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Archive for August, 2013

Ecuador’s president abandons no-drilling plan

August 16, 2013

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — President Rafael Correa said Thursday that he has abandoned a unique and ambitious plan to persuade rich countries to pay Ecuador not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon rainforest preserve.

Environmentalist had hailed the initiative when Correa first proposed it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by lowering the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said in a nationally televised speech. He said the global recession was in part responsible but chiefly blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.

“It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.” Correa had sought $3.6 billion in contributions to maintain a moratorium on drilling in the remote Yasuni National Park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to two Indian tribes living in voluntary isolation.

But he said Thursday evening that Ecuador had raised just $13 million in actual donations in pledges and that he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling. The U.N. and private donors had put up the cash.

Correa said he was proposing to the National Assembly, which his supporters control, oil exploration in Yasuni amounting to less than 1 percent of its 3,800 square miles His no-drilling plan had envisioned rich countries paying Ecuador half the $7.2 billion in revenues expected to be generated over 10 years from the 846 million barrels of heavy crude estimated to be in Yasuni.

Not drilling in the reserve would keep 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, officials had said during their global lobbying campaign that included organizing tours of the reserve for journalists.

But while Correa’s proposal generated interest, there were few takers, in part because he insisted that Ecuador alone would decide how the donations would be spent. European countries expressed the most interest but still balked.

Ecuador is an OPEC member that depends on oil for a third of its national budget. The three oil fields in Yasuni represent 20 percent of its oil reserves. Political analyst Jose Fuentes of the Flacso university in Quito said Correa had opted “for economic pragmatism” in abandoning the environmentalist image he had wished to project internationally.

Matt Finer, a scientist at the U.S.-based Center for International Environmental Law, expressed dismay at the decision. “It is deeply disappointing that this alternative model for dealing with oil and gas reserves in mega diverse rainforests did not work,” he said via email from Peru. “The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was the lone exception to the relentless expansion of hydrocarbon projects deeper into the most remote tracts of the western Amazon. Now there is really no viable alternative to stop the wave of drilling slated for the most biodiverse region of the world.”

Despite championing the project, Correa is not perceived domestically as much of an environmentalist. He has also upset indigenous groups with plans to develop major mining projects for the first time.

Indigenous and environmental groups in Ecuador, a nation of 14 million people, have said that any decision on the fate of Yasuni should be made in a national referendum. Patricio Chavez, director of the environmental group Amazonia por la Vida, criticized Correa for leaving potential donors a single option: “Pay or we drill.”

Yasuni is not the only oil drilling that Correa’s government plans in the rainforest. He is also seeking to auction oil concessions in 13 blocks of 770 square miles each south of Yasuni closer to the border with Peru.

Oil is Ecuador’s chief source of foreign earnings. The country produces 538,000 barrels of crude a day, delivering nearly half its production to the United States.

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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China upholds Nobel winner’s relative’s sentence

August 16, 2013

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court on Friday upheld the 11-year prison sentence handed down to the brother-in-law of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, the man’s lawyer said.

Relatives have denounced Liu Hui’s conviction on fraud charges in a real estate dispute as political payback for the strong pro-democracy stance taken by Liu Xiaobo, who has been imprisoned on subversion charges since 2009.

Lawyer Shang Baojun said the court in suburban Beijing’s Huairou district turned down Liu Hui’s appeal at a 20-minute hearing attended by the defendant. “We’re very disappointed by this outcome,” Shang told The Associated Press.

Foreign diplomats and journalists who sought to attend the trial were denied entry to the courthouse, which was cordoned off with crime scene tape and surrounded by dozens of police officers and private security guards in a sign of the case’s sensitivity and high visibility.

Liu Hui’s sister, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Shang said that Liu Xia, who has protested her extralegal detention, did not attend Friday’s hearing because she wasn’t feeling well.

The European Union’s political officer in Beijing, Charles Parton, said Liu Hui’s case was being closely followed because of its possible ties to Liu Xiaobo’s conviction. Parton also called for the lifting of what he described as Liu Xia’s “illegal house arrest.”

