Scant regard for rights shown by Palestinian authority, activists claim


The Palestinian Authority and Israel are to begin implementation of the Wye Plantation Memorandum today by taking specific reciprocal steps, according to the accord's timetable. However, the deal, only 10 days old, has already run into difficulties.

While the Palestinian cabinet gave it approval during a meeting on Friday, the Israeli government has still to do so. The Palestinian side is expected to hand over to the US today a detailed "plan of work" for combatting terrorism through the detention of suspects, closing down of terrorist groups and confiscation of illegal weapons. This plan will be reviewed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before being passed on to Israel.

Meanwhile, Palestinian security agencies have rounded up more than 100 Islamist activists, placed the spiritual mentor of the Hamas opposition, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, under house arrest and cracked down on the press, including foreign journalists covering Gaza and the West Bank. Mr Ziad Abu Zayed, a Palestinian minister, said the authority intended to demonstrate there "is only one government" in the self-rule areas. Activists accuse the authority of gross human rights violations. Mr Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, said that the "first victim" of Oslo "was human rights". History seems to be repeating itself.

In providing security for Israel the Palestinian Authority has instituted "waves of arrests, detention without trial and summary trials in state security courts and restrictions on free speech and ignored its own laws", he asserted. Mr Sourani, a lawyer who has been imprisoned by both Israel and the Authority, charged that scores of Palestinians were detained for months or years without due process. And when trials were held they were conducted at night in secret without counsel for the defendants. According to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, at least 20 Palestinians have died in authority custody including several who were detained for tax evasion.

A recent Amnesty report accused the authority of using "unjustified lethal . . . force against demonstrators when the lives of members of the security forces were not in danger". (A teenager was shot dead by Palestinian police during a protest in Ramallah last week).

Although the introduction to the security section of the Wye accord requires both sides to prevent violence and incitement, an action plan has been drawn up for only the Palestinians.

Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman and human rights campaigner, has been particularly critical of the acceptance of Israel's demands for a crackdown without insisting that Israel reciprocate by curbing the violence of the settlers against Palestinians. For Israelis, the test of the Wye accord will be how the authority deals with the "terrorist infrastructure". While the authority is prepared to close down the small radical Islamic Jihad group in its entirety, Hamas is a different proposition.

Hamas has three wings: political, military and social. So far the Authority has targeted the military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, and specific members of the political echelon but has promised to keep open the movement's clinics, schools and university and to maintain its welfare programmes which serve tens of thousands of poor Palestinians.

Any attempt to shut these facilities down could lead to mass protests challenging the tenuous control the Authority exercises over the disaffected populace.

Reuters adds:

The military wing of Hamas warned the Palestinian Authority yesterday that a crackdown against Hamas may push some activists to turn their guns on Palestinian police.

The warning, in a leaflet faxed to Reuters, was the first of its kind from the group which has always said its war was with Israel and that it wanted to avoid dragging Palestinian society into civil war.

The statement also accused Mr Arafat of betraying the Palestinian people by signing the Wye River land-for-security deal with Israel.

However, Mr Ismail Abu Shanab, a leader of the political wing of Hamas in Gaza, questioned the authenticy of the leaflet.

"It has not been issued by any agency of the Hamas movement, neither the political nor the security agencies," he told Reuters.

An Israeli memorial ceremony for the assassinated Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was marred yesterday by hecklers who accused Mr Benjamin Netanyahu of causing an atmosphere of hate that led to the 1995 political murder. "He incited, he incited to murder," several people shouted as Mr Netanyahu laid a wreath on his grave.

Police seized two men and dragged them away from the ceremony, held on the official memorial day marking the third anniversary of Rabin's assassination by an Israeli opposed to his peace policies.