Israel Must Halt Building on Occupied Territories ; T MIDDLE EAST Mitchell Report Calls on Sharon to Lift Blockade on Gaza Strip While Attacking Arafat over His Failure to Control Palestinian Gunmen
Reeves, Phil, The Independent (London, England)
ISRAEL SHOULD freeze all settlement construction in the occupied territories. It should lift its blockade of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And it should also stop using lethal rubber-coated steel bullets, which its soldiers fire at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators adding to a death toll of more than 500, much of which was "avoidable".
These are among the recommendations of the US-led Mitchell committee, contained in a 32-page draft copy of its findings which - although under wraps for another fortnight - has been exclusively acquired by The Independent.
After weeks of probing the causes of the violence that erupted seven months ago between Israel and the Palestinians, the committee - led by former US senator and Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell - finds fault on both sides. Its report talks of a "very troubling" lack of control by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) over its own security forces and "over armed elements affiliated with the PA leadership".
The report also calls on the PA to prevent gunmen from firing from Arab residential areas at Israeli populated areas, placing civilians on both sides at unnecessary risk. It concludes that although "poorly timed" the visit by Ariel Sharon, then leader of the Likud party and now Israel's Prime Minister, to the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif last September was not the cause of the Palestinian intifada, even though its "provocative effect should have been foreseen".
Yet Israel's conduct is severely questioned on several fronts, ranging from the lack of supervision of junior soldiers in the riot zone to the wisdom of imposing a blockade on Palestinian areas, the relentless building of settlements in the occupied territories during peace talks and in contravention on international law.
The committee's report focuses at length on the settlements, which grew by 53 per cent during the 7-year Olso peace process, and now contains - excluding east Jerusalem - around 200,000 people. …