Israel on high alert amid bleak prospects for the region
Fri Sep 26, 5:38 AM ET
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel reimposed a strict closure on the Palestinian territories ahead of the Jewish New Year following a flare-up in violence, as the co-sponsors of the "roadmap" prepared to met at the UN with little progress on the horizon for the ailing peace process.
Slideshow: Mideast Conflict
An Israeli military source said Israel would prevent any Palestinians from entering its territory, except for residents of east Jerusalem, which was occupied and annexed in 1967, and in humanitarian cases, until the Rosh Hashanah holiday ends Sunday night.
The Israeli army also sealed off the West Bank in a bid to prevent Palestinian retaliation for the deaths of six Palestinians, which shattered a relative lull in the three-year-old cycle of violence.
Five Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli troops and a three-year-old Palestinian girl died of fright on Thursday during army operations in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip (news - web sites) and in the West Bank city of Hebron.
An Israeli military spokesman announced that 31 Palestinians suspected of preparing anti-Israeli attacks were arrested in the West Bank overnight.
Among them were 15 residents of the Ramallah area suspected of belonging to the hardline Hamas movement, the spokesman said.
The Israeli police in Jerusalem also restricted access to Muslims to the mosque compound where thousands of worshippers flock to pray every Friday, fearing celebrations marking the third anniversary of the Palestinian uprising might spill over.
The police will only allow "Muslims over 40, Israeli Arabs, east Jerusalem residents and women of all ages" to enter the mosque compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam, spokesman Shmuel Rubin told AFP.
The compound, also the holiest site in Judaism, was the site of a controversial visit by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) on September 28, 2000 which sparked clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli police and led to the eruption of the intifada.
The death toll from the conflict continued to rise on Friday when a 67-year-old Palestinian who was injured during an army raid into a Gaza refugee camp last week died of his wounds, according to medical sources.
The death brought to 3,493 the number of people killed since September 28, 2000, including 2,610 Palestinians and 820 Israelis, according to an AFP count.
Meanwhile, representatives of the "quartet" of diplomatic powers which drew up the roadmap for peace in the Middle East were to discuss the latest developments between Israel and the Palestinians.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) will meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (news - web sites), Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
It will be their first meeting since June, when the roadmap was launched and Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas had generated hope that the intifada would come to an end and peace negotiations would resume.
He has since stepped down and peace moves are on hold until his successor Ahmed Qorei forms a new government.
An opinion poll published for the Jewish New Year and coinciding with the third anniversary of the start of the intifada revealed that Israelis had low expectations for the year to come.
According to the survey carried by the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, 67 percent of Israelis predict that "the intifada will continue", while only 25 percent think it will fizzle out.
No less than 24 percent believe the violence will escalate further.
With the peace process in tatters and their country struggling to recover from its worst-ever economic crisis, a majority of Israelis are generally pessimistic.
According to 73 percent of Israelis, the state of Israel "does not guarantee a future to the younger generation".