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Israel Claims Of Ease Refuted As Killings Continue

Blockade of West Bank Continues, Travel Restrictions Still Intact

IOF Shoot Dead Palestinian Woman, Settlers Uproot Hundreds of Olive Trees

A Palestinian woman was killed early Thursday while at home when at least ten Israeli tanks and 30 military jeeps and trucks, backed by two US-made Apache helicopters, invaded the old town of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, as facts on the ground and Palestinian sources refuted Israeli official announcements on Wednesday that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were easing their West Bank blockade.

Palestinian woman Imtiyaz Abu Ras, 38, was killed while at home early Thursday by a bullet in the neck when the IOF invaded the Qasaba of Nablus and opened heavy machine gunfire indiscriminately at the civilian population.

Media reports said that Palestinian activists defended their city and wounded two soldiers of the invading troops.

Meanwhile nothing on the ground in occupied Palestinian territories early Thursday vindicated the Israeli announcements on easing the military restrictions imposed by the IOF on Palestinian civilian population.

Israeli “defense” officials said Wednesday they had begun easing travel restrictions in the West Bank and were discussing the removal of illegal (termed “unauthorized” by Israelis) settlement outposts.

Palestinians said little had changed on the ground.

"We don't know … the extent of Israeli commitment to these (announced) measures," said Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister.

At the Surda roadblock north of Ramallah, the IOF allowed pedestrians to pass but physical trenches and roadblocks remained intact. The crossing was jammed with hundreds of cars, people and donkeys early Thursday.

Other roadblocks and checkpoints were also still intact, and the operators of major bus companies in Nablus and Bethlehem said they still did not have permission to resume operations.

An IOF spokesman said the lifting of the restrictions was being carried out in steps. "I can assure you that people are feeling this (improvement) as we speak," the spokesman said.

"The movement of private vehicles (among towns) will be possible after the issuing of special authorizations" on an individual basis by the IOF authorities, an Israeli army statement said Wednesday.

The statement also confirmed the re-establishment of public transportation between towns.

However the easing of restrictions will not apply to Nablus and Jenin, in the northern West Bank, the statement added.

With a population of more than 130,000, Nablus is the largest city in the West Bank. The travel restrictions have disrupted the city's commerce and prevented people from nearby towns from reaching hospitals.

The IOF sealed off the West Bank a month ago but the occupation army chief of staff General Moshe Yaalon said last week that the blockade was proving counterproductive by encouraging extremism, including in traditionally quieter Palestinian areas.

The army chief was even summoned by “Defense” Minister Shaul Mofaz, who scolded him over his subversive comments but obtained no apology or retraction.

Settlers Chop down Hundreds of Olive Trees

Separately extremist Israeli illegal settlers have chopped down hundreds of olive trees grown on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank, sources on both sides told AFP.

Residents of the northern West Bank village of Sawiya said they discovered that hundreds of their trees had been sawn down just as they were about to begin harvesting.

The villagers had not been able to access their land near the settlement of Eli earlier as they needed authorization from the IOF.

Villagers in Hawara, close to Nablus, also said hundreds of their olive trees had been destroyed by Israelis in nearby settlements.

During a meeting with US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, Israeli President Moshe Katsav "sharply condemned the uprooting of olive trees belonging to Palestinians", an official government statement said.

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