon mentioned by Bush of young Palestinian women launching suicide attacks against Israelis, he added: "He (Bush) also raised a question of why a girl should go and sacrifice her life... It must be because of the torture and humiliation she and her people get at the hands of the Israeli occupation."
Ahmed, an accountant, 50, said Bush's words were merely an anaesthetic for the Arab world and the United States would never be a neutral peace broker. Other Egyptians slammed Bush for showing bias in repeatedly blaming Arafat for recent violence while turning a blind eye to Israeli acts of oppression.
"Bush did not blame Sharon for the upsurge in violence and for his crimes in the occupied Arab territories," said Ghada, 21, a mass media student.
AMMAN, April 5 (Reuters) - Jordanian riot police using water cannon and tear gas clashed on Friday with thousands of protesters trying to march on the Israeli embassy in Amman.
The clash was the latest incident in a week long series of protests by Jordanians angry about Israel's invasion of Palestinian cities.
A majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin as they or their parents fled fighting during the creation of Israel in 1948.
At least 6,000 protesters had gathered in and around Kalouti mosque in the Rabieh neighbourhood of the capital and planned to march to the embassy, about a kilometre (half a mile) away, after Friday prayers.
They were demanding the expulsion of Israel's ambassador to Jordan.
Riot police blocked the route of the demonstration and, when marchers tried to push through, used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Protesters responded by throwing stones at police, witnesses said.
Several protesters were beaten up and scores arrested, the witnesses said.
Police also clashed with several thousand worshippers outside Amman's main Husseini mosque.
The authorities earlier deployed armoured vehicles and put hundreds of riot police on main streets to seal off the main street leading to the embassy.
GOVERNMENT CLAMPS DOWN
Abdul Latif Arabiat, head of the country's mainstream Islamic Action Front (IAF) criticised the government for curtailing protesters' right of assembly.
"This is the least we can do, to demand the expulsion of the ambassador...because his presence on Jordanian soil is an affront to national feelings and we do want the government to stop us from expressing our views," he told Reuters.
Jordanian officials say the government is considering expelling the Israeli ambassador but rule out cutting diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, forged after the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994.
The protesters also lambasted Arab rulers for their inability to curtail Israel's military campaign.
"Where are the Arab armies?" chanted angry youths hoisting Palestinian flags.
Friday's clampdown comes after the government said it would not tolerate the street marches that have spread across Palestinian refugee camps dotted across the kingdom.
Jordan last year imposed tough laws banning demonstrations after public sympathy with the Palestinian uprising produced the largest streets protests in more than a decade.
Authorities fear protests against the Israeli assault on the West Bank and the siege of President Yasser Arafat's headquarters could turn into riots.
Witnesses said Palestinian refugees at Wihdat camp in the capital burnt tyres, vandalised telephone booths and littered streets with stones in confrontations with police.
Camp dwellers say disenchanted youths, already nurturing deep resentment over their plight, were venting anger at the police for barring them from publicly displaying solidarity with their kin on the other side of the Jordan River.
"They don't want anyone to raise their heads," one refugee said.
BEIRUT, April 5 (Reuters) - Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets across Lebanon on Friday to show support for the Palestinians and to denounce Arab leaders whose countries have signed peace deals with Israel.
Some 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, including schoolchildren and old women, blocked off traffic as they marched through one of the capital's main thoroughfares to protest outside the U.N. headquarters in downtown Beirut.
"War on Sharon, war on Bush," shouted the crowd, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush, whose country is Israel's main backer.
Protesters, many wearing the traditional black and white Palestinian headscarf, heaped abuse on Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose countries have signed peace accords with Israel.
Both leaders skipped an Arab summit in Beirut last month, which unanimously endorsed a Saudi plan offering Israel "normal ties" with Arab countries in return for its full withdrawal from Arab land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The demonstrators, from across Lebanon's political spectrum, waved Palestinian and Lebanese flags and carried pictures of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, confined for the past week to his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah by the Israelis.
At least 1,000 doctors, engineers and lawyers marched to the U.S. embassy in Beirut to present diplomats with a letter complaining that Washington was biased against Palestinians. Embassy officials refused to take the letter.
Christian and Muslim clergymen led a demonstration of at least 1,500 people in the eastern Bekaa valley, to show solidarity with the people of Bethlehem, about 200 of whom are besieged by Israeli troops in the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest sites.
In Syria, Palestinian demonstrators marched from a refugee camp southeast of Damascus, in the direction of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. They stopped some 42 kilometres (26 miles) short of the Israeli-occupied area.
DHAKA, April 5 (Reuters) - Nearly 15,000 Muslims staged a noisy protest in Dhaka on Friday calling on the United States to act over Israeli military action against Palestinians.
Peaceful demonstrators carried anti-Israel placards, including one calling for U.S. President George W. Bush to control Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which read: "Mr Bush, chain your mad dog."
The protests, staged by members of at least a dozen Islamic groups in the mainly Muslim nation, were against "indiscriminate killing and aggression by Israeli occupation forces in Palestine," said Shahidul Islam of Islamic group Isalmi Oikyo Jote.