“The EU would like to recall the great importance it attaches to the respect of human rights all over the world, the situation of human rights defenders and of their family members, as well as the due process of rule of law in China,” Parton said.

Liu Hui’s brother, Liu Tong, was permitted to attend the hearing. He said the outcome was “very, very disappointing.” “In our family, we were all hoping to see a good result, a result that would give our family and all of us hope,” Liu said.

Liu said Liu Hui’s case has caused his sister’s generally poor health to deteriorate further. “This issue brings a lot of psychological pressure and affects her greatly,” he said. Liu Xiaobo was prosecuted after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing’s one-party communist political system in a document titled called Charter ’08. A court dismissed his appeal in early 2010.

His Nobel Peace Prize incensed China’s leaders, who have retaliated against Norway, where the prize is awarded. It has frozen the country’s diplomats out of meetings, halted trade talks and blocked salmon imports.

Liu Hui’s lawyers have said his dispute over a development deal in Beijing had already been resolved, with the disputed 3 million yuan ($500,000) handed over to partners in the transaction, before the case went to trial.

Associated Press reporter Aritz Parra contributed to this report.

Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners before talks

August 14, 2013

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel released 26 Palestinian inmates, including many convicted in grisly killings, on the eve of long-stalled Mideast peace talks, angering families of those slain by the prisoners, who were welcomed as heroes in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buses carrying the inmates departed the Ayalon prison in central Israel late Tuesday, a nighttime release that was aimed at preventing the spectacle of prisoners flashing victory signs as has happened in the past. Relatives of the victims, many with their hands painted red to symbolize what they say is the blood on the hands of the inmates, held protests throughout the day, and some protesters tried briefly to block the buses from leaving.

The decision to release the men stirred anguish in Israel, where many Israelis view them as terrorists. Most of the prisoners were convicted of killings, including Israeli civilians, soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.

Celebrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinian well-wishers awaited the buses’ arrival. Palestinians generally view the prisoners as heroes regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.

Fireworks lit the sky in Gaza, where rival Hamas and Fatah supporters, including several masked gunmen, celebrated to the beat of drums. Some danced while others flashed victory signs and waved flags of the Palestinian factions. Cars with loudspeakers blasted nationalistic songs.

“Today is a day of joy and happiness. I can’t wait until I hug my beloved son,” said Aicha Abu Setta, the 68-year-old mother of freed prisoner Alla Abu Setta. “I am so excited that he will be free and he will spend his first night among us after more than 20 years,” she said, clutching a picture of her 43-year-old son, who was arrested in 1994, charged, along with his cousin, of killing a soldier.

Palestinians hurled rocks at the Israeli military vehicles escorting the bus convoy as it reached the crossing to the West Bank after 1 a.m. About a thousand people took to the streets of Ramallah in celebration, singing and dancing. The released prisoners were met with hugs from well-wishers. They were greeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas personally at the presidential compound and later laid a wreath at the grave of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Abbas delivered a short speech congratulating the prisoners and said he will “not rest until they are all released.” There are about 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails. “You are just the beginning and the rest will come,” Abbas said.

Tuesday’s release was part of an agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the table for peace talks that had been paralyzed since 2008. In all, 104 convicts are to be released in four batches, although their freedom is contingent on progress in peace talks.

Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. Among those released Tuesday was a Palestinian convicted in the 1994 slaying of Isaac Rotenberg, a 69-year-old Holocaust survivor who was attacked with an ax as he was working at a construction site where he was a contractor. Others were convicted in the slayings of Ian Feinberg, an Israeli lawyer killed in a European aid office in Gaza in 1993, and Frederick Rosenfeld, an American slain while hiking in the West Bank in 1989.

Thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons since Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. They were jailed on charges ranging from throwing rocks to killing civilians in bombings, shootings and other attacks.

On Monday, Israel’s prison service posted the names online of the first 26 inmates to be released to allow for possible court appeals. Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by families of those killed by the prisoners earlier Tuesday.

