Israeli forces manhandle EU diplomats, seize West Bank aid
By Noah Browning
KHIRBET AL-MAKHUL, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers manhandled European diplomats on Friday and seized a truck full of tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished this week.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving away with its contents.
"They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity," French diplomat Marion Castaing said.
"This is how international law is being respected here," she said, covered with dust.
The Israeli army and police declined to comment.
Locals said Khirbet Al-Makhul was home to about 120 people. The army demolished their ramshackle houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel's high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits.
Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where, they say, their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep.
Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday IRCS staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down.
Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union's political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck.
"It's shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments," said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he did not have authorization to talk to the media.
"(Our presence here) is a clear matter of international humanitarian law. By the Geneva Convention, an occupying power needs to see to the needs of people under occupation. These people aren't being protected," he said.
In scuffles between soldiers and locals, several villagers were detained and an elderly Palestinian man fainted and was taken for medical treatment to a nearby ambulance.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that Makhul was the third Bedouin community to be demolished by the Israelis in the West Bank and adjacent Jerusalem municipality since August.
Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands, either earmarking it for military use or handing it over to the Israelis whose settlements dot the West Bank.
Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.
"What the Israelis are doing is not helpful to the negotiations. Under any circumstances, talks or not, they're obligated to respect international law," the unnamed EU diplomat said.
(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Louise Ireland)