"Sharon would not dare to carry out unprecedented mayhem against the Palestinian people or siege their leader Yasser Arafat without the blessing of Bush," he added.
"Now it is time for the whole Muslim world to rise against such atrocities and launch a united effort to resist the Israeli killers and predators."
The protesters burned effigies of Sharon, chanting "death to Israel" and accused the U.S. administration of giving Sharon a "licence to kill."
"The Christians and Jews have joined hands in an effort to destroy Palestinians, kill Arafat and eventually destroy Muslims around the world," said Shahidul Islam.
"Never shall Israel succeed in wiping out Arafat," chanted one protester. "Bush will go down with Sharon," yelled another.
Hundreds of police were deployed in the capital on Friday to keep order during the protest but there was no violence, witnesses said.
Thousands of Muslims also demonstrated peacefully in the southern city of Khulna and the port city of Chittagong.
NABLUS, West Bank, April 6 (Reuters) - Twenty-five Palestinians have been killed in one of the bloodiest days since Israel began a military offensive in the West Bank, despite U.S. President George W. Bush's call for Israeli forces to withdraw.
Any faint hopes raised by Bush's demand and a meeting between U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni and besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Friday were dashed by the heavy death toll in Palestinian cities and refugee camps on the West Bank.
Bush was joined at his ranch in Texas on Friday by British Prime Minster Tony Blair for a weekend summit where the Israeli-Palestinian crisis will top the agenda.
And in a hardening of the U.S. stance towards Israel, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Israel it should withdraw military forces from Palestinian areas "without delay" and not use the days before his trip to the region this weekend as a reason to continue incursions.
Israel says the eight-day-old offensive is aimed at rooting out people suspected of planning and carrying out a series of suicide bombings which have claimed scores of Israeli lives.
The operation first met with U.S. understanding for Israeli defence needs. But the situation changed dramatically on Thursday night when Bush declared "enough is enough" and called on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities.
Some commentators in Israel believe Israeli forces will now step up the pace of their operation to try to achieve their goals in the next few days -- rather than the month originally envisaged -- before growing world pressure forces a halt.
However, the White House stopped short on Friday of criticising Israel for not already pulling back. Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in Texas: "The president recognises that in a region that's been marred by violence for decades, major events don't necessarily happen overnight."
The White House also said Powell had no plans "at this moment" to meet Arafat, who Washington has accused of not doing enough to prevent attacks on Israel.
Clashes and Israeli strikes gathered in intensity on Friday. The deadliest single Israeli attack targeted a group of militants in the northern West Bank village of Toubas.
The Islamic militant group Hamas confirmed six of its members, including Qais Idwan, head of its military wing in nearby Jenin, were killed when the house they were in was bombarded by Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships.
An Israeli security source said Idwan was suspected of being behind the devastating bombing in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya at the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover last week that killed 26 people and helped trigger the army's offensive.
"Our retaliation will be very harsh and cruel according to the measure of the crime," Sheikh Jamal Abu al-Heija, a Hamas political official in Jenin, told Reuters.
Hamas has been at the forefront of a bombing campaign against Israelis since the start of the Palestinian uprising. Israel has killed dozens of militants in a policy it justifies as self-defence, but Palestinians call assassination.
An Israeli missile strike killed three Palestinians in a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian sources said. Israeli sources had no comment.
ZINNI MEETS ARAFAT
Amid the mayhem, U.S. Middle East envoy Zinni met Arafat under the guns of Israeli tanks at the Palestinian president's besieged headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinian officials said the two men agreed at a 90-minute meeting that a series of "broad U.S.-Palestinian meetings would be held in the coming hours."
But they later said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had refused to let Arafat meet the Palestinian officials who were due to see Zinni and the talks with Zinni might be scrapped.
Oil prices fell heavily on Friday as pressure from the United States on Israel to end its raids soothed fears that crude supplies might be hit by a wider war involving the region's Arab oil-producing nations.
However, on the streets of North Africa and the Gulf, thousands of demonstrators appeared unmollified by the U.S. move and defied teargas to protest against the West Bank offensive.
Demonstrators in Bahrain attacked the U.S. embassy, while in Jordan, protesters marched on the Israeli embassy. Later, in New York, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets chanting "Free, free Palestine" and carrying signs reading "Bush, Sharon -- War Criminals."
GUNFIRE IN BETHLEHEM
Arafat had welcomed Bush's call for an Israeli pullout, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres praised Bush for "joining in the effort to bring about a ceasefire."
But Bush, calling for a world effort to stop suicide bombers, again attacked Arafat in a British television interview on Friday as a leader who had let his people down.
"My worry is that Yasser Arafat can't perform. He's been given plenty of opportunities," Bush said.
Blair said a possible time frame for a Middle East ceasefire and a return to negotiations would be on the agenda of his summit with Bush but conceded the situation looked grim, saying "there can be few grounds for optimism at the moment."
Explosions and gunfire rang out across Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and up to 200 Palestinian gunmen and civilians remained trapped in the Church of the Nativity in a four-day-old standoff with Israeli troops.
