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Israel blocks Fayyad from West Bank village

April 11, 2011 9:30 P.M. (Updated: April 13, 2011 10:49 A.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities on Sunday prevented the Palestinian Authority premier from visiting a village in the northern West Bank that has been the target of sweeping arrest raids since the murder of an Israeli family.

Salam Fayyad was scheduled to make a visit to Awarta, a small village near Nablus that sits adjacent to the illegal settlement of Itamar, where unknown attackers murdered two settlers and their three young children on March 11.

He planned to visit Awarta to express solidarity with residents and hold a general meeting with villagers at a town hall to learn about the wide-scale arrest campaign and interrogations since the murders in Itamar.

Awarta is in "Area B" of the West Bank, meaning it is theoretically administered under a joint Israeli-Palestinian security regime, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Nevertheless, Israeli authorities prevented Fayyad from completing the visit. During a call with Awarta's mayor, Fayyad said he was required to coordinate with the Israeli side but they refused his request.

Israel's military confirmed receiving a request but said "security activity" prevented the visit.

In response to an inquiry from Ma'an, the army said in a statement late Monday that "Following his request to arrive at said location, Mr. Salam Fayyad's request was handled by the appropiate coordination authorities. Due to security activity in the area Mr. Fayyad did not arrive."

A spokesman for Fayyad did not immediately return a call placed after business hours.

The mayor, Qais Awwad, said Monday that soldiers arrested scores of men and women, interrogated children for 10 hours, and damaged homes in their efforts to "look for something that does not exist" in the village.

Israel has "no proof at all" that Palestinians executed the operation, Awwad said, yet forces have "launched a security, economic and political siege on the village; they destroyed life in the village."

Details of the case remain under gag order, and no suspects have been publicly identified. Still, Israeli officials have blamed Palestinians for the attack and continuously raided Awarta in the weeks since the murders.

Fayyad and other Palestinian Authority leaders have firmly condemned the Itamar attack.

Awwad says that despite the raids, Israel "will not find the person behind the [Itamar] operation because it was not executed by a Palestinian; we don’t slaughter children and we told them that."

According to Israel's Haaretz daily, authorities think they are on the verge of a breakthrough.

A day earlier, residents of Itamar marked 30 days since the murder of the Fogel family, Haaretz said. They laid the cornerstone of a new building intended for Torah study, named after the head of the family Ehud Fogel.

Meanwhile in Awarta, men and women were detained in the fifth in a series of raids during which locals and human rights groups say soldiers rounded up between 600-700 residents since March 11.

In one home, soldiers broke down the windows with stun grenades, sinks were smashed, mattresses ripped, and large barrels of oil spilled on the floor, Haaretz reported. The males were then taken for questioning.

The Ramallah-based rights group Addameer has issued a call for international intervention.

The arrests are taking place "despite the fact that no evidence has been brought forth to indicate that the murders are related to Awarta, suggesting a campaign of collective punishment," Addameer said Sunday.

Some 55 villagers are being held without charge, including two under the age of 18.

"The arrest procedures also raised serious concerns," the organization said citing reports of detention of the elderly, sick and pregnant who are "unlikely candidates for the brutal murders."
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