Gazans mob French minister in 'war crimes' mix-up

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Angry Palestinians mobbed French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie as she visited Gaza on Friday in a mix-up over a "war crimes" quote mistakenly attributed to her.

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 loudhailer, 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.

As the demonstrators jostled the car, two children, terrified and crying, were flung to the ground in front of the wheels of the lead vehicle convoy of white 4x4 jeeps, and stayed there for several minutes before being hauled away by their families.

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, an AFP 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. Other demonstrators pelted her official car with eggs.

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 delegation was to leave Gaza and visit the nearby Israeli town of Sderot during the afternoon, which has been targeted by thousands of Palestinian rockets over the years.

Later, she was to fly to Cairo, and then on to Amman on Saturday for talks with Jordanian officials as well as with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

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.

"Hamas considers the statement made by the French foreign minister which described kidnapping Shalit as a 'war crime' is biased since Shalit was kidnapped from the battlefield," said a Hamas statement released on Thursday.

"We reject these statements and we call upon France to review such positions which do not serve the French role in the region."

Shalit has not been seen by outside observers or Red Cross representatives since his capture in a deadly raid along the Gaza border by Palestinian militants in June 2006.

© 2011 AFP

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