Thousands of Jewish settlers protest against US talks

27 11 2007

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Several thousand Jewish settlers protested in Jerusalem on the eve of Tuesday’s meeting in the United States that aims to kick-start dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

During the protest organised by the Council of Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria on Monday, demonstrators brandished placards saying “Don’t feed Israel to the sharks” and “Hands off Israel — we are in God’s hands.”

“Never again a divided Jerusalem” read another.

The protesters, estimated by organisers to number 10,000, said no territorial concessions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem should be made to the Palestinians.

Tuesday’s meeting at Annapolis in Maryland “poses a real threat to Israel, because to sign any agreement with (Palestinian president) Mahmud Abbas will inevitably lead to Hamas taking power in Judea-Samaria” in the West Bank, Pinhas Wallerstein of the organisers told AFP.

The Islamist Hamas movement ousted the secular Fatah party of Abbas from the Gaza Strip in June after a week of deadly factional fighting.

From a podium set up several dozen metres (yards) from the home of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Washington for the US-sponsored meeting, another organiser of the protest urged the premier not to make concessions.

“Olmert, you have no mandate to give up Israeli territory,” Shaul Goldstein said to applause from protesters who called on the prime minister to quit.

Right-wing MP Tzvi Handel told the protesters Olmert was “undoubtedly the most dangerous prime minister in the history of Israel.”

The peace conference in Annapolis will bring together more than 50 organisations and countries, including some 16 Arab nations.

MPs from government coalition party Yisrael Beitenu, which has 11 MPs in the 120-member Knesset, also attended the protest as did Zeev Elkin, who is a member of Olmert’s Kadima party.

Before Tuesday night’s protest thousands of settlers gathered at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, to pray for failure at the Annapolis talks.

The settlers oppose any withdrawal by Israel from land occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

They aim to prevent any repetition of what they called the “catastrophe” of a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which the settlers’ movement fiercely opposed. IC

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