French Foreign Minister Gets A Hostile Reception In Gaza

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ANGRY Palestinians demonstrated against French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie as she visited Gaza on Friday over a ‘war crimes’ quote attributed to her by Israel’s public radio.

The foreign minister, on her first visit to the enclave since taking over the post in November, was met by angry protesters as her convoy arrived, then again as she visited a hospital in Gaza City.

During the visit, the underfire Alliot-Marie in a speech issued an impassioned call for an end to Israel’s blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.

The protests began early in the day when her road convoy was stopped by dozens of demonstrators waving signs reading ‘Get out of Gaza’ who hammered on her car with their fists.

Others hurled shoes and one jumped on top of her car in a protest over a statement which was mistakenly attributed to Alliot-Marie when she met with the parents of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Jerusalem on Thursday.

At the meeting, father Noam Shalit asked Alliot-Marie to press the European Union to ‘condemn as a war crime’ the detention of his son, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Shortly afterwards, however, Israel’s public radio posted a story on its Arabic-language website mistakenly quoting Alliot-Marie as saying the EU ‘must condemn the war crime that Hamas is committing by keeping Gilad Shalit in captivity.’

Among the protesters were women and children holding placards of men kept behind bars in Israel.

One person shouted slogans through a loud-hailer, angrily denouncing the ‘war crimes’ statement, while another was holding up a large picture of Alliot-Marie with a crude red line drawn across her face.

Hamas police eventually cleared the protesters allowing the convoy to continue its way to Gaza City.

‘There were between 30 and 50 demonstrators, it wasn’t very serious,’ the minister told reporters afterwards. ‘Among the demonstrators were mothers whose sadness I can understand, but there were others who had other intentions.’

She then set off for the Al Quds hospital which has been newly-renovated with French funding.

But there too Alliot-Marie was met by angry protesters, who shoved and jostled the security detail surrounding her as she went in, a correspondent said, although they did not manage to physically reach her.

One hurled a shoe which was deftly caught by one of the bodyguards as Alliot-Marie ducked out of the way.

In light of the protests, the delegation cancelled a planned visit to the new site of the French cultural centre, saying it was ‘too open’.

The ‘war crimes’ quote was published on the website of the Arabic-language website of Israel public radio, and it was repeated in other Arabic news media – even prompting a sharply-worded response from Gaza’s Hamas rulers who said Shalit was captured ‘from the battlefield.’

‘We reject these statements and we call upon France to review such positions which do not serve the French role in the region,’ said a Hamas statement released on Thursday.

Meanwhile, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said on Thursday ‘You cannot take international law out of the negotiations.’

She spoke as nations started weighing in on a draft resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank.

‘Negotiations are not a substitute for international law and the rights of Palestinians. Yet this is the message the US administration seems to be sending in its opposition to a Security Council Resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements,’ Dr Ashrawi said in a statement.

While UK and French officials have said their delegates would consider the draft, Israel announced it would boycott the session, and the US has come out strongly saying it believes the resolution would prove a stumbling block to a return to direct talks.

But Palestinians say that the resolution would just put on the international record what states and other bodies have already said publicly.

The settlements, they say, are the stumbling block, and a resolution ensuring their cessation would in fact prompt Palestinians back into talks.

‘Israeli settlements are first and foremost a grave violation of international law. Their illegality is not a matter for discussion or bilateral negotiations. It is universally recognised, including by the United States,’ Ashrawi argued in her statement.

‘There are no negotiations precisely because of illegal Israeli settlement activity, and America’s inability to bring Israel to compliance with international law and the most basic imperatives of the two-state solution.

‘Palestinians have every right to pursue whatever legal means are available to us to restore our basic rights and freedoms, regardless of whether or not we are in negotiations.

‘This includes exploring our options in the United Nations. To oppose this right effectively means closing down what few avenues are available to Palestinians, in the absence of negotiations, to continue our national struggle through non-violent means,’ Dr Ashrawi concluded.

• Israeli Soldiers at a flying checkpoint on Route 60 north of Hebron shot and critically wounded a Palestinian citizen of Israel on Thursday night.

The Israeli military said events around the shooting were unclear.

Security sources identified the man as 28-year-old Jalal Al-Masri, and said he sustained a bullet wound in his head.

Officials said the Israeli report was that Al-Masri disobeyed orders of checkpoint soldiers and was fired on.

According to reports by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the military is investigating the possibilities that the driver either did not notice the flying checkpoint, or that he intended to harm soldiers and sped toward it.

Hours earlier in the northern West Bank, the Ya’bad Mevo Dotan checkpoint was closed and eyewitnesses said the body of a Palestinian man remained lying in the car passage terminal after the Israeli military reported a man was shot in an exchange of gunfire.

The slain man, identified as Salem Omar As-Samudi, 24, from Yamoun in the Jenin district, was said by eyewitnesses to have opened fire on Israeli forces at the checkpoint, confirming Israeli military reports that a man approached checkpoint soldiers and opened fire.

Two others had been shot dead at checkpoints in the last three weeks. On January 8th Israeli troops stationed at Hamra checkpoint east of Nablus shot and killed a Palestinian man who onlookers identified as 25-year-old Khaldoun Sammoudi, of Al-Yamun village near Jenin.

An Israeli military spokesman said a man approached the checkpoint in a taxi, then got out of the vehicle and ran towards forces holding a suspicious object and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar.’

He did not heed orders to stop and forces followed operational procedures and shot him, the army official said.

At the same checkpoint on January 1st, soldiers shot and killed a 21-year-old Palestinian identified as Ahmad Maslamani, who a military spokeswoman said approached soldiers in an unauthorised lane carrying a glass bottle and did not heed orders to stop.

Witnesses said the victim approached the checkpoint carrying a coca-cola can, a female soldier shouted at him and two male soldiers immediately opened fire. Medics said Maslamani’s body was riddled with bullets.

• After eight days of closure, Israeli authorities announced the brief opening of the bulk goods crossing at Karni on the Gaza Strip, but said that the southernmost crossing would remain closed for the day.

The opening of Karni on a Friday marks the first time any crossing has been opened on the final day of the week since February 2009. Officials said 80 truckloads of wheat and animal fodder would be delivered through the terminal.

The shipment came after the Palestinian union of food industries announced the closure of all Gaza flour mills, citing a severe shortage of wheat.

The shortage, officials said, was directly related to the closure of Karni as of January 13. The crossing is the only operational bulk goods terminal, and was once the primary station for the import and export of goods from the coastal enclave.

Closing the bulk goods crossing only exacerbated the wheat crisis, officials in Gaza said, adding that wheat levels had been low since mid-October 2010.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been consistently warning of a wheat crisis for months. UN reports cite the refusal of crossings officials to extend the operational hours of Karni, despite an increase in the import of construction materials which also enter through the terminal.

Time allocated for the entrance of wheat and animal feed was thus cut in half when Israel announced in June that it would ease its blockade of Gaza.

Kerem Shalom, which for the past week has been the sole delivery point for the commercial and humanitarian supplies for the entire Gaza Strip, was closed.