The fate of the prisoners is extremely emotional in Palestinian society. After decades of fighting Israel, many families have had a member imprisoned and the release of prisoners has been a longstanding demand.

Most of the inmates already have served around 20 years, with the longest-held arrested in 1985. Fourteen of the prisoners were released to the Gaza Strip and 12 to the West Bank. Palestinians argue that the 104 prisoners slated for release carried out their acts at a time of conflict, before Israel and the Palestinians struck their first interim peace agreement in 1994. They say Israel should have released them long ago, as part of previous peace talks.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel angered Palestinians when it announced it was moving forward with building nearly 900 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians had refused to resume negotiations with Israel unless it halted settlement construction in territory it wants for a future state. Israel has refused, insisting that settlements and other core issues be resolved through talks.

After six trips to the region, Kerry managed to persuade Abbas to drop the settlement issue as a condition for negotiations to start. In exchange, Israel agreed to the prisoner release. The Palestinians argue the settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, are making it increasingly difficult to carve out their state and that continued Israeli construction is a sign of bad faith.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel’s settlement plans are a slap in the face of the Palestinians and Kerry. “It is not just deliberate sabotage of the talks, but really a destruction of the outcome,” she said.

Ashrawi urged Kerry “to stand up to Israel” and deliver a tough response. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the Palestinian claim. “The Palestinians know that Israel rejected their demands of a settlement freeze as a precondition to these talks, they cannot say otherwise,” Regev said. “The construction that the Israeli government authorized is all in Jerusalem and the large blocs, in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible final status agreement and this construction that has been authorized in no way changes the final map of peace.”

Kerry said he spoke with Netanyahu Tuesday morning. “We had a very frank and open discussion on the issue of settlements,” he said. “Let me make it clear. The policy of the United States with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate and we oppose settlements taking place anytime.”

The latest construction is to take place in Gilo, an area in east Jerusalem that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital, is not internationally recognized.

The housing plan, which received initial approval last year, would expand Gilo’s boundaries further toward a Palestinian neighborhood. The plans for 900 housing units in Gilo come in addition to an earlier announcement this week of some 1,200 other settlement homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in the Gaza Strip and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Japan city votes to destroy tsunami ship landmark

August 13, 2013

KESENNUMA, Japan (AP) — A stranded fishing boat that became a symbol of the devastation of Japan’s 2011 tsunami has long divided a northeastern coastal city — between those who wanted to keep it as a monument of survival and those who wanted a painful reminder gone.

Last week, the city announced it will be torn down after a heated debate and citywide vote. The soul-searching over the ship highlights how the aftermath of the tsunami disaster continues to torment Japan two years later.

The 330 metric ton (360 ton) Kyotokumaru was swept by the towering tsunami from the city’s dock for about 750 meters (800 yards) into a residential district. It has become a landmark for Kesennuma, a port city of 70,000 people, and a testament to the destructive power of the tsunami set off by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, which killed nearly 19,000 people.

The nearby smashed buildings and debris were cleared, but the 60-meter (200-foot) tuna-fishing boat has stood, majestic but oddly jarring, on dry ground for more than two years. Opinion on the ship had been so divided it had been put to a vote by the city residents last month. Of the 14,083 responses, 68 percent, or 9,622 people, voted to have the ship destroyed. Only 16 percent voted to keep it.

Yoshimi Abe, a 72 year-old housewife and Kesennuma resident, was among those who wanted to get rid of the ship. It’s just a constant reminder of the terrible disaster,” she said. “When I walk by it every morning, my heart aches.”

The house that Abe grew up in was destroyed by the tsunami, and she now lives in temporary housing. In contrast, Shigeru Saito, 80, voted to keep the boat, which he saw as a plus for drawing business.

“My son owns a store in the temporary market near Kyotokumaru. Many of his customers are out-of-town visitors who drop by to see the ship,” he said. For now, Kyotokumaru still towers over the flattened neighborhood, its blue and red paint rusting, propped up with iron beams and fenced off with yellow tape. It’s surrounded by bouquets of flowers left by people. They pray and take photos. Some just stand and stare.

