Palestinians Defy Israeli Curfew
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NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Thousands of Palestinians defied the Israeli army’s around-the-clock curfew Monday for the second straight day, and took to the streets of Nablus as shops and banks opened to accommodate them.
The army, which has imposed the curfew in most West Bank cities and towns for the past 40 days, remained in armored vehicles ringing the city. But troops did not enter Nablus and made no move to drive residents off the streets and back into their homes.
At the edge of the city, the troops allowed trucks with supplies to enter, but blocked passenger cars. Some Palestinians said troops were firing in the air over cars to turn away those approaching the city limits.
Palestinian residents under curfew in the West Bank have not previously challenged the army restrictions on a mass scale. If Nablus residents effectively lift the curfew on their own, such actions could spread to other West Bank cities.
``There is a curfew and we are aware of the violations,″ military spokesman Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz said of the situation in Nablus. ``For the moment, we are not responding.″
However, Nablus Gov. Mahmoud Aloul said the protest could spread to ``every city and every town exposed to such order.″ He told The Associated Press: ``It’s a way of civic resistance and it’s a legitimate way, because we are not carrying weapons we are not killing anybody.″
Meanwhile, Israel planned to hand over $15 million Monday to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, the first of three installments, both sides said. Israel has withheld the tax revenues due the Palestinians for much of the past 22 months of fighting.
Israel had been demanding international supervision of the money to ensure it wasn’t used to fund Palestinian militants, but agreed to place the cash under the responsibility of the new Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayed.
Monday’s planned money transfer is a small fraction of the estimated $600 million in taxes and customs revenues that Israel has collected on behalf of the Palestinians. Israel stopped handing over the money shortly after the fighting broke out in September 2000.
In Nablus, many residents rushed to the markets Monday, stocking up on fruits and vegetables and other necessities. The city appeared to be almost as busy as on typical days before the curfew was imposed.
Standing at his felafel stand, Tamer Adnan said he was working despite the risk because he and his family had run out of food.
``I’ve been confined to my home for more than a month. I have eight children, we’ve eaten all we have,″ Adnan said. ``We need food and we must break any order to get our food. I resumed working not to fight Israel or its army, I’m just fighting to get food for my kids.″
Israeli troops entered seven of the eight major West Bank cities and towns on June 20 in a campaign to prevent Palestinian attacks against Israel. Israel has not said how long it intends to remain inside Palestinian areas, but officials have indicated it could be for months. Israel says it will not withdraw until it is confident that the threat of Palestinian attacks has dropped markedly.
In some cities, the curfew is often lifted during the day, and then reimposed before nightfall. However, the curfew has been particularly tight in Nablus.
The Nablus curfew has officially been lifted five times, for a few hours at a stretch, in the last 40 days.
People violating the curfew have been detained in some cases. And several Palestinians have been killed by army fire at times when there was confusion over whether the curfew had been lifted.
The Nablus protest began Sunday when Aloul and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement urged residents to defy the order.
``So many of our people are suffering from hunger and others couldn’t get medicine, so we have to get our rights by ourselves,″ Aloul said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon ordered the army and security services to ease some restrictions on Palestinian civilians. The moves including shortening curfews, lifting some roadblocks, and raising the number of Palestinians allowed to enter Israel for work to 12,000, a statement from Sharon’s office said.
Previously, the government had said it would issue 7,000 work permits, although it said the number could reach 70,000. Before the conflict, some 125,000 Palestinians crossed into Israel daily for work.
Israel said it is up to the Palestinian Authority to combat militant groups if more restrictions are to be lifted.
``When they do that, we will be immediately ready to leave the territories and ease any restrictions,″ said Mark Sofer, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian mourners on Monday buried a 14-year-old girl shot dead a day earlier when Palestinians and Jewish settlers clashed during the funeral procession for a slain Israeli soldier.
``If not today, then maybe tomorrow or after one month, I will avenge the killing of my sister,″ said Marwan Jamjoun, brother of the slain girl, Nizin Jamjoum.
Several Palestinians and 15 Israeli policemen were injured in Sunday’s confrontation, which erupted as the Jewish settlers were carrying the body of the Israeli soldier through the streets of Hebron. The casualties were blamed on the settlers.
``I very much regret to say there was a Jewish riot,″ Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel’s defense minister, told Army Radio. ``It’s just as well the army and the Israeli police brought it under control otherwise something terrible could have happened.″
However, several Palestinian witnesses said soldiers did little or nothing to stop the attacks by settlers.