Anti-Nazi veteran not allowed to enter Ramallah

 

Heavily armed Israeli troops prevented Italian and Greek parliamentarians from walking to Ramallah in the rain yesterday.

The delegation of four from the Italian centre-left and four representing all shades of Greek opinion tried to convince the officer in charge to allow them to pass through the Kalandia checkpoint. He retorted: "It is too dangerous. During periods when the curfew is lifted people can come out, but no one can go in."

Mr Manolis Glezos, the Greek resistance fighter who in 1941 pulled down the Nazi flag flying from the Parthenon, strode confidently at the head of the Greek delegation in spite of his 82 years. "His presence is meant to send a message to an indifferent world about what is happening in Palestine," a member of the Greek delegation said.

Their aim was to break the siege and isolation of the Palestinian President, Mr Yasser Arafat, his staff and the 30 international peace activists trapped in his headquarters for a week.

Six other Italian parliamentarians and nine Italian citizens succeeded in entering Ramallah yesterday through back roads. Deputy Marco Minniti said: "We decided ahead of time that some of us would make an official protest while others would go in by the back door."

They based themselves at the Ramallah hospital where Italian pacifists have been assisting medical staff over the past week. They walked through the empty streets distributing food to Palestinians trapped in their homes.

During the morning the situation in Mr Arafat's headquarters grew desperate. Those inside were reduced to bread and bottled water. Mr Arafat(72) had no more prescription medication. An attempt to restore the supply of piped water failed. Mr Terje Larsen, the UN co-ordinator, told The Irish Times: "Something is being done to remedy the situation."

Mr Adam Shapiro, spokesman of the International Solidarity Movement, called on the EU foreign policy chief, Mr Javier Solana, to "come to Ramallah and end the siege" of Mr Arafat.

Meanwhile, the situation of Palestinians elsewhere in the West Bank continued to deteriorate.

An informant from Hebron reported that Israeli tanks had massed near the adjacent town of Halhoul in preparation for reoccupation. The armour went in during the afternoon.

In Bethlehem peace activists and journalists were pinned down in the Bethlehem Star Hotel by Israeli snipers who shot into its upper floor during the morning. Ms Mary Kelly, a nurse from Baltimore, Co Cork, said she spent her time making a white flag from a bedsheet and strips of red material from a T-shirt. "I sewed on a red cross and a red crescent so that when we go out the Israelis will know who we are." She and other members of her group intended to try to deliver basic medicines to the 150-200 Palestinians imprisoned by the Israeli army in the Church of the Nativity.

Mr John McFweeney, an Irishman living in Britain, is serving as a "human shield" in the Bethlehem area. He and 18 "internationals" have taken up residence with families."The Palestinians are very fearful. We offer them a little reassurance by our presence ," he said.

"Four of us left Aza in the morning to see if we could find a safe way to take a five-year-old girl to hospital. She has leukaemia and needed an blood transfusion urgently." While others on the mission succeeded, Mr McFweeney ended up trapped in the hotel.

Neither he nor Ms Kelly has been to the Middle East before. They came for Easter to promote peace and found themselves caught up in a war.