Much of the tsunami-hit region’s rebuilding remains untouched. Fears grow about people, especially young people, leaving. Some areas will be ghost-towns for decades because of the radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant that went into multiple meltdowns.

The Fukushima fishing company, which owns the Kyotokumaru, has signed a contract with a nonprofit organization that recycles ships. The dismantling is likely to start in the next few weeks. Kesennuma Mayor Shigeru Sugawara was disappointed the landmark would soon be gone.

“I wanted to leave a visible symbol of what happened here for generations to come,” said Sugawara. “The decision has been made, and there’s nothing much more we can do.”

Eid Eve Clashes Stoked by Gunshots Fired at Uyghur Girl

2013-08-12

Clashes between Chinese security forces and Muslim Uyghurs on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr festival last week could have been contained if the armed troops did not open fire at random, killing three and wounding about a dozen other civilians, including an innocent four-year-old girl, according to officials and residents.

Ten policemen were also injured in the clashes Wednesday in the restive Xinjiang region’s Aksu prefecture triggered by prayer restrictions imposed ahead of the Eid marking the end of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan.

The girl, identified as Subhinur Memet, who was injured in the leg, was among 13 people admitted to the Aksu No. 1 People’s Hospital following the clashes in the No. 16 village of Aykol town, which occurred after the authorities prevented residents from one hamlet in the village from going to another to perform the Eid eve prayers.

“When the four year old girl was injured, people became very angry,” Ablet Ghojamniyaz, secretary of the village’s ruling Chinese Communist Party branch, told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “It was difficult to disperse the crowd and they refused to back down.”

As the crowd swelled to about 600 people and with some in the mob hurling stones and bricks at the security forces, the People’s Armed Police arrived and “started to shoot haphazardly,” he said. “But I do not know what happened after that, because I was also running away.”

Ablet Ghojamniyaz, who witnessed the incident, said tensions first erupted when government officials prevented residents from hamlet No. 3 in the No. 16 village from praying at the mosque in hamlet No. 2.

The residents forced their way through to the mosque, prompting Party cadres to call in the police who detained and took away two Uyghurs and returned to take several more into custody, he said.

“When the police herded four Uyghurs into a police car, the people surrounded the vehicle and demanded the reasons for taking them away on the eve of the Eid festival, triggering the clashes.”

“The clashes could have been avoided if the cadres allowed them to pray,” he said.

Tensions inflamed

Ablet Ghojamniyaz said that Aykol police deputy chief Gheni Osman handled the situation deftly and almost persuaded the crowd to disperse after assuring them that he would release the two who were detained earlier.

But Aykol police station chief Wu Guiliang, a Han Chinese, intervened and used harsh words, inflaming tensions, he said.

“When the situation was getting under control, Wu Guiliang arrived, shouting and hitting the people with the rifle butt. Then people started throwing stones and he fired shots in the air and to the ground,” Ablet Ghojamniyaz said. “The people did not back down and chased him [Wu] until he bolted from the scene.”

Then, the situation spiraled out of control as four-year-old Subhinur was shot in the melee by the local police station personnel and as three other Uyghurs, including a woman, succumbed to bullet wounds on the spot after being hit by People’s Armed Police and SWAT teams.

Subhinur’s aunt, identified only as Ayimqiz, said her niece is recovering from her leg injuries.

“I went to see her at the hospital and she is bit better now,” said Ayimqiz, the older sister of Subhinur’s father, and chief of the No.16 village’s women’s union.

Subhinur’s father has been detained, along with scores of others following the clashes.

In fact, No. 2 hamlet chief Ehet Mahmut said, “All the youths in my area have been detained” for questioning, without giving any specific number.

Only one of the three killed has been identified—Gopur Dawut, 27.

One of four injured woman, identified as Patem Turdi, 40, was shot while looking for her 15-year-old son, according to Ablet Ghojamniyaz.

Recent violence

Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.

Xinjiang has seen a string of violent incidents since June 26, leaving at least 64 dead in total, as the region marked the anniversary last month of July 5, 2009 clashes in the regional capital Urumqi between the minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese.

