Palestinian negotiators said they had called off the latest round of peace talks with Israel today after Israeli troops killed three Palestinians and wounded 16 others during a raid in the heart of Qalandia Refugee Camp.
It was the most serious single incident since US-brokered Middle East peace talks resumed earlier this month after more than three years of stalemate. Palestinian leaders condemned the act as “excessive and indiscriminate violence” and a “crime”, while Israel said the operation early yesterday was necessary to apprehend a Palestinian suspected of arms dealing. Among those killed was Rubin Abdul Rahman Zayyed, 32, a father of four who worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Palestinian officials, who asked for anonymity, said that a session of peace talks scheduled to take place in the West Bank town of Jericho yesterday was cancelled because of the deaths. But Israeli officials disputed this, saying that no talks had been planned for yesterday.
Residents of the camp, which is located just outside Jerusalem and home to about 10,000 refugees said yesterday’s operation began around 4:30am local time, when Israeli undercover troops came to arrest Yusuf Khatib, a 25 year-old resident.
Lt-Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, confirmed that Mr Khatib had been wanted on suspicion of arms dealing and said a “large riot” involving hundreds of Palestinians ensued with many throwing rocks and cement blocks. “Live fire was used only after soldiers felt their self defence required it,” he said. “With the great numbers of people and the way the situation developed forces felt there was no choice but to use live fire.”
Palestinians disputed this version of events on Monday. Mr Zayyed’s father, Abdul-Rahman Hussein Zayyed, 74, said his son was on his way to work at 7am when he was shot. Lt-Colonel Lerner denied allegations that shots were fired indiscriminately. “The people targeted were involved in the violence,” he said.
Gunshots and chants of, “Oh martyr, we take up the path after you”, could be heard resonating through the Qalandia camp yesterday afternoon, as mourners carried Mr Zayyed’s corpse on a stretcher to the mosque. He was wrapped in a green, red, white and black Palestinian flag, his head draped in a black-and-white keffiyeh head scarf.
The violence on Monday morning put Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian advocates of negotiation with the Jewish state even further on the defensive. Their case for talks has also been harmed in the eyes of Palestinians by a spate of plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to expand Israeli settlements on occupied territory.
“They are using terrorism against us and we must resist with all means,” Mohammed Hafi, 19, a student, said while standing opposite the house of Jihad Aslan, 21, who was also killed in the raid. “The resistance decision is the only decision, the only way.”
Yunis Jahjouh, 22, was identified as the third Palestinian killed.