Jason Keyser | Associated Press
JERUSALEM – The Israeli army raided the West Bank offices of a foreign pro-Palestinian group yesterday, confiscating computers and documents and arresting an American and an Australian, witnesses and a group spokeswoman said.
Israeli troops also demolished eight Palestinian homes yesterday in the Gaza Strip near the site of an earlier car bomb explosion, while Palestinians fired six crude rockets from Gaza into Israel, lightly injuring a 10-year-old girl.
The actions came on the eve of a visit by US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to support the ”road map” peace plan, which is aimed at ending 31 months of fighting and creating a Palestinian state.
The actions also followed declarations Thursday by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, who praised his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, as a ”partner” for peace and said he is ready to renew peace talks with Syria without conditions.
About 22 Israeli army jeeps surrounded the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in the village of Beit Sahour, and soldiers entered and confiscated six computers, said George Rishmawi, a Palestinian close to the group. A spokeswoman for the pro-Palestinian organization, Laura Gordon, also confirmed the raid.
The Israelis arrested Christine Razowsky, 28, of Chicago, and an Australian woman who did not want her name released, as well as Palestinian Fida Gharib, 22, a secretary for the organization, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman and other group officials.
The military said it arrested several people who ”violated the law” in Beit Sahour, but declined to elaborate. Kleiman said the foreigners were in police custody and were being questioned for entering a restricted military area.
The interrogation documents and other evidence, including the computers, will be used by the Interior Ministry to decide whether the foreigners should be deported, Kleiman said.
The International Solidarity Movement is a pro-Palestinian organization of volunteers who often act as ”human shields,” placing themselves between Palestinians and the Israeli army.
In the past two months, an American member of the group, Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Wash., was killed and two other foreign activists – an American and a Briton – were seriously wounded in separate events. One of the wounded, Tom Hurndall, 21, of Britain, is on life support in an Israeli hospital.
”The aim is to deport any foreigner who supports us,” said George Rishmawi, a Palestinian official close to the group. ”We consider these people to be international witnesses to the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
Early Thursday, Israeli security forces arrested two British members of the group who were trying to enter the Gaza Strip, the group said in a statement. Alice Coy and Nick Durie were taken for questioning at the border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the statement said.
The army declined to comment.
Also Friday, Israeli army bulldozers demolished eight homes and damaged two others in the Gaza Strip town of Deir el-Balah, leaving 45 people homeless, the mayor said. The homes are close to the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, where a Palestinian suicide bomber rammed his car into an Israeli tank late Thursday.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia linked to the ruling Fatah movement, claimed responsibility. Abbas, a senior Fatah leader, has denounced such violence.
Palestinians, meanwhile, fired homemade Qassam rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, hitting the Negev Desert town of Sderot and spraying debris that lightly injured a 10-year-old girl, who was taken to a hospital, police said.