Harrowing reports from Holy Land

 The International Peacekeepers Team sent us these reports this morning. They make harrowing reading. Friends, It has been difficult to write, both logistically and emotionally - so please visit www.jerusalem.indymedia.org for further updates from our besieged Palestinian towns. Briefly: Presidential compound: 25 foreign civilians remain inside (going on their 12th day, since Sunday March 31) with hundreds of Palestinians. Although I don't have an exact count, when I was in there I estimated between 300-400 people inside, confined to about 12 rooms on two floors. Caoimhe Butterly, the Irish national who has been in the compound for a full two weeks reports a serious health crisis. The compound has not had running water for 13 days. This means that no one is able to wash, bathe or even flush the toilet. People are becoming sick and there is a fear of the spread of diseases. The Palestinians have repeatedly asked the Israeli military and authorities to be able to fix the water lines into the compound but have been denied permission. A meagre supply of food is getting into the compound daily, but rations are small and people are losing a lot of weight. The internationals inside the compound reiterate their call for international intervention. Ramallah: the town continues to be under total siege and curfew. There was a brief lifting of the curfew yesterday to allow people to rush to the stores to purchase desperately needed food items. Milk is hard to find and fresh fruits and vegetables have not entered the town for over two weeks. People still lined up for bread, but many, many families are no longer able to afford even this. Two weeks of stagnation on top of an economy that was already in shambles has resulted in extreme cases of poverty. Nevertheless people looked relieved to get some fresh air. Though this was the second real lifting of the curfew, a look of astonishment could still be seen on the faces of the Ramallah residents toppled light poles, upturned streets, shattered glass, burned buildings, bullet-riddled storefronts; People stepped over the bullets, glass and twisted metal to greet each other and continue on their way. A number of us gathered in the streets to sing songs and chant slogans against the occupation. One empty bottle thrown by a young kid lead to bullets being fired and a barrage of tear gas shot into the crowded city centre. A number of elderly women had to be carried off and treated for tear gas inhalation. As 5:00pm rolled around the streets emptied of people. No one dared to be caught outside after curfew was imposed. Only a day earlier a mentally disabled young man, who probably didn't realize that he shouldn't be outside, was chased by Israeli soldiers and shot dead. The sharp shots of snipers, the rolling fire of machine guns, the rumbling of tanks and random explosions can be heard sporadically through the otherwise dead town. We no longer even wonder what is being blown up. The destruction is just too great. Israeli soldiers continue to round up young men. On Wednesday a teacher's college in Ramallah was invaded and approximately 160 young men/ students at the boarding school were taken away. We learn of the abuse and torture via those that have been released. I have one such 17 year old boy staying with me. During the last lifting of the curfew (on Monday April 8) we met on the street in the centre of town. There I learned that he lives in a nearby village but worked in Ramallah. On Saturday, March 30 he was taken from his workplace, along with approximately 100+ others to the military compound of Ofer. He was bound and blindfolded and left out in the cold for 7 days, during which time he was interrogated and kicked around. His money and ID card were taken but never returned to him. He was released with a few dozen others on the outskirts of Ramallah on Saturday April 6 and had to walk back into town. This is extremely dangerous as soldiers shoot at anything they see moving during curfew. Because he is unable to reach his village, for the 2 days from his release until I met this young man he was sleeping in a bombed out building. Foreign civilians continue to accompany ambulances and volunteer with food distribution. We've been shot at a number of times but keep going, as do the Palestinian doctors, medics and medical relief volunteers. Yesterday a Japanese volunteer, Kuniomi Asai was injured when a soldier threw a concussion grenade at him for walking too close to the presidential compound. Bethlehem the town also remains under total curfew. The standoff at the Church of the Nativity continues. Yesterday, heavy black smoke was reported to be seen coming out of the church. In the residential neighbourhood around Manger Square, no one has been allowed to leave and no food or medicine has been allowed in. Foreign civilians have tried a number of times to walk towards Manger Square on foot, only to be turned back at gunpoint. The situation is getting desperate for families being denied food and water. There will be another attempt today by foreign civilians to walk towards Manger Square. Young men also continue to be rounded up and hauled away. Who will help us get our fathers and brothers back after the Israelis pull out? Nablus: Three International Solidarity Movement volunteers have been in Nablus for three days. They are still reporting difficulty reaching the sick and injured by ambulance. Yesterday one ambulance in Nablus was riddled with bullet holes as others continue to be stopped and searched. Mary Kelley (Irish national) reported being on an ambulance in which the driver was forced to strip off articles of his clothing. Doctors of the Rafedia hospital fear that soldiers will try entering the hospital to search for "wanted" people among the injured patients. The Israeli army had the hospital surrounded yesterday but as of 10:00pm had not entered the hospital. There is a dire need for oxygen which Israeli soldiers are not letting through despite coordination with the Israeli Authorities. Jenin: Horrible reports continue to come out of Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp. WE have been trying to get foreign civilians in there but have thus far been unable to. Two days ago we sent up 13 internationals and yesterday another 8. The internationals along with a number of foreign journalists were denied entry by Israeli forces. The internationals spent the night in a nearby village where refugees and released detainees from the Jenin Refugee Camp have been staying. Thirteen internationals, 1 Swede, 1 Italian, 3 British and 8 American, are coming from Bethlehem and Jerusalem to Jenin, where there are reports of 300 dead and countless injured. 548 Palestinian men now living in Romani has been dumped by Israeli soldiers at nearby Salem checkpoint after having been arrested or escaping from Jenin. 160 were dumped naked outside of Syba. We heard several stories of horror from the men. A Palestinian UNRWA employee was detained at a checkpoint for three days without food, and only Israeli soldiers, urine to drink. The right side of his face paralyzed due to severe beating. The Israeli interrogators, described as torturers, told the imprisoned man that all UNRWA employees are spies for Hezbollah. When asking the Israeli doctors to loosen his severely tight plastic handcuffs, the doctor only tightened them further. His home in Jenin caught fire, which was saved by firefighters, only to be bombed by an Apache helicopter. He does not know what has become of his family. A young Palestinian man was forced from his home in Jenin, and used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers. His back and neck are burned by cigarettes. A Red Crescent ambulance driver was arrested for feeding 200 women and children for 3 days. When the food ran out, the 200 left the medical centre, heading for the Eastern side of Jenin. All were stopped, while some women, and all of the men were forced to strip naked. At the school in Kyba, which is serving as a refugee camp for the arrested and escaped from Jenin refugee camp, there is a list on the wall of those detainees released from Salem checkpoint. In nearby Romani, the mosque loud speaker which otherwise projects a call to prayer, called out names of the missing and the disappeared from Jenin. The 13 internationals intend to deliver humanitarian aide, assist ambulance drivers and document human rights abuses if we are able to reach the town and the camp.

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