Palestinians protest over seizure


JERUSALEM, Reuters

Businesses throughout Palestinian areas of Jerusalem shut on Monday in a protest against Israel’s takeover of the deeply symbolic Palestinian headquarters in the Arab eastern quarter.

Most stores, businesses, banks and restaurants in East Jerusalem – including the walled Old City, the West Bank and Gaza Strip – kept their shutters down and doors padlocked in response to calls by Palestinian leaders for a one-day general strike.

The stoppage, also observed in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, was the most extensive of its kind since the last Palestinian uprising ended in 1994 after the signing of the Oslo interim peace deal with Israel. :This is a message from the Palestinians to reflect how grave the situation is, a deteriorating situation,” Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.

“The Israeli measures vis-a-vis Jerusalem, which is the red line for all Palestinians, cannot be tolerated.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered police to seize Orient House, the unofficial Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in East Jerusalem, after a suicide bomber from the militant Hamas movement killed 15 people at a pizza parlour in Jerusalem last Thursday.

Israeli police said around 10 protesters were detained near barricades surrounding the Ottoman-era mansion during scuffles with police. Two stun grenades were fired at stone-throwers during the melee, witnesses said.

Some 700 Palestinians also demonstrated against the takeover in the West Bank town of Nablus and similar protests were planned in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

The protests unfolded with tensions running high after another Palestinian suicide bomber walked into a restaurant in northern Israel on Sunday, pointed to explosives strapped to his chest and blew himself up, wounding 15 Israelis.

The militant Islamic Jihad movement released video footage on Monday of the bomber, 28-year-old West Bank Palestinian Muhammed Mahmoud Nasr, reciting verses from the Koran and clutching an M-16 rifle before embarking on his suicide mission.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, witnesses said five Palestinians were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets in clashes with Israeli forces after the burial of an eight-year-old girl shot and killed by Israeli troops on Sunday during a firefight with Palestinian gunmen.

Sabreen Ijrewi was laid to rest with her grandmother, who had died of a heart attack after hearing she had been killed.

Thousands joined the funeral march, with a gunman firing shots in the air as mourners chanted for revenge.