Fighting was also intense in Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city, where nine Palestinians were killed. A police officer and four others were killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, along with one Israeli soldier.
A 14-year-old girl was killed by Israeli helicopter fire in the village of Toubas, near Jenin, and a 17-year-old youth was killed by tank fire near Nablus, witnesses and officials said.
Masked Palestinian gunmen shot dead three men suspected of collaborating with Israeli forces in Toubas, witnesses said.
In a move certain to inflame tempers, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israeli troops forced their way into his home on Friday on the pretext of conducting a search. The army had no comment.
Raising the spectre of Middle East conflict spreading to a second front, Israeli jets hit the outskirts of Lebanese border towns after Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas attacked a number of Israeli positions in a disputed frontier area, witnesses said.
At least 1,188 Palestinians and 414 Israelis have been killed since the uprising began.
11) BRINGING NON-VIOLENCE TO THE WEST BANK
Eve Pell and Will Evans, AlterNet
Hundreds of civilian "internationalists" are arriving in the West Bank to act as human shields for the Palestinians
under siege by the Israeli Army.
12) VIOLENCE AND EXCUSES IN THE MIDEAST
Michael Lerner and Cornel West, AlterNet
Many Americans have been cowed into silence about Israeli aggression. But they should say aloud what they really feel:
that Israel is behaving immorally and even savagely.
The bloody campaign against the Palestinians is in keeping with
the Israeli Prime Minister's violent history. But
why is the White House participating in his vendetta?
14) A RIGHTWING BLUEPRINT FOR THE MIDDLE EAST
Jim Lobe, AlterNet
A highly influential cabal of rightwingers have a radical vision for the Middle East -- and they include some of
Bush's closest advisers.
Palestinians who have taken sanctuary inside the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem say Israeli soldiers blew off the back door of the church yesterday. Today they began firing shots into the building, wounding some inside. About 200 Palestinians, including over 40 monks and nuns, took refuge in the church three days ago, after Israeli forces invaded Bethlehem.
Reporters trying to reach the church were ordered back by Israeli soldiers waving guns in their faces. We have just received news that a French TV reporter has been shot outside the church as he tried to film the military assaults on the church. Shawki Issa is waiting outside the hospital for an ambulance to collect the injured reporter from Manger Square.
We are also joined by Tony Salman, who entered the church with the mayor of Bethlehem shortly after the standoff began three days ago. He is still confined inside the Church of the Nativity. The New York Times quotes Colonel Marcel Aviv, an Israeli Army commander, as saying: "All the people inside the church are hostages. We began negotiations with the terrorists last night and offered to send in doctors and medicine for the wounded, but they said no." Salman says this is not true.
Shawki Issa, director, The Palestinian Society for the Protection
of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW).
Tony Salman, Antonian Charitable Society (a Roman Catholic institution in Bethlehem), inside Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem.
Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environmen
16) U.S. ENVOY ANTHONY ZINNI MEETS WITH YASSER ARAFAT IN HIS BESIEGED COMPOUND; JOURNALISTS ARE ATTACKED AS THEY TRY TO ENTER THE BUILDING
US envoy Anthony Zinni today became the first official permitted by Israel to meet Yasser Arafat at the Palestinian leader's besieged compound.
Journalists were barred from covering the meeting. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades at a group of 30 reporters who had approached the compound. Around 30 tanks surrounded the building, and some pointed their barrels at the journalists.
Awad Duades, reporter for Voice of Palestine in Ramallah (also
reports for French public radio and Free Speech Radio News).
17) THE GREAT EQUIVOCATOR: PRESIDENT BUSH
CHANGES COURSE -- OR DOESN'T HE?
President Bush reversed course yesterday and urged Israel to end its violent invasion of Palestinian lands immediately. He also announced that Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell would travel to Israel next week.
The first half of the Rose Garden speech appeared to be no different from any other as he explained Israel's need to defend itself and said that the situation that Palestinian president Yasser Arafat finds himself in is largely of his own making. He said, "Since September 11, I've delivered this message: Everyone must choose; you're either with the civilized world or you're with the terrorists."
But he then called on Israel to end its invasion of Palestinian cities. He told Israel to stop all settlement activity and withdraw to U.N. recognized borders. And he told Israel to show respect and concern for the dignity of the Palestinian people, and make efforts to spare "innocent Palestinians daily humiliation".
Meanwhile, Washington insiders have revealed that an emissary from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah warned the US it could never again use any Saudi military base against Iraq if it didn't stop the fighting in the West Bank. Insiders also say that Bush feared long-term allies Egypt and Jordan could be destabilized by protest. And Iran's leader Ayatollah Khamenei called on Arab states today to launch a one-month "symbolic" oil embargo against Western countries to pressure them to stop supporting Israel.
Powell is expected to see Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Stephen Zunes, senior policy analyst and Middle East editor at Foreign Policy in Focus and chair of Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.
Yifat Susskind, Associate Director, MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. Yifat is an Israeli currently living in Brooklyn, NY.