WEST BANK: Anti-negotiations conference broken up
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Crowds started to arrive at the Protestant church hall in downtown Ramallah in the West Bank shortly after midday Wednesday to attend an anti-negotiations conference. They were responding to a call by local Palestinian leaders opposed to plans by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to start direct negotiations with Israel before the latter halts all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
To the surprise of the attendees, dozens of young Palestinians, believed to be members of Abbas’ Fatah movement and his security forces, moved in waving pictures of Abbas and chanting his name, disrupting the meeting even before it had started.
Their entrance and the disruption was clearly premeditated, according to the organizers of the conference, and their purpose was to make sure the conference will not be held. When the organizers, mainly leaders of left-wing Palestinian factions, realized that it would be impossible to proceed with their conference, they took to the streets of Ramallah in a protest march and to let the public know their views on the negotiations.
Palestinian police intervened to stop the march, charging that the protestors did not have a permit. Stunned by the developments, the organizers of the conference, some of them members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, which on Friday voted to start direct negotiations with Israel on Sept. 2 in ceremonies to be held in Washington, then took their meeting to a local TV station, where they held a news conference.
They used the platform to condemn the disruption of the conference, accusing the Palestinian Authority of preventing freedom of expression. They called for the establishment of a commission to investigate what had happened and Abbas quickly agreed.
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank