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ISM Update From Palestine

1. From the Canadian Press: Deadline extended, fears continue for safety of hostages 2. A Week of Palestinian Calls for the Release of the CPT Volunteers Held Hostage in Iraq 3. Solidarity Returned: Press Conference in Nablus 4. Candle-lit Solidarity Demonstration in Ramallah for the "CPT Four" 5. Press Conference of Palestinians Calls for Release of All Civilian Hostages in Iraq __________

1. From the Canadian Press: Deadline extended, fears continue for safety of hostages

December 8th, 2005

Originally published in CBC News

Kidnappers holding four members of a Christian aid group in Iraq, including two Canadians, have extended their deadline. The militants now say Britain and the United States have until Saturday to meet their demands or the four will die.

The extension of the deadline means more time to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but it also means increased pressure, anxiety and heightened emotions for the families of the hostages.

James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Sooden, 32, were kidnapped at gunpoint on Nov. 26 in Baghdad, along with Briton Norman Kember, 74, and American Tom Fox, 54.

Loney is from Toronto and Sooden has lived in Montreal.

A group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigades has demanded the United States and Britain free all Iraqi prisoners by Saturday. The kidnappers say the men are spies, which is denied by their organization.

The hostages are members of a Christian aid group called Christian Peacemaker Teams, which sends teams to troubled areas. According to its web site its actions in Iraq are aimed at "focusing attention on the issue of detainee abuses and basic legal and human rights "

The family of James Loney met with reporters on Wednesday at their home in Sault Ste, Marie, Ont.

Patrick Loney, father of James Loney, could not speak, his exhaustion evident. Instead it was James' brother Edward who said the family was thinking not only of their situation but were also praying "for other families facing similar circumstances in Iraq."

"We want James home," said another brother, Matthew Loney. "We want the other members home. And we want a peaceful resolution to how things are going over there," he said.

The militant group that is holding the Westerners originally demanded that Iraqis being held in U.S. and British custody be released by Thursday. But as the deadline approached, it was extended for a further 48 hours.

Prime Minister Paul Martin says he is concerned about the fate of the Canadians. "I've been on phone every day and we're doing everything we possibly can. But it's a matter of such delicacy I can't really comment," he said.

In a statement released late Wednesday evening Martin went further. "I want to reassure the public that the government of Canada remains absolutely committed to securing the safe release of the hostages. Every resource of the government is committed towards achieving that outcome.

James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden (courtesy Christian Peacemaker Teams) "Canada remains willing to listen to and speak with persons who may have information that will assist in the safe release of the hostages," said the statement.

Christian Peacemaker Teams issued a statement on Wednesday evening highlighting its concerns about the safety of the four men.

"Christian Peacemaker Teams believes that no single person, no single nation can meet the demands of justice. No single person, no single nation can meet the demands of peace. But we believe that it is everyone's responsibility to do their part to bring each combatant and each captive home to their families and to end the war and occupation."

There was support from around the Arab world, as well.

Mohammed Ayash of the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine, said the hostages are peacemakers, friends of Muslims and defenders of Iraqi detainees "because they are working there as human rights [supporters] and are against the occupation," he said.

__________

2. A Week of Palestinian Calls for the Release of the CPT Volunteers Held Hostage in Ira

qDecember 6th, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

[Ramallah, Occupied Palestine] Over the last week Palestinians from across the political spectrum have issued impassioned appeals and demonstrated for the release of the four Christian Peacemaker Team volunteers who were taken hostage in Iraq, three of whom had previously served in Palestine with CPT and ISM.

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 7th, two further demonstrations will take place. In Nablus, a demonstration will take place at 11am in front of the Red Cross building. Participating will be several Palestinian NGOs and the friends of Harmeet Sooden who met him in January 2005. The Nablus region was the main focus of Harmeet's work with ISM, and he made many friends there. A candle-lit demonstration calling for the release of the four will be held in Ramallah, meeting at al-Manara at 4:30pm.

Calls for the release of the hostages were made by the head Mufti of Palestine, Ikram Al Sabri; the coordinating body for all Palestinian political parties, the National and Islamic Forces for both Palestine and Hebron; Shawkat Samha the Mayor of Jayyous; the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; Qadura Fares, the Coordinator of the National Committee to Resist Settlement and the Wall; Ferial Abu Haikal, the Headmistress of the Qurtuba Girls School in Hebron, and many other community leaders from Hebron.

Demonstrations calling for the release of the CPT volunteers were held in Hebron, At-Tuwani and Ramallah. More are planned over the next week in Nablus (tomorrow at 11am) and Ramallah (tomorrow at 4:30pm). Below are statements by these individuals and groups, as well as links to their full statements in English and Arabic when available, and reports on the demonstrations.

Ikram Al Sabri, the Chief Mufti of Palestine on December 5th: "There is a duty for all Palestinian people, institutions and factions to commit to sending a call to release these people who have been kidnapped. They are very important for us to help continue our struggle, whether here in Palestine or in Iraq, to gain our country's freedom. We repeat our call to release all the civilian people who have been kidnapped all over the world, not only these four."

For full text see: Transcript of Palestinian Press Conference Calling for the Release of the Four CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

The Palestinian National and Islamic Forces, the coordinating body for all Palestinian political parties, on December 2nd: "We call upon all the people of Iraq, on all people of faith and honour, on all people of conscience to act for the release of those activists who struggle on our behalf against occupation and injustice. We raise our voice alongside all National and Islamic factions in the district of Hebron who issued a statement on this most serious matter, on November 29th, 2005, which reflects the feelings of all Palestinians from all factions and persuasions." For full statement in Arabic and English: Statement by the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces on the CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

For press conference remarks see: Transcript of Palestinian Press Conference Calling for the Release of the Four CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

The Palestinian National and Islamic Forces of Hebron on November 29th: "We appeal to our brothers in the resistance and all those with alert consciences in Iraq, with whom we consider ourselves to be in the same trench confronting American aggression and occupation, to instantly and quickly release the four kidnapped persons (two Canadians, one Briton and one American) from CPT, in appreciation for their role in standing beside and supporting our Palestinian people and all the Arab and Islamic peoples."

For full statement in Arabic and English: Statement by the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces in Hebron on the CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

Shawkat Samha, the Mayor of the West Bank Village Jayyous on November 30th: "They subjected themselves to grave dangers when they stood in front of Israeli bulldozers. We knew them as people who were against the occupation and supported freedom for occupied peoples, like the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples."

AP article: Palestinians appeal for release of Western activists kidnapped in Iraq: JPost news

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on December 4th: "Those are the same friends of the martyr Rachel Corrie who was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer as she stood in the defence of our people and her friends against the Israeli Zionist occupation. We came to know them as they took a courageous stance against the new system of apartheid and the racist separation Wall. They suffered as we did, and were wounded by the bullets of the occupation, while others were exiled and imprisoned. Therefore, we ask the kidnappers to release those hostages."

For full statement in Arabic and English: Statement by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Palestine on the CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

Qadura Fares, Coordinator of the National Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall on November 30th: "From Palestine we call upon you to release the four from the Christian Peacemaker Teams who were kidnapped from Baghdad. This is an organization that has helped and continues to help our people living under Israeli occupation in the city of Hebron and in other regions throughout our occupied homeland. They expose themselves to danger in order to provide protection to our women and children in front of Israeli military checkpoints."

For full statement in Arabic and English: Statement by the National Committee to Resist Settlement and the Wall on the CPT Hostages in Iraq: ISM News

Ferial Abu Haikal, the Headmistress of the Qurtuba School in Hebron on December 5th: "We still remember the nice moments while we were under curfew with the CPT members who we have known since 1995. They came and gave food to people under curfew and showed their love and solidarity with our schools and our children. We will never forget these moments, because the CPT were the only people standing with us at that time. As a women who works with them, I send my call for the Iraqi resistance to release these people because CPT are very important people for us."

For full statement see: Transcript of Palestinian Press Conference Calling for the Release of the Four CPT Hostages in Iraq:

At the December 2nd Demonstration in At- Tuwani, Hebron District, another Palestinian said: "We have been suffering from the Israeli occupation since ages. CPT members first came here two years ago. They have documented such suffering, and were badly beaten by the Israeli settlers for that. As such, we have to stand by them because they hold a message of peace as we call upon the kidnappers to release the kidnapped CPT members in Iraq. They have become human shields for our children against Israeli aggression. We demand that they are to be set free as a reward for their good deeds here in Tuwani and in the rest of Palestine."

For coverage see: Palestinians Ask for Release of Christian Hostages: Click Here for more

On the 1st of December, 300 Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah in solidarity with the four. The demonstration was attended by Abu Hasan Morrar a representative of the Islamic Council of Palestine, Shawkat Samha the mayor of the town of Jayyous, Fatima Asi of the Women For Life group in the Salfit region and Mustafa Barghouti the general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. All called passionately for the hostage's release, as demonstrators held up signs in Arabic and English describing the four as their friends. A statement on behalf of the Popular Committees Against the Wall was read adding to the call. Palestinians and internationals who know the hostages personally were on the demonstration which was attended by Palestinians from Bil'in who spoke and called on the kidnappers to release the hostages.

For coverage see: Palestinians Unite to Call For Release of Four Peace Activist Hostages in Iraq Click Here for more

For press conference remarks see: Press Conference in Hebron Held by the National and Islamic Forces on November 30th.: ISM News

Wire Service Photos

Ikram Al Sabri at December 5 Press Conference in Ramallah: http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/481/jrl12112051314 http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/481/jrl12212051325 http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/ids_photos_wl/r3564300070.jpg http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/ids_photos_wl/r3034176822.jpg

December 1st Ramallah Protest for Release of Hostages: Yahoo News ISM News

November 30 Hebron Protest: Yahoo News

__________

3. Solidarity Returned: Press Conference in Nablus

Yesterday, on Wednesday the 7th of November, the religious and community leaders and social project workers of Nablus joined together to call for the release of the four CPT peace activists and others held in Iraq.

The High Judge of Palestine, Hamed Bitawi, the Mufti of Nablus, Mohammed Bishawi, and the Christian Father George Awad stood together with volunteers from the Nablus Prisoners' Families' support group, the Arab Women's Union, and social welfare and peace groups, against a backdrop of posters of the four CPT volunteers and a verse from the Holy Quran. "Our god tells us that if any person comes to us as a volunteer in peace, with no weapons, we must protect him."

The Judge and the religious leaders spoke together, united in faith and the belief that the volunteers must be freed and allowed to carry on their work for human rights. They expressed hope that their brothers in Iraq would recognize this, respect their religion and free the activists.

Palestinian volunteers from Nablus recalled the work of the CPT volunteers and other international peace activists in standing in solidarity with Palestinian communities against the oppression and violence of the occupation forces. They spoke of the activists' work for local communities and expressed hope that the men would be able to return and continue working with their Palestinian friends. They urged their brothers in occupied Iraq to release the activists, who are friends to both countries.

A CPT representative spoke of his colleagues' work in Iraq. As with previous delegations, they had gone to Iraq to witness and document the terrible reality of the occupation and to show the truth to the outside world. They spent much of their time investigating the prisons and campaigning for the release of Iraqis illegitimately jailed. Three of the group have previously worked against the occupation in Palestine. All four have campaigned in their home countries for the rights of Palestinian and Iraqi people. He is a friend of James Loney, who is pictured at a demonstration in Canada in support of Palestinian prisoners.

A speaker from the local prisoners' families support group acknowledged the work of the volunteers and asked that they be released in order to carry on their work campaigning for Palestinian and Iraqi prisoners of the occupation forces.

A local volunteer at a children's project knows Harmeet from his work in Balata and had planned to work with him again on his return to Palestine this month. "I call upon our brothers in Iraq to release all the peace activists. The children in Balata are hoping for Harmeet to return to continue his project to teach them IT skills and put them in contact with other children living under occupation and in the rest of the world. As my friend Harmeet said ‘Let us march forward in one spirit' (from the Urdu "Tiyende pamodzi ndimtima uma"). We will work together to end the occupations and bring peace."

__________

4. Candle-lit Solidarity Demonstration in Ramallah for the "CPT Four"

On Wednesday the 7th, another demonstration calling for the release of the four CPT hostage in Iraq was held in al-Manara, Ramallah, at 4:30pm. On the same day, a press conference calling for the release of four was held in Nablus.

Ramallah residents, Palestinian women from the Women For Life group (who had come all the way from the Salfit region) and international supporters and friends made up the quiet, dignified demonstration. Just as darkness started to fall, candles were lit as a symbol of hope for the release of the four. Large fiery torches were also lit, as a way of making a visual impact and drawing attention to our calls for freedom. There was a decent amount of media there, and we can only hope and pray that the message got through to the kidnappers in Iraq, and that our friends will be released soon.

We held up pictures and large posters of the four hostages, showing them in Palestine and Iraq protesting against the apartheid wall and for the human rights of prisoners and detainees. US citizen Tom Fox was pictured protesting against the wall. James Loney was pictured in Iraq advocating for detainees rights. The large poster of Harmeet showed him with Palestinian children on a farm in Jenin. There were also signs in Arabic and English calling for their release.

Palestinians across the political spectrum have consistently called for the immediate release of the four over the last week, as well as all other civilian hostages in Iraq.

ISM Pictures: ISM News

AP Photos of the demonstration: Yahoo News Yahoo news

CPT Pictures of the four: CPT

__________

5. Press Conference of Palestinians Calls for Release of All Civilian Hostages in Ira

qDecember 5th, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today in Ramallah, Ikram al-Sabri, the head Mufti of Palestine, along with several other notable Palestinians called for the immediate release of all civilian hostages in Iraq, with particular reference to the four Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) hostages.

Ikram al-Sabri said that "there is a duty for all Palestinian people, institutions and factions to commit to sending a call to release these people who have been kidnapped. They are very important for us to help continue our struggle, whether here in Palestine or in Iraq, to gain our country's freedom. We repeat our call to release all the civilian people who have been kidnapped all over the world, not only these four."

Dr. Wasif Abu-Yousef, a representative of the National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (an umbrella group representing all Palestinian political parties) described the four activists and CPT in general as: "soldiers for peace" and "real heros" and talked about the role of international activists like the CPT: "they were chaining themselves to homes that were threatened with demolition. Some of them were even martyrs, like our friends Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall. Some were injured or denied entry, some of them have been deported. They have suffered side by side with us … they have challenged the Israeli occupation in Palestine and the settlers in Hebron". He strongly condemned the kidnappings saying: "from the heart of Palestine, we condemn and are completely against the process of kidnapping these four people in Iraq. This state of chaos, killings, and criminal acts that have been happening in Iraq will not help the Iraqi people. On the contrary, there are! people who will make use of this. The occupation will use this as an excuse to continue."

Ferial Abu-Hakil, the Headmistress of Qurtuba school, Hebron talked about the role of CPT in Hebron in providing accompaniment for their children on their way to school and of the unique role of CPT under Israeli curfews during the intifada: "We still remember the nice moments while we were under curfew with the CPT members who we have known since 1995. They came and gave food to people under curfew and showed their love and solidarity with our schools and our children. We will never forget these moments, because the CPT were the only people standing with us at that time… As a women who works with them, I send my call for the Iraqi resistance to release these people because CPT are very important people for us." She also criticised the US occupation of Iraq as the root cause of the violence there: "To Bush I say that democracy is not imposed – democracy is given by people, not given by armies. We are sending our call for the faction that kidnapped these people in I! raq to release them immediately because we need them here."

Christan Anderson of CPT Hebron thanked the "hundreds of Palestinians who have issued statements and supported us during this past week". She described CPT's work in Palestine and Iraq and appealed for the release of the four, while at the same time putting these kidnappings of westerners in the broader perspective of the huge suffering of Iraqis and Palestinians: "We miss our friends and desire them to return to us… So while remembering them, let us remember the thousands of peaceful people being detained by occupying forces throughout the world, and while we ask for a release of our friends, we will continue to work to end the occupations in Palestine and Iraq."

A demonstration calling for the release of the four will be held at 12:30 tomorrow in Hebron in front of the Red Cross building, on Ein-Sara street.

On Wednesday the 7th, a candle-lit demonstration calling for the release of the four will be held in Ramallah meeting at al-Manara at 4:30pm.

ISM Photo: ISM Photo

AP photos: http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/481/jrl12112051314 http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/481/jrl12212051325 http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/ids_photos_wl/r3564300070.jpg http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/051205/ids_photos_wl/r3034176822.jpg

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