On Monday, Israel imposed a complete blockade of Ramallah, a
city just north of Yerushalayim with a population of 60,000
that is the commercial capital of the Palestinian Authority
areas in Shomron and Yehuda. Blocking all roads with
trenches, mounds of earth and checkpoints backed by tanks
and armored troop carriers, the IDF cut off Ramallah
completely from the outside world, including the villages
that surround it.
Ramallah benefited the most from the peace process in terms
of development, new construction, an inflow of investments,
and Palestinian Authority offices. To put pressure on
Ramallah is to strike most directly at the interests of the
The blockade triggered many conflicting reactions.
Palestinian officials condemned the action as an escalation
of Israeli tactics against the Palestinian uprising. The
measure set off violent protests at one roadblock, where a
Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops. Additionally,
Palestinian activists have designated Wednesday and Friday
as "days of rage," to be marked by confrontations with
While both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer deflected criticism of the decision to
tighten the blockade around Ramallah, the United States does
not feel this move was a wise one. Like the proverbial
carrot dangled in front of an indolent horse while its owner
beats it from behind, the United States believes Israel has
taken steps that "both ease and make more difficult the
plight of the Palestinians, and steps that don't necessarily
always respond to security needs," said State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher.
Sharon told the Likud faction that the measure was taken
specifically to prevent terrorists from the Ramallah area
from carrying out a suspected attack in Jerusalem, saying
that the IDF had captured a number of terrorists, but it was
clear that there were still other terrorists from the same
cell in the field.
Sharon said that the decision to tighten the blockade around
Ramallah was made by the brigade commander in the area to
"prevent the escape of these people, or the possibility of
carrying out this attack."
Sharon laid the blame for the Palestinian people's harsh
living conditions on the PA, attributing the nation's plight
to their officials' lack of cooperation and laxity in
fulfilling promises to limit terrorism.
Three members of a terror cell who had planned a car bomb
attack inside Israel were captured, but other cell members
remain at large. Israeli security officials said the
Palestinian Authority had ignored requests to arrest the
terrorists, despite receiving information regarding their
A security official said the three terrorists arrested by
Israel on Saturday are affiliated with the Fatah Tanzim and
that among the captives and those still on the loose are a
number of Palestinian Policemen.
"We estimate that seven others remain at large in the
Ramallah area," the official said, hence the need for harsh
restrictions on Ramallah. The army is not hampering the
movement of Palestinian ambulances or humanitarian
assistance and allows food to enter otherwise closed
Sources close to the prime minister said that the attempt to
present the Ramallah blockade as part of a new policy in
effect throughout the territories was merely a "Palestinian
spin" on the story.
This position was supported by Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-
Eliezer, who told the cabinet in its first meeting on Monday
that "blockades were not born yesterday," a reference to the
fact that former prime minister Ehud Barak had also employed
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking at the Labor faction
meeting, also hinted that Barak was the initiator of this
policy when he placed an internal blockade on Ramallah, and
noted that Sharon is just continuing the previous
Sharon asserted today that his security policy was directed
"against those who attack and those behind them" while
"easing things as much as possible for most of the
In that vein, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
announced that he had ordered the lifting of less stringent
blockades imposed by the previous Israeli government on four
other West Bank cities: Bethlehem, Hebron, Tulkarm and
Meanwhile, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen Amos Malka briefed the
cabinet on Monday, and reportedly said that the decrease in
violence over the last few days is "tactical," with the
Palestinians interested in negotiating with Israel, but not
really in stopping the violence.
Malka also said that the Palestinians do not see interim
agreements -- which Sharon is interested in reaching -- as
in their interest; that they failed to translate their
violence into a diplomatic achievement; and that the United
States is unlikely to push for a permanent agreement in the
next few months.
West Bank Preventive Security Service chief Jibril Rajoub
denied Israeli claims that the closure imposed on Ramallah
is a security measure that could prevent terror attacks, and
warned that the measure will instead lead to an escalation
of violence. He also claimed that the car bombing was a
story fabricated to justify the suffering of the
Fatah leaders also warned that the closure will fuel the
"Aksa intifadah," while Palestinian sources said the
uprising is becoming more popular. The Intifadah leadership
has called upon Palestinians to storm the blockades.
Palestinian security sources said the best way to prevent
terror is to renew security cooperation. The PA has linked a
resumption of security cooperation with a renewal of the
The United States said on Monday that Israeli blockades of
Palestinian cities are ineffective at thwarting terror
attacks, and criticized other measures taken by Israel
ostensibly to ensure the security of its citizens.
Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the ongoing
violence and deepening Palestinian economic hardship in
phone calls to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres, and former prime minister Ehud Barak.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said restrictions
on movement, economic pressure, and blockades do not
necessarily help reduce the risk of attacks.
While the United States continued to call on Israel to ease
economic restrictions and take measures to prop up the
Palestinian Authority, including handing over millions of
dollars in collected tax revenue, Boucher said that those
gestures must be preceded by a reduction in Palestinian
violence -- the position taken by Israel.
He said that since January the United States had redirected
$57 million in program funding to address emergency needs in
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces continue to maintain an
increased presence throughout the country, focusing on bus
stations, malls, and markets in large cities.
Observers said that the nervous protests by Palestinians
against the latest blockade and the increasing voices on the
Palestinian side saying that the intifadah has achieved
nothing, are signs that the pressure is having an effect.