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22 Sep, 2013 09:19

EU calls for explanations from Israel over diplomat scuffle

European diplomats are holding Israel accountable over an incident where IDF servicemen attacked a EU humanitarian convoy in the West Bank on Friday. So far Tel Aviv has left the scandal in limbo, offering no official explanation for the incident.

Diplomats from several EU countries have spoken out against the shocking incident of harassing a person with diplomatic immunity, clearly awaiting some sort of official reaction from the state of Israel.

After disturbing photos of the French diplomat, Marion Fesneau-Castaing, spread on the ground with IDF soldiers standing around her hit international news, the scandal over hijacked EU aid to homeless Bedouins from demolished villages in the West Bank has gained momentum.

French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing (C) lays on the ground after she was dragged out by Israeli soldiers from a truck loaded with supplies on September 20, 2013 on a road leading to the West Bank village of Khirbet al-Makhul. (AFP Photo)

“EU representatives have already contacted the Israeli authorities to demand an explanation and expressed their concern at the incident,” says a statement issued by the spokesmen for EU foreign policy, Catherine Ashton and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva.

An EU official described the Israeli actions as “shocking and outrageous”, the BBC reported.

The British Consulate General in Jerusalem is “concerned at reports that the Israeli military authorities have prevented the affected community from receiving humanitarian assistance,” the consulate’s spokesman said.

“We have repeatedly made clear to the Israeli authorities our concerns over such demolitions, which we view as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, as harmful to the peace process and contrary to international humanitarian law,” the spokesman added.

The Israeli authorities should “live up to their obligations as occupying power to protect those communities under their responsibility,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley said.

‘Illegal diplomatic activity’

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Paul Hirschson, has threatened to lodge a complaint over Marion Fesneau-Castaing’s actions, Agence France-Presse reported.

“If she did participate then a formal complaint will be filed because that is not the way diplomats behave,” he said.

A piece of footage has been circulating in the media showing Fesneau-Castaing striking an Israeli soldier in his face. The video has outraged the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

It issued a statement saying that Israel “rejects the one-sided announcement which was published by the spokespersons of HR Ashton and Commissioner Georgieva,” which “ignores the European diplomats' blunt violation of the law, their disregard to a ruling of the Israeli court and their unnecessary provocation under the alleged pretext of humanitarian aid,” Israel National News reported.

The Israeli ministry demanded an explanation from European diplomats and governments for what it called a “blatant violation of diplomatic codes of conduct.” It added that Tel-Aviv will not “accept this misconduct.

On Saturday the EU ambassador in Israel called the Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Europe, Rafi Shutz, demanding explanations regarding the IDF in the West Bank on Friday.

"What was done there by the European diplomats was a provocation,” said Shutz as quoted by the Haaretz.

Mr Shutz claimed that force against the female French diplomat was used because she slapped one of the soldiers. He also announced that the state of Israel is looking into allegations that foreign diplomats “abused their diplomatic privileges”.

Because Palestinian construction at the site of former Khirbet Al-Makhul village was ruled illegal by an Israeli court, the European diplomats were engaging in illegal activity, Shutz stated. He also pointed out that humanitarian aid to Palestinians should be delivered through the proper channels, coordinated with Israel.

The IDF explained the use of stun grenades during the incident, claiming that stones were thrown at security forces. Stun grenades were thrown directly into a group of European diplomats, aid workers and locals who were trying to deliver emergency aid to the residents of a demolished Palestinian village, Reuters reported.

On Friday a truck with EU humanitarian aid for the villagers of the demolished Khirbet Al-Makhul settlement was attacked by IDF personnel, who confiscated the truck and the payload. French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing, who attempted to prevent confiscation of the aid, was pulled out of the truck and forced to the ground. The incident received wide international coverage.

Israeli soldiers carry French diplomat Marion Castaing after removing her from her truck containing emergency aid, in the West Bank herding community of Khirbet al-Makhul, in the Jordan Valley September 20, 2013. (Reuters / Abed Omar Qusini)

Houses, stables and a kindergarten at Khirbet Al-Makhul village were demolished on Monday after a decision by Israel's High Court, which ruled that villagers had illegal building permits. The villagers refused to leave the ruins saying they have been living on that land for generations.

The seizure incident of a truck carrying humanitarian aid has become yet another page in the row between Brussels and Tel Aviv. In July the EU announced it is going to stop all financial assistance to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied territories, starting from 2014.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily, denouncing the move as interference in Israel-Palestine relations and retaliated by blocking EU humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy remain in fruitless peace talks, with the major stumbling block being the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

(FILE photo) Palestinian Bedouin men react amidst the rubble of a structure after it was razed by the Israeli army in the West Bank village of Zayem, near Jerusalem (AFP Photo / Ahmad Gharabli)