The rioting left some 200 people dead and 1,700 injured, according to official media reports.

Source: Radio Free Asia.

Link: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/shooting-08122013193025.html.

Top Syria rebel visits fighters in Assad homeland

August 12, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — The military commander of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group visited rebels in the coastal province that is President Bashar Assad’s ancestral homeland following recent opposition advances in the area, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Over the past week, rebel fighters in Latakia province have swept through a string of villages that are populated by members of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The advances have not shifted the strategic balance in the area, but they did embarrass the regime in a region that has been under tight government control since the Syrian revolt began more than two years ago.

Assad’s forces have launched a counteroffensive to try to dislodge the rebels, and activists say fighting is raging over several villages in the mountainous region. In a video posted on the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s Facebook page, rebel military chief Gen. Salim Idris walks with a small group of fighters through hilly terrain. Dressed in civilian clothes with a shoulder holster and a pistol, Idris tells them that he visited the front to see the “important achievements and great victories that were made by our brother rebels in the coast.”

“We are here to confirm that the command is fully coordinating with the coastal command,” he said. Coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour said the visit to Latakia took place Sunday. She did not specify whether he went to the newly captured territory.

Idris is the leader of the Coalition’s Supreme Military Council, a loose umbrella group of more secular-minded opposition brigades that serves as the main conduit for Western aid to rebels fighting to oust the Assad regime. He has little more than nominal control, however, over the hundreds of rebel factions that make up the constellation of opposition forces on the ground.

The most effective and efficient rebel groups — the Islamic extremist factions — don’t even recognize Idris’ authority. In recent months, there have been a rising number of clashes between al-Qaida-linked factions and more moderate opposition brigades. The infighting has undermined the opposition’s overall effort to topple the Assad regime.

Despite their ideological differences, Islamic extremist groups and more secular-minded rebels also frequently coordinate their efforts when its suits them and there is a mutual benefit. That has been the case in Latakia, activists say, where more moderate rebel groups fighting alongside al-Qaida-linked jihadi factions, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, captured 11 Alawite villages last week.

The offensive forced residents of the villages to flee their homes and left at least 60 civilians dead, activists say. Another 400 civilians, mostly Alawites, are missing and are presumed to be in rebel custody in the area, according to activists who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The gains in Latakia by anti-Assad fighters have provided a small boost to the opposition after weeks of government victories in central Syria and around the capital, Damascus.

Israeli pain, Palestinian joy over inmate release

August 13, 2013

BRUKIN, West Bank (AP) — Mustafa al-Haj expected to die in an Israeli prison for killing an American-born settler hiking in the West Bank in 1989. Now lights decorate his home to celebrate the planned release of the 45-year-old and more than 100 other Palestinian convicts in a deal that revived Mideast peace talks.

While the Palestinians are joyful, the decision to free the inmates has stirred anger in Israel where victims’ families say it is an insult to their loved ones. Israel published the names of 26 men, including al-Haj, to be freed before the first round of talks Wednesday. In all, 104 prisoners have been slated for release in four tranches over a period of nine months that the U.S. has set aside for negotiations. But their freedom is contingent on progress in the talks.

The Israelis have granted early release to Palestinian prisoners in the past, including in swaps. The upcoming round, however, has sparked particularly high-pitched debate because it was linked to resuming talks and many of those to be freed were involved in deadly attacks.

Gila Molcho said the release of one of three men involved in the stabbing death of her brother in 1993 was opening old wounds. Her brother, Ian Feinberg, was killed in the European aid office in Gaza City where he was working as a lawyer.

“My brother’s blood is being sold for nothing, as a gesture,” Molcho said. “On a very personal level, there is pain.” Palestinians argue that those slated for release were acting during a time of conflict, before the two sides struck their first interim peace agreement in 1994, and that Israel should have freed them in previous rounds of negotiations.

“We used violence and the Israelis used violence,” said Kadoura Fares, who heads an advocacy group for prisoners and, like many of those to be released, is a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Fares noted that the number of Palestinians, including civilians, who were killed by Israeli troops in wars and uprisings over the past two decades far outstrips the number of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.

In the first and second Palestinian uprisings, more than 1,200 Israelis and just under 5,000 Palestinians were killed. The two sides are now making their third major attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of the Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to make some adjustments.

The last round of substantive talks was held in 2008, but a dispute over settlements kept the two sides away from the table until now. The Palestinians are entering Wednesday’s talks with renewed distrust, after Israel promoted Jewish settlements on war-won lands the Palestinians want for their state in three major announcements over the course of a week.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Marie Harf praised Israel’s decision to release prisoners as a “positive step.” She said the Obama administration also raised serious concerns about the latest settlement plans with the Israeli government.

Abbas had insisted on a construction freeze in settlements, deemed illegal by most of the international community, before going back to negotiations. However, U.S. mediators failed to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comply and Abbas relented.

As compensation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brokered the prisoner release and, according to Abbas aides, assured the Palestinians that the U.S. views Israel’s pre-1967 lines as a starting point for border talks, even if Netanyahu does not.

Kerry said Monday in Bogota that he didn’t think the settlements issue would create a large bump in the road to the talks, which are set to resume on Wednesday. “As the world, I hope knows, the U.S. views the settlements as illegitimate and we have communicated that policy very clearly to Israel,” he said.

“I think that what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table and getting to the table quickly and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problems of security and borders. Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements.”

Abbas is returning to talks amid widespread skepticism among Palestinians, but the prisoner release — an emotional consensus issue — could make up for that. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons since 1967, on charges ranging from throwing stones and membership in outlawed organizations to involvement in attacks. Palestinians tend to view prisoners as heroes, regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.

In Israel, many consider those involved in the killings as terrorists, and some of the attacks are engraved in the nation’s collective memory. This includes the death of Amnon Pomerantz, a 46-year-old Israeli reserve sergeant who in 1990 made a wrong turn and ended up driving into Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp with his car marked by yellow Israeli license plates.

Pomerantz was stoned and tried to drive away in a panic, but his car rammed into a donkey cart and injured two youngsters. This was followed by another barrage of stones and gasoline-soaked rags that set his car on fire. Pomerantz burned to death.

Another victim is Isaac Rotenberg, who survived the Nazi death camp of Sobibor, fought alongside partisans and made it to Israel after World War II. In 1994, at age 69, the contractor was killed with an ax from behind while at a construction site, his son Pini said, adding he finds it difficult to fathom that one of his father’s killers is going free.

“It’s painful to pay such a heavy price just as a concession for talks,” he said. In the summer of 1989, al-Haj — who made the first list of those to be released — was with two friends when they encountered 48-year-old Frederick Rosenfeld, during a West Bank hike, chatted with him and even posed for pictures before stabbing him to death.

Rosenfeld had immigrated to Israel from Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s and eventually moved to the Jewish settlement of Ariel, near the West Bank town of Brukin. In Brukin, al-Haj’s family did not want to speak in detail about Rosenfeld as they decorated his West Bank home with chains of lights ahead of his anticipated homecoming.

“I wish he hadn’t killed that man and that he hadn’t gone to jail for those long years, but this is God’s will,” Hamza al-Haj, 55, said of his younger brother. “This was a war time, in which people kill each other. You can’t define one as a criminal and one as a victim.”

Hamza said his brother was an activist in the first Palestinian uprising, which lasted for six years and ended with a historic accord of mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.

The family now hopes Mustafa, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in a correspondence course, can start a family and find a job. In Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp, Fatima Nashabat, 48, said she is counting the hours until the release of her husband, Mohammed, 52, who has spent 23 years in prison as an accessory in the killing of Pomerantz, the reserve soldier.

“Last night, when they said he will be in the first group, our house turned into a big dance floor,” said the mother of four. “We were cheering and singing.”

Laub reported in Jericho, West Bank. Associated Press writers Ian Deitch and Max J. Rosenthal in Jerusalem, Ibrahim Barzak in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, and Deb Riechmann in Bogota contributed to this report.

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