Report from Beit Jala: Israel Calls on Residents to Evacuate-- Shells Residential Areas

(Photos of the damage caused in Beit Jala)

On Sunday, 22 October, Israeli army forces began re-closing the main entrance to Bethlehem from the south (Hebron area). Large concrete blocks were heaved onto the main road, presumably as a first step towards the implementation of the "time out in the peace process" declared earlier by Israel's prime minister Barak. Sunday night, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a fire-exchange began between Israeli settlers from Gilo settlement (occupied East Jerusalem) and Palestinian protestors located in adjacent Beit Jala. Minutes later, Israeli radio and TV reported that Palestinian residents of Beit Jala were called to evacuate their homes, and Israeli gunship helicopters and tanks permanently stationed at the Gilo settlement fired heavy ammunition, including TOW rockets at the northern neighborhoods of Beit Jala (Bir 'Ona neighborhood) and Aida refugee camp. Some 20 buildings, among them one stone factory and residential homes, were hit and damaged, no injuries have been reported. In the course of the same Israeli attack, Bethlehem's main electrical transformer was damaged, leaving Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp, and Beit Jala without electric power until the early hours of Monday, October 23.

Today, Israel's Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert stated in the Voice of Israel's morning radio-news journal that the night-time raid was a "proportional Israeli response" to the Palestinian shooting. It was, according to Olmert, an insufficient response, because only a "disproportional Israeli response" could reach the aim of silencing the Palestinian uprising. Accordingly, new Israeli calls for the evacuation of Beit Jala were broadcast by Monday noon, Beit Jala has been declared a closed area, and additional Israeli shellings might still occur today. In an apparent effort to de-escalate the situation, Palestinian police forces prevent public access to the area of Bilal Bin Rabbah Mosque (Rachels' Tomb), one of the major sites of confrontation between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian protestors in the Bethlehem area.

While Israel calls Palestinians to leave their homes for "their own protection,"

Palestinians demand INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION against Israel's gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights law!