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Tear-gas, air-strikes as Ramadan opens

Wall divides Jerusalem
Ted Swedenburg

Israeli soldiers fired tear gas Aug. 5 to disperse the weekly anti-wall protest in the Palestinian village of  Bil'in, west of Ramallah on the  West Bank—marking the first Friday of the Ramadan holy month. (Ma'an News Agency, Aug. 5) Thousands gathered at  Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque for prayers, despite Israeli restrictions that barred Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering the city. (MSNBCAFP, Aug. 5)

Israel's interior ministry meanwhile announced final approval for the construction of 900 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement district of Har Homa—a project that has won fierce criticism from Palestinians and the international community. Har Homa is known as Abu Ghnaim to Palestinians and was e a forested area in northern Bethlehem before the woods were razed to make way for the housing developments and the district redefined as part of Jerusalem.

Hagit Ofran, who monitors settlement activity for the Israeli group Peace Now, described the final approval of the project as "a very dramatic development" because of the critical location of the new housing. "It adds a new ridge to Har Homa which blocks the territorial contiguity between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem and adds a further barrier to the possibility of east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital in a two-state solution," she told AFP. (AFP, Aug. 4)

Israel has carried out a second night of air-strikes against targets in the  Gaza Strip Aug. 5. Reports indicate five were wounded in the raids, which struck a training center for the armed wing of Hamas and a smuggling tunnel on the Egyptian border. The air-strikes followed sporadic mortar and rocket fire from Gaza militants over the past week, which struck in and around the Israeli towns of Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon and Lachish. However on Aug. 1, an Israeli Bedouin woman was lightly wounded by shrapnel from one of the rockets near Ashkelon.

The last major escalation of the ongoing Gaza crisis followed an incident in April when an Israeli school bus was hit by a rocket fired from the Palestinian territory. An Israeli youth later died from his injuries. Israel responded to that attack with a series of air-strikes that killed at least 19 Palestinians, the deadliest violence since Israel's 22-day devastating assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9. (BBC NewsMa'an, Aug. 5)

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