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Noose tightens on the Palestinians

May 25, 2007 | Page 12

LEE SUSTAR explains how pressure on the Palestinians has been ratcheted up still further.

ISRAEL SEIZED the opportunity to inflict more death and destruction on Gaza in the wake of new armed confrontations between rivals Fatah and Hamas--while to the north, in Lebanon, the army carried out an onslaught on Palestinian refugee camps.

All this killing is the result of U.S.-Israeli attempts to bludgeon Palestinians into submission through economic sanctions, military incursions and a green light to every opponent of the Palestinian people to go on the offensive.

On May 20, Israeli jets bombed the home of Hamas legislator Khalil al-Hayya. He was absent, but the bombing killed seven members of his family and a neighbor. The following day, another Israeli air strike killed four people, allegedly members of Hamas' military wing.

For embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, struggling to save his political skin after his approval rating fell below 5 percent, pounding Gaza offers a chance for the ruling Kadima party to try to redeem itself following the war last summer against the Islamist Hezbollah party in Lebanon.

According to the Palestine Center for Human Rights, as of May 21, the latest Israeli offensive had killed 36 Palestinians, including 18 civilians, while 97 others, including 44 civilians, had been wounded.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-Fatah battles, which killed more than 50 people, mark the worst fighting since the parties agreed to share power in a national unity government March 16.

The deal, brokered in Saudi Arabia, was intended in part to induce the U.S. and Israel to drop the economic boycott of the Occupied Territories imposed after Hamas won legislative elections in December 2005.

Instead, the sanctions remained in place. Life in Gaza, already one of the world's poorest and most densely populated areas, became still worse.

While U.S. politicians and the media blame Hamas militants for the latest confrontation, prominent left-wing Palestinians and solidarity activists point the finger at Muhammad Dahlan, the top Palestinian Authority security official who, they say, aims to topple the unity government to protect his political based and economic interests.

Author Ali Abunimah wrote earlier this year that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Dahlan have become "willing proxies" for U.S. imperialism, pointing out that their Fatah faction has received money and arms from the U.S. The Bush administration plans to provide $84 million directly to Abbas' presidential apparatus.

There's much more to the U.S. support for Fatah than money, however. Writing for Britain's Guardian blog, activist Laila El-Haddad points out that "a 16-page secret American document was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper outlining an action plan for undermining and replacing the Palestinian national unity government. The document outlines steps for building up Abbas and his security forces, leading to the dissolution of the parliament, a strengthening of U.S. allies in Fatah in the lead-up to new elections."

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ON TOP of all this is the brutal attack by the Lebanese Army on a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Tripoli.

The ostensible target is a Sunni Muslim fundamentalist group, Fatah al-Islam, which allegedly has ties to al-Qaeda. The group was allegedly involved in bombings of Christian neighborhoods and bank robberies. The Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, propped up by the U.S., accuses the Syrian government of supporting Fatah al-Islam.

Yet even if Fatah al-Islam did perpetrate these acts, the question remains as to why this justified such extreme measures as artillery and tank attacks on the crowded Nahr el-Bared camp, where 31,000 people live in poverty.

The Lebanese Army cynically justified its indiscriminate bombardment on the grounds that a 40-year-old agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bars it from entering refugee camps.

The result of the army attack on Naher el-Bared predictably horrific. Sana Abu Faraj, a resident of the camp, described the carnage to Al-Jazeera television by cell phone. "There are many wounded," she said. "We're under siege. There is a shortage of bread, medicine and electricity. There are children under the rubble."

The Reuters news service added that "raging fires sent large clouds of black smoke into the sky, and shells could be seen thudding into some of the taller buildings."

Tellingly, the U.S. gave its approval to this massacre. The State Department declared that the Lebanese Army is acting in a ""legitimate manner" against "provocations by violent extremists."

The attack is an echo of Lebanon's 1975-1989 civil war, when mainly Christian Lebanese forces attacked Palestinians and ultimately collaborated with Israel's 1982 invasion of the country to attack the PLO.

Today, by targeting an unpopular group like al-Qaeda, the Lebanese right can renew its old anti-Palestinian agenda under a new banner. Yet rather than condemn the attack on the Naher el-Bared camp, the current PLO representative in Lebanon offered to have his forces enter the camp itself to fight Fatah al-Islam in place of the Lebanese Army.

These latest attempts to divide and conquer the Palestinian people are taking a terrible toll--and highlight the urgency for the antiwar movement to make justice for Palestine a key demand.

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