Jamil Hamad: There have been ongoing clashes since last night. The exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers is almost constant. The Israelis have their tanks in the center of Beit Jala, and they're scaling towers to try and control the situation. They've also imposed a total curfew on the residents of the town. But the Palestinians are continuing to fire both at the soldiers in Beit Jala, and also at the neighboring Israeli area of Gilo. The army has said it is going to stay in Beit Jala until it is assured that there will be no more shooting at Gilo, but so far that has not happened.
How likely is it that the incursion will stop the firing?
I don't know. It seems that the presence of the Israeli soldiers in Beit Jala is actually inciting them to continue firing. I don't know how long will continue. It's more or less like a war here. The residents of Beit Jala had in the past appealed to Yasser Arafat, as well as to embassies and church leaders, to stop Palestinians firing from Beit Jala, so as to avoid the Israeli reaction. But now most of their anger is directed at the Israelis.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Abu Ali Mustafa was buried today by thousands of Palestinians in Ramallah. How has his killing changed the dynamic?
I would say that the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa has simply brought another Palestinian group onto the battlefield. It is getting to be so that your credibility as an organization will be judged by how many attacks you launch against the Israelis. The PFLP has decided today to form a military wing, called the Brigade of Abu Ali Mustafa. So now we're witnessing another militant group contributing to the military activities.
Can the Israeli army sustain the permanent occupation of Beit Jala that they have threatened?
I doubt that they're planning to stay permanently in Beit Jala, but they're trying to get assurances that Palestinians won't shoot again at Gilo. But the question now is who is in a position to give such guarantees? When the Israelis come into their areas, the Palestinian Authority security people are joining the gunmen in defending the sovereignty of their areas.
What impact has the violence of the past three days had on Yasser Arafat's efforts to relaunch talks towards a cease-fire?
It has become very difficult for Arafat now to join any diplomatic efforts. Now the rules of the game have been changed. In every spot in the West Bank there are some kind of clashes, bombs. The Israeli army has declared certain roads off limits to Israelis, which is an indication that more bloodshed is to be expected.
The developments in the West Bank and Gaza go far beyond the intifada. It's no longer marches and stones; it's guns and tanks and missiles. It's becoming a purely military